True way of life for some, political fight or simple psychological comfort, for others, our relationship to food says a lot about our time. In his book Food spirituality, detox juice brands or the myth of self-elevatingLouise Laclautre tells how we went from the talk of thinness at all costs to that of absolute well-being at the border of spirituality.
How did thinness become synonymous with good health, unlike in the 1950s when it referred to periods of illness?
History and sociology show it to us: when we are in a period of deprivation, what is considered synonymous with good health is plumpness. Conversely, in a society of abundance and opulence, the moral value resides in the capacity for permanent temptation. Slimming is transcending nature.
How has the discourse around well-being replaced that of thinness?
There was a period when the ideal of beauty was the “thin waist”. Then, consumers became interested in the composition of products. The more they informed themselves, the more they developed a certain distrust of brands. The marketing discourse has been transformed and has become more transparent.
The discourse around wellness revolves around a holistic approach to self. There is a form of sanctification of the body which becomes a temple to be nurtured, cherished and loved. Cosmetics brands are turning to this semantics, speaking of a “beauty ritual”. The dimension of well-being is an unattainable promise. It is the endless quest for a state that knows no precise definition and flirts between utopia and a representation of happiness. In the language of brands, it is the proposal of stories and promises that promote global well-being, interior, exterior, spiritual.
How did juice become a well-being food, with multiple virtues, unlike other products such as meat for example?
Juice is a symbolic food. We speak of “nectar”, it is an extraction, the concentration of a product. From there, the narrative around the product values simplicity. It is based on a mechanism from the sociology of food: the mechanism of incorporation, namely “I am what I eat”.
According to this concept, food carries values. For example, according to the imaginations linked to the consumption of meat, carried by advertising and meat manufacturers, it would make it possible to be more muscular, to be less sick, to be stronger. Same talk around dairy products for stronger and stronger bones.
What role have brands and communication strategies played so that the juice is seen as a means of “detox”?
The juice presents itself as a miracle product, a nectar, an elixir, obtained by an elaborate process to preserve the fibres. A precious juice, which would make those who drink it precious and purer. Because there is nothing purer than what we manage to extract from a product of nature, at least, that’s how it is presented. Moreover, this speech allows to invoke magical thinking full of beliefs.
It is the promise of purity by ingestion, even more so in the context of a cure. For several days, what is solid, what can “encumber” is removed. There is an idea of lightness in the juice. Here the link with religion is all the stronger as the practice of fasting is rooted in spirituality.
In the age of science, can we still believe in speeches extolling benefits that are impossible to achieve?
We operate in belief systems. Science can be considered one of them. We choose to join. Our society owes a lot to Descartes, who separated body and mind for a long time.
In the holistic vision, these two entities are linked. We are receptive to the speeches of brands, because they resonate in the self-story that we wish to tell. They allow us to identify ourselves, to situate ourselves in the social space, it is the distinction in the sense of Bourdieu. Advertising rhetoric is to confront us with a show that we know is false, as Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard said. Well-being is intangible and irrational. We are no longer in the encrypted discourse of weight loss and old slimming diets.
More than a means of survival, how has food become a means of assertion, almost a philosophy of life or a religion?
There are many phenomena at work. Health and food scandals have sharpened distrust of brands. In addition, social networks are the open door to the formation of communities. Today, claiming to be part of a food movement is ostentatious, because behind it, there is a story of oneself and of the world. It is a political position. The more the movements rise, speak and express themselves, the more they highlight the effects of food on the planet and health.
One of the glaring examples is found among vegans. On the other side, the “meat eaters” take a stand to defend more heritage, traditional values. In what we eat, there is also what we defend, such as traditions, animal protection or even a collective identity.
“Food spirituality, Detox juice brands or the myth of self-elevation” by Louise Laclautre, published by L’Harmattan.