The Idea of “Good Nutrition” Has Changed Over Time

What ought to we eat? That’s a query with implications for well being, pleasure, ethics and politics. As political scientist Tripp Rebrovick writes, views of those points in European and white American society have shifted over time, from a framework based on bodily humors to one centering on nutrition and then to a holistic, ecological point of view.

For centuries, the reigning dietary framework for a lot of Europeans was based mostly on the 4 humors, which physicians believed dominated the human physique: blood, yellow bile or choler, black bile, and phlegm. The humors outlined people’ personalities and corresponded to the seasons of the 12 months, the levels of a human life, and the qualities scorching, chilly, dry, and moist. This meant that the right meals to eat relied on particular person constitutions and their circumstances.

“A sanguine particular person, in whom blood predominates, is scorching and moist by nature and will subsequently favor scorching and moist meals, particularly in autumn, in maturity, or in a chilly, dry atmosphere,” Rebrovick writes.

Balancing the humors appropriately was a matter of each well being and morality, whereas gluttony might trigger sickness and vice. This view of consuming emerged in historical Greece and remained highly effective into the early fashionable period.

Things modified within the nineteenth century, as new concepts about science took maintain. Influential chemist Justus von Liebig defined meals by way of its element components, which might be both integrated into the physique or burned for vitality. Later, the calorie allowed scientists to quantify the worth of meals by way of human vitality. The complicated view of dietary guidelines based mostly on people’ traits and circumstances pale.

“For Liebig, the human physique is universally the identical, quite than radically individualized,” Rebrovick writes. “And Liebig justifies this declare by arguing that each one human our bodies—certainly, all our bodies—are composed of the identical chemical compounds.”

“Nutritionism” elevated the facility of specialists and supported state initiatives to advance public well being. Counting energy and grams of protein allowed directors to prepare meals provides for prisons and armies, and finally label meals with nutritional information.

Around the Sixties, Europeans’ and Americans’ views of meals started to shift once more. Quite a lot of actions—natural, sluggish meals, purchase native, and so forth—promoted variations of what Rebrovick calls an eco-dietetic discourse. Here, wholesome meals can also be ecologically virtuous and attractive. As Alice Waters, an icon of the natural, native meals motion writes, “environmentalism might be one thing that really impacts you in essentially the most intimate—and actually visceral—means. It might be one thing that really will get inside you and will get digested.”

Rebrovick writes that eco-dietetics emerged largely as a critique of the nutritionist mannequin, rejecting industrial-style meals techniques and the remedy of meals as interchangeable bundles of chemical elements. But it additionally differs sharply from a humors-based view of meals, presenting consuming as a query of values that extends outdoors the person to the ecological neighborhood during which they dwell.


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