Eating as a cult - Food Intake or Self-Expression
Eating as a cult - Food Intake or Self-Expression
“You are what you eat.” This quote from the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach may date back to 1850, but it is today more valid than ever. For Feuerbach, eating and drinking were not just actions associated with feeding, but the basis of all things spiritual. Different attitudes towards diet also shape our nutritional styles. Why are people increasingly defining themselves through nutrition? (Foto: ©fotolia/pinkyone)

“Just eat it” no longer applies

What people eat or drink and which topics are at the forefront of nutrition is always an expression of political and economic conditions and thus of societal sensitivities. In Austria, for example, the food situation in the first decades of the 20th century – not least as a result of the two world wars – was characterised by shortage, hunger and, quite often, the fear of starvation. Food was always scarce and uncertain. Having more to eat and drink was a sign of prosperity. During the 1950s, lack and hunger occurred less often. Nutritional issues became increasingly linked to the problem of abundance. The value placed on food and drink began to change and the focus shifted more and more to the content and nutritional composition of foods.

From low-fat and “free from...” to veganism

The more the energy content and origin of food came into focus, the more forms of nutrition arose. Today there are a number of different styles of eating. They range from classic diets, such as Hay’sche Trennkost (where proteins and carbohydrates are eaten separately), low fat, low carb, Paleo (a diet based on the presumed diet of the Stone Age), “free from…” (gluten, sugar, lactose) to vegetarianism and veganism. Why is that?

Room for change

There are things that are difficult or impossible to change at short notice. The question of how one lives or what one believes in cannot be changed as quickly as the things one consumes. Gastrosopher and philosopher Harald Lemke has said that food and drink are one of the great free choices of our time. The question of what and how much one eats contributes greatly to the formation of identity. Through one’s eating, one can define oneself by showing a certain attitude towards food, experience a sense of belonging and, at the same time, stand out from others and differentiate oneself. Nutrition is often seen as an opportunity for self-optimisation. But how does a trend develop from individual nutritional behaviour?

Digital tattoos (self-image)

A snapshot of a perfectly arranged plate, a blog on veganism, the Paleo diet group on Twitter, or an online slimming story: social media plays a key role in communicating these things quickly and effectively. Food is ideal as a digital tattoo (self-image), signalling affiliation with a group – similar to brands of shoes or the type of car one drives. And affiliation offers security in a world that is difficult to understand. We are experiencing a loss of traditional classification systems like religion and family. Man is in search of identity and meaning. This is precisely where a certain nutritional style can reflect structure, belonging and moral beliefs. The tolerance for different diet styles has also increased. Years ago, vegetarians were still considered outsiders. Now veganism is the hype in our society, and those who are choosy about eating are no longer considered fussy but are seen as expressing their individuality.


The topic of food can be found in many areas of our everyday lives and is often also an expression of a certain way of life. In some cases, it has almost become a kind of religion. As a nutrition scientist, I can only welcome the fact that the subject of food is gaining importance. However, individual nutritional styles should not be blindly idealised – the basics of a balanced, healthy diet and the enjoyment of food should remain the focus.

If you would like to find out more about eating as a cult, we recommend the following websites: or

The Kornspitz® team is always happy to hear from you. If you have any questions, requests, suggestions or tips, please send an email to

Mag. Gerda Reimann-Dorninger
Nutrition scientist

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