2700 years of dietary policy: from kosher to veganism and Soylent

25 May, 2021

dietary policy

Vegetarianism, veganism or soylent are not only supermarket choices, they are ideologies fueling a dietary policy. This is not a historical novelty: the ideological apparatuses of antiquity and feudalism already used dietary politics as a tool of power and political domination.

Table of Contents

A very brief history of dietary politics

Dietary politics, ideology and class domination in ancient Judaism

The over 300 rules fixing the kosher diet constituted a dietary policy that served the Jerusalemite priestly aristocracy to centralize animal sacrifice and collect tribute independently of the vicissitudes of the kingdom's borders
The over 300 rules fixing the kosher diet constituted a dietary policy that served the Jerusalemite priestly aristocracy to centralize animal sacrifice and collect tribute independently of the vicissitudes of the kingdom’s borders

The use of dietary restrictions as part of a system of domination is nothing new. The archaeological critique of the Bible years ago already eliminated the claims of health rationality about the Torah’s food-treatment provisions.

An apparent historical accident led the theocratic monarchy to rely on the inhabitants of the Judean highlands and define what was correct, kosher, based on the local culture as a way of avoiding the influence of the coastal cities. Diet – itself a product of economic and environmental conditions – is one of the main differentiating facts of this particular group. The priests of Jerusalem turned it into more than 300 rules that they codified in the Torah, a veritable dietary policy.

By converting particularity into religious canon and dietary policy, the priestly caste will create two mechanisms of social control particularly important for the preservation and development of its class power:

1 A form of autonomous social control in the delimitation of its domain: a we reaffirmed daily without the need for particular vigilance. This will serve him to maintain control over his subjects during periods when the Jerusalemite monarchy suffers territorial losses, but will also serve as a measure of the territorial expansion of the ideological power of the theocratic nobility’s ideological power, which implicitly marked the potential limits of the monarchy linked to it.

Thus the Temple theocracy will ideologically absorb and homogenize populations using dietary control as a tool. This appears in passing in the Christian gospels when the term Nazarene is shown to carry at the time a shadow of doubt about the authenticity of the Galileans’ Judaism.

The underlying battle, which may seem anecdotal but was by no means so in its economic and political repercussions, was due to the fact that the dietary policy of Deuteronomy had forbidden mixing meat and milk (you shall not eat the calf in its mother’s milk). But the typical dish of the Galileans combined chicken and milk. Curbing this gastronomic practice, which like all such customs implied a certain structure and productive practice, became the main political goal of the theocratic power in the region until the priestly elites disappeared with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70.

.

2 Adding a dietary policy to the very definition of belonging to the people – in the ancient sense, not in the bourgeois one – allowed the temple nobility to organize around food a general system of voluntary exactions. The religious control of diet would end up becoming priestly control over slaughter and sacrifice, i.e., control over protein became the main source of rents of the theocratic nobility.

The dietary policy of the feudal ruling classes

Luther pins his theses in Wittenberg. The Lutheran sacramental reform will be based on the criticism of indulgences developed during the feudal era as a way to relax the Christian dietary policy for the ruling classes in exchange for economic contributions, first to the crusades and then to the ecclesiastical apparatus.
Luther pins his theses in Wittenberg. The Lutheran sacramental reform will be based on the criticism of indulgences developed during the feudal era as a way to relax the Christian dietary policy for the ruling classes in exchange for economic contributions, first to the crusades and then to the ecclesiastical apparatus.

At the decline of slavery and the rise of feudalism, the competition between Judaism, Islam and Christianity will have an impact on the dietary policy of the ruling classes. The three great ideological apparatuses, converging and clashing on the Iberian peninsula, the Levantine Mediterranean coast and southern Italy, will develop competing and conflicting dietary policies and ideologies.

As the system of urban segregation deepened and spread from the 12th century onwards, the Christian of the Iberian peninsula took pork – a food forbidden to Islam and Judaism – as a banner, to the point of generating from the 14th century onwards a whole gastronomy of confrontation in which a diet exalting and exaggerating the use of pork derivatives became a profession of faith. It is the time of the Duelos y quebrantos, for example, the dish that Cervantes will later make Quixote eat as a token of his old Christianity.

