Eating as ontological transformation (LRB on Atkins)

By some very roundabout web wandering, involving Arts & Letters Daily, I came across a piece in the London Review Of Books by Harvard academic Steven Shapin. Ostensibly reviewing three diet books, two Atkins and one South Beach, Shapin either manages to fit the LRB editorial brief, or overwrite considerably:

Most fundamentally, eating is a moment of ontological transformation: it is when what is not-you – not rational and not animate, at the time you consume it – starts to become you, the rational being which ultimately decides what stuff to consume. Flesh becomes reason at one remove, and every supper is, in that sense, eucharistic. We are, literally and fundamentally, what we eat. The material transformation is simultaneous with the possibility of social and moral transformation or the advertisement of the social and moral states to which you are laying claim.(The Great Neurotic Art)

I’m not very big on ontological transformations. I thought Atkins was about weight loss. Worked for me, anyway.

Getting through Shapiro’s piece is a bit of a struggle – I dislike overtly academic writing, writing that has to wear its learning on its sleeve – but he does make some interesting points about changes in attitudes to self as evidenced in diets. But when I have to rush to the dictionary to check a meaning (soteriological, in this case), I think the writing’s getting in the way of the message.

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