A Million Meals

Caring for children in today's confusing food environment

Toxic Bodies, Toxic Attitudes

As most of my friends know, I am not a fan of “cleanses.” The idea that we need to be cleansed is rooted in a guilt that is quintessentially American, and the result is a deep internal conflict. Read More

Zanthe- Great article. Have

Zanthe-
Great article. Have you read Mary Douglas by any chance, esp. Purity and Danger? She was a social anthropologist and wrote extensively on things like this.

Cleanses, as you know, imply toxicity, but also dirt. There is a long history of human repulsion against dirt (which for Douglas is nothing more, and nothing less, than 'matter out of place'). Cleanliness is order and dirt is disorder. Dirt, in the psychological realm, is associated with bad behavior ('getting the dirt on someone, airing dirty laundry),illness/crime (as in drug use, when people pass a "dirty" urine or use "dirty needles"),and so on. Dirt has tremendous psychological impact. Alot of it centers around fear of death, particularly when it comes to health.

In effect, what we have are modern hygiene movements that have become decentralized, popularized, and capitalized. Add to this, as you note, the (alleged) limitless possibility of health, and its a recipe for success. hygiene movements have the fervor of religion, but whereas religion seeks purity of spirit, secular 'healthism' seeks purity of body.

thanks for the article.

Wonderful response--thank you!

I smiled reading what you wrote because Mary Douglas was, coincidentally, a dear friend of my parents. But I haven't read Purity and Danger and now I will. Thank you very much.

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Zanthe Taylor, M.F.A., is a former dramaturg and English teacher who is currently raising two daughters in Brooklyn, NY.

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