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You are what (who?) you eat


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I like the play on words in German - Mann ist was er isst - you are what you eat. But eating is always a brutal business at some point down the line (i.e. on the receiving end).

Arthur Dent: What's wrong with being drunk?

Ford Prefect: You ask a glass of water.

Sometimes food just freaks me out. Must be why I still like the movie Ravenous so much.

I just ran across this interview with Margaret Visser. She always has interesting things to say. Take cannibalism, e.g.:

CM: Does such intimate knowledge of human behaviour increase or decrease your respect for humanity?

Visser: I'm enormously impressed by the sophistication of social behaviour. The more you learn about it the more awesome we are. We're so sensitive and so complex. Even the person that thinks or she is terribly simple is carrying a out the most extraordinary feats of communication. Just the way you hold your head, the way you put your hand, the way you're sitting, you're giving out pictures to me and I'm taking them in--

CM: --First you made me self-conscious of the way I eat and now you're making me self-conscious of the way I sit!

Visser: If you knew what was involved in taking one footstep! If you had to think through every movement that your body made to stand up and take one step you'd spend all day and you wouldn't take the step. We do all kinds of amazing things. The closer you look the more amazing we become.

On the other hand, take something like cannibalism. It's taboo in our society. But this dreadful thing [Persian Gulf War] where Americans killed 100,000 people. Everybody jumped up and down and said how wonderful they were. If you told the same people, "Now go and eat them," they'd be absolutely outraged. "Eat them! What are you saying? Am I a savage?!" In a way, it's much more sensible to eat them than to kill them. And yet we admire the killing and we think we're so smart because we won't now eat them. We're extremely complex in some ways and in other ways we're not very highly evolved, rather primitive.

CM: And preposterous?

Visser: And preposterous. And wicked! Wicked and cruel, because table manners are used in very cruel ways, to put people down, to keep people out, to reinforce prestige and inborn privilege. Anything we have, everything we do, can be used for good and for evil. You realize the extent to which human beings can do anything. We are created to be able to do anything, from the worst, the basest to the best. We're free in the sense that we can take out culture and choose and change it. We're not free to have none. That's the mistake that a lot of people make.

Human beings must have culture, but the freedom is in being able to adjust it. When we feel it's going wrong or it's inappropriate, it can be changed. But you're not free to get rid of it. That's something I'd very much like to get across in this book. There's no such thing as a society of human beings with no manners. That's why I had the cannibalism section, because cannibals are highly mannered.

(from CM Archive )

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