“Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Diet books and cooking magazines offer an overwhelming amount of information on healthy living. It is the oldest trick in the book, but remains the most difficult to accomplish. Forget the self-help guides, as literature can enlighten us perhaps more than the latest diet and healthy eating trend.
The phrase “tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are” stems actually from the celebrated French gastronome Brillat-Savarin. He reminds us that food also occupies a central place – perhaps the central place – in culture. Food of all kinds is inseparable from our identity and has a huge effect on our culture. Culture has subsequently a big effect on our food. Anyone who has already sampled the Harry Potter-inspired Butter Beer would surely agree.
Although unfortunately for kids, a drink does not make you a wizard. Literature is though, at its heart, an exploration of who we are or could be. If Brillat-Savarin is right about food, what can literature then tell us about leading a healthy lifestyle? The answer is – a lot. Literature and a healthy lifestyle are interconnected, teaching us about the attitude towards success instead of giving us a short-lived diet.
Modesty and Moderation for a Healthy Lifestyle
Literature is the example of food for the brain par excellence: a healthy diet of literature can also keep your synapses firing and your imagination flowing. This holds for adults and kids alike. When asking someone to name a book about food, the chances are high that Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be voiced. It is one of the most popular books for children ever written, but it seems that Willy Wonka’s factory is hardly the place to inspire commitment to a healthy lifestyle. But does exactly that.
Roald Dahl’s beloved book takes its incentives from Brillat-Savarin’s phrase, as in Willy Wonka’s factory you really become what you eat – quite literally. The character Charlie Bucket has very little when he wins a golden ticket for the factory tour. He differs from his fellow tour-mates, as they all gained their tickets by unfair means. The book teaches us quite directly what healthy eating is not. Augustus Gloop’s insatiable greed for chocolate is punished drastically, while Violet Beauregarde turns into a giant blueberry for her rudeness. Eat an excessive amount of candy and it’s easy to tell you are a spoiled brat who demands everything for yourself.
Curiosity, Love and Happiness
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is just one example in the world of literature. This popular book tells us that modesty and moderation are complementary traits that are important for a healthy lifestyle. Eating chocolate isn’t unhealthy per se. In fact, part of what makes food key to a healthy lifestyle is that it can inspire curiosity, generosity, love and happiness – all things that Wonka’s chocolate bars inspire in Charlie.
Brillat-Savarin and Charlie remind us of the connection between what we eat and our character. Our mental and physical health is a balance between responsible choices (healthy food) and the occasional indulgence.
What goes for Children goes for Adults as well
A group of people who failed to appreciate this lesson were those who introduced Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s. At the time, the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ of aspiring artists lived in France and Spain after World War I. and glorified to some extent the excessive lifestyle. Hemningway, T.S Elliot, Dalí, the Fitzgeralds and the like lived between disorientation and indulgence. This brings us to one of the most popular books of that period – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Gatsby’s excessive mansion is hardly a monument to living a healthy lifestyle, but ultimately tells us about attitude:
“At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from the other.”
Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Literature shows us what happens if we fail
Gatsby’s mansion is pretty much the Long Island version of Willy Wonka’s factory. Nick Carraway is a character in the book, but also the novel’s narrator. Brillat-Savarin’s principle clearly applies to drinks as well. Besides, where would Gatsby and his guests be without the occasional cocktail? The cocktails in The Great Gatsby are of the same value than chocolate in world of Willy Wonka. The Great Gatsby offers a similar lesson about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie and Gatsby seem to have a lot in common. The difference is that Gatsby gets lost in the spectacle, as he consumed too much of it and it eventually consumed him. The novel teaches us not only about modesty, but also about greed.
Literature teaches us about a healthy lifestyle by showing what happens if we fail. That surely sounds drastic, but the message is clear. Measure and modesty are the keys to our healthy lifestyle. Or as Brillat-Savarin put it: it’s all fine and well to enjoy cocktails and “turkeys bewitched to a dark gold”, unless you have too much of it and the magic they embody turns to ash. Healthy food is not at there is to it. Significantly, Nick returns in the book to the wheat fields of Minnesota. In the end, the countryside and nature stand in contrast to Gatsby’s excessive house and the glitter of New York. Ultimately, it is about our approach to life itself. A ‘lose 10kg in 10 days’ diet might do the trick for ‘10 days’, but eventually won’t change a think.
Like Food, Like Literature
When it comes to what we eat, literature tends to show us the food that soaks the fibres out of our lives, in order to bring us to the better side. Literature is also the magic extra that is key to a happy and healthy lifestyle. Even studies have shown that that reading children’s literature contributes to a healthy lifestyle for children. So reading literature is literally part of a healthy living. “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are,” said Brillat-Savarin. Our most popular books teach us that if we eat and drink things that are inventive, surprising, full of love and wonder, then we will be too. It is even Willy Wonka and Gatsby-approved.