Diets are the new totems of contemporary food tribes. Regardless of their nature, function, and purpose, they all share common features: the need to make and obey rules, the desire to have reliable patterns of self care, the potential for impact on reality. Today the search for a virtuous eating model has become a global religion with an army of converts. And, like all new religions, it continuously produces conflicts, splits, heresies, sects, and disavowals. Every creed claims to offer the only path to salvation… and indeed to immortality, or at least its health-oriented equivalent we call longevity. This new religion anticipates Doomsday and turns the nutritionist into a sort of judgmental god. Or perhaps it turns God into a sort of improper dietician, handing out rewards and punishments in the here and now. This is why diets are no longer a measure of well-being, but rather a condition of being.
Marino Niola teaches Anthropology of Symbols and Myths and Rites of Contemporary Gastronomy at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples.