Virtuous Victuals

The maxim “you are what you eat” has defined people’s dietary philosophy for several generations: our bodies, like the foods that we eat, are chemical compositions. But, not so long ago, food was a moral category, implying a profound shift in the way that we think about our diet and ourselves.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The maxim “you are what you eat” has defined dietary thinking for hundreds of years. The prevailing interpretation is simple: our bodies, like the foods that we eat, are chemical compositions. In order to live long and healthy lives, and to maximize our potential, we must consume the right chemicals – that is, foods with the right nutrients. Not so long ago, however, this saying was understood quite differently, indicating a profound shift in the way that we think about our diet and ourselves – a shift that has powerful implications for current health debates.

In ancient Greek and Roman medicine, prevention was key. Regimen, commonly called dietetics, prescribed a lifestyle designed to keep people healthy. Indeed, while doctors did everything in their power to cure ailing patients, dietetics was considered the most important area of medical practice. After all, with a sound diet, one would presumably never need a cure.

Dietetics was a prescription for an ordered manner of living, guiding people not only on matters of food and drink, but on all governable aspects of their lives that affected well-being, including their places of residence, exercise, sleeping patterns, bowel movements, sexual activity, and an area neglected by medicine today: emotional control.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now