Diet books contribute to a $60-billion industry as they speak to the 45 million Americans who diet every year. Yet these books don’t just tell readers what to eat: they offer complete philosophies about who Americans are and how we should live. Diet and the Disease of Civilization interrupts the predictable debate about eating right to ask a hard question: what if it’s not calories—but concepts—that should be counted?
Cultural critic Adrienne Rose Bitar reveals how four popular diets retell the “Fall of Man” as the narrative backbone for our national consciousness. Intensifying the moral panic of the obesity epidemic, they depict civilization itself as a disease and offer diet as the one true cure.
Bitar reads each diet—the Paleo Diet, the Garden of Eden Diet, the Pacific Island Diet, the detoxification or detox diet—as both myth and manual, a story with side effects shaping social movements, driving industry, and constructing fundamental ideas about sickness and health. Diet and the Disease of Civilization unearths the ways in which diet books are actually utopian manifestos not just for better bodies, but also for a healthier society and a more perfect world.