“You are what you eat” is a well-known adage that has been used by mothers and health food advocates for generations to advise everyone to eat healthy food to ensure a healthy body. The relationship between food and well-being first came into use in 1826 when French lawyer Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. In 1863/4, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach wrote: “Der Mensch ist, was er ißt”[Man is what he eats]. The expression “you are what you eat” came into general use in the English language when American nutritionist Victor Lindlahr published his 1942 book You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet. He also hosted a radio show of the same name that aired into the 1950s. (1)
In the 1960s and 70s, you are what you eat took on new meaning in the hippy era when it became associated with macrobiotic food and return-to-the-land movements. It was also the ironic title of a little known 1968 counter-culture film and soundtrack produced by Barry Feinstein. (2) The film, You are what You Eat, definitely did not promote healthy eating or lifestyle, but did capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s California hippy scene with its psychedelic representation of sex, drugs and rock and roll. (3)
The logo for the film and album cover art shows an imaginative representation of the mouth of the mason jar and a protruding tongue. (4) In interviews quoted in the WFMU blog, cast member Carl Franzoni stated that it was his tongue that served as the model for the you are what you eat logo; and, he claims, his tongue was the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ famous tongue and lips logo (Figure 2), developed for the Stones’s 1972 European tour. (5) Unfortunately for Franzoni, his claimed influence on the famous Rolling Stones’ logo, as well as the film, have slipped into obscurity. Meanwhile, the adage “you are what you eat” remains popular and is still widely used in the diet and health food sectors. (6)
Since 1970, the world’s population has more than doubled. Providing healthy food, or even not so healthy food, for over eight billion people, has its challenges. Food systems are responsible for more than a third of the greenhouse gases worldwide. Agriculture requires energy, fertilizers and land. Food processing, packaging and distribution systems, especially refrigeration, uses a lot of energy too.
Award-winning German documentary Taste the Waste (2011, directed by Valentin Thurn) claims that we live in a state of over-abundance as typified by grocery retailers that put too much blemish-free food in front of their customers. (8) More food than can possibly be consumed is being produced, and sent thousands of miles, only to be dumped in landfills as it passes the sell-by date. Hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of food is wasted every year. Nutritional experts and the general public are recognizing the importance of eating healthy food, especially increased quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many consumers complain they can’t afford to buy fresh healthy produce at grocery store prices. Maybe high costs could be reduced if less food was procured and then thrown away.
Taste the Waste describes how wasting half our food production also has a significant impact on the world’s climate. When food decomposes at a garbage dump, it releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with a short-term warming potential many times higher than carbon dioxide. This enlarges the already high carbon footprint of the global agro-food systems. systems.
Although taste the waste is not yet a food adage, maybe it should be. It can serve as a powerful metaphor for problems in our industrialized and globalized food production systems in which we all play a part. It seems to me that reducing waste is an important first step in providing more sustainable and healthy food at affordable prices while reducing our global carbon footprint.
In my mind, “taste the waste” brought the “you are what you eat” mason jar logo to mind. By replacing the mason jar with a garbage can, my “Taste the Waste” image was conceived. I did a quick sketch and turned it into a drypoint print using a scrap PVC gift card as a matrix. (9) I printed a test run of five prints using my little Open Press Project 3D printed press (Figures 3a and b).
Here is my final product – Taste-the-Waste Diptych (figure 4). Enjoy!
(1) Phrase Finder, https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/you-are-what-you-eat.html, accessed 2022-11-13.
(2) You Are What You Eat, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDjRoKIvYVU.
(3) “You are what you eat,” WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, 2007, https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/04/you_are_what_yo.html, accessed 2022-11-13.
(4) “You are what you eat,” WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, 2007, https://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2007/04/you_are_what_yo.html, accessed 2022-11-13.
(5) Tongue and lips logo, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_and_lips_logo.
(6) You Are What You Eat appears in the title of a number of books, videos, blogs and television shows, such as a 2022 reality TV Series featuring Trisha Goddard, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt16965218/.
(7) FAO, Food systems account for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, March 9, 2021, https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1379373/icode/.
(8) Taste the Waste, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtPCoMtr7Lk.
(9) The gift-card conundrum: Convenience with an environmental cost, CBC News, Dec 19, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/what-on-earth-newsletter-gift-card-holidays-1.5402807