Food, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating

Food, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating

Food, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating

Food, Morals and Meaning: The Pleasure and Anxiety of Eating


Following on from the success of the first edition, John Coveney traces our complex relationship with food and eating and our preoccupation with diet, self-discipline and food guilt. Using our current fascination with health and nutrition, he explores why our appetite for food pleasures makes us feel anxious. This up-to-date edition includes an examination of how our current obsession with body size, especially fatness, drives a national and international panic about the obesity 'epidemic'.

Focusing on how our food anxieties have stemmed from social, political and religious problems in Western history, Food, Morals and Meaninglooks at:

  • the ancient Greeks' preoccupation with eating
  • early Christianity and the conflict between the pleasures of the flesh and spirituality
  • scientific developments in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and our current knowledge of food
  • the social organization of food in the modern home, based on real interviews
  • the obesity 'epidemic' and its association with moral degeneration.

Based on the work of Michel Foucault, this fresh and updated edition explains how a rationalization food choice - so apparent in current programmes on nutrition and health - can be traced through a genealogy of historical social imperatives and moral panics.Food, Moralsand Meaningis essential reading for those studying nutrition, public health, sociology of health and illness and sociology of the body.


The decision to publish a second edition of this book, originally published in 2000, was, in fact, a relatively easy one. in the time since the first edition a number of important developments have taken place in the area of food and health which prioritise the arguments on which this book was based. These are that our relationship with food and eating is highly complex, even problematic, especially in terms of the pleasures we derive from our appetite. Our preoccupation about what is good to eat demonstrates not only an interest in our desire to better understand what is in the food we eat, from a nutritional sense, but also a deep and abiding interest in how we understand ourselves as social and individual moral agents of food choice. in other words, making the ‘right’ food choice is both a scientific judgement and a moral decision.

The notion of the ‘good’ eater, however, is far from new. the science of nutrition is but a modern development in a moral history of food and eating that can be traced to earlier systems of thought in Western culture. Starting with ancient Greece and Rome, where codes of proper conduct of citizens were dependent on a concern for the appropriate daily management of natural pleasures of many kinds, including food and eating, we can see the beginnings of regimes of lifestyle. Moderation of one’s pleasures was the key principle. and from this developed a natural reason based on an understanding of one’s capacities as an ethical, that is morally responsible, person. the recognition, or knowledge, of one’s self as a fit and proper subject was transformed in the later Christian period where austerity replaced moderation. the desire for food, like the desire for sex, was a reminder of the ‘natural’ bodily appetite which had to be tamed in order to maximise spiritual pursuits. and while European monastic practices of selfdenial, even chastisement, may not have been fully embraced by audiences beyond the monastery walls, the practice of ‘fasting’ and deprivation was widely followed, even if as a necessity for the poor of the time. the later integration in the Enlightenment period of Christian thinking, especially Protestantism, with scientific views of the world provided grounds for a rationing of food, in terms of the correct amounts the body needed for healthy functioning, and a rationing of pleasure. It is no coincidence that deep Christian beliefs were held by some of the most influential early thinkers and writers about the science of food and the body . . .

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