Each of the three apparatuses will generate innovations of their own in dietetic politics which will have later transcendence and will be incorporated into the later ideological-political arsenal.

Everything forbidden to us in the Torah regarding food is also harmful to our bodies

Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides

1 Medieval Judaism, whose intellectual center will lie in Al Andalus, will establish for the first time a rationalist justification of prohibitions and dietary policy. Thus began the attempts to rationalize religious dogmatics, which would later be recovered by the bourgeoisie, but also and first of all the association between the political establishment of dietary restrictions and public health, another seminal topic. In Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed, the health of the social body of Jewry and the physical health of Jews converge unsurprisingly in the fulfillment of the Torah.

2 With the Almohade and Almoravid invasions, the politics of Islamization reappeared. But whereas traditionally they had hinged on the Yizia, the religious tax, and with it the access to economic opportunities, now the dietary policy will take center stage.

At least twice, halal will be made mandatory, pig farming will be banned and – for a short time – vine cultivation will be prohibited. The battle against the new dietary policy will be hard fought by Christian Mozarabic Christians -who will recover wine under the liturgical excuse- and Jewish rabbis, who will keep slaughtering -especially poultry, hence its prominence in Sephardic gastronomy- behind closed doors.

3 Abstinence and fasting set the pace for “medieval man,” asserts Le Goff, reducing medieval Europe to Christendom and centering the relationship between the body and feudal ideology on Lent and its opposite, carnival.

With the Crusades will appear the bulls and indulgences which in exchange for alms and donations will allow eating and having access to animal proteins in the context of the war against Muslim armies. This type of rules, which became generalized from the 13th century with the Bull of the Holy Crusade, brings an important novelty: they are not limited to armies.

This is not just about soldiers being able to eat on the eve of battle. It is about financing the kings participating in the Levantine crusades and the Iberian reconquest. They have a distributive function: the alms collected by the Pope are delivered – for the most part – to the Christian princes. So the bulls are addressed above all to the ruling classes who do not go to combat. Eating meat during Lent and other feasts became a sign of the nobility… and soon of the aspirations of a part of the rising commercial bourgeoisie to merge with the nobility. Dietary policy would thus begin to openly differentiate classes for the first time in Europe.

A regime of class-based dietary restrictions is thus established in practice… which, in the absence of crusading armies will eventually become part of the regular financing of the ecclesiastical apparatus and will end up being at the center of the Lutheran critique of the Papacy and the dominant Theology.

Bourgeois morality and dietetic politics

After the generalization of capitalist relations, the egalitarian rigorism of the first ideological-religious manifestations of the bourgeoisie will give way to the moral revolution of Smith, Bentham and Malthus.

  • Smith, based on a Calvinist foundation and following Newton’s gravitational model, will explain that the social result of the generalized free exchange of goods is a social optimum which, thanks to an invisible hand which in reality is none other than the divine law of love, maximizes the possible welfare and ensures human progress.
  • Malthus will turn the hunger and misery of the proletariat by explaining their function as the necessary driving forces of the great social machine of accumulation.
  • And Bentham, taking from Helvetius a denaturalized version of Epicurean morality, will weld together the individual parts by enunciating the core of the religion of the commodity. It reduces social relations between classes to interpersonal relations between individuals who freely exchange as equals in the market. How can capitalism not be moral? One only needs to ensure the individual freedom to exchange commodities and equality will come by itself. In fact it will live in every exchange for no one will freely exchange something for another good having less utility for him.

Overall result: the more exchanges, the more comprehensive, fluid and intense the circulation… the greater the social welfare resulting thanks to providence acting as an invisible hand!!!

The fact that there exists a class of persons who can only sell a very particular commodity, their labor power, and therefore know no other freedom than to sell it or perish, is diluted in the magma of individualities of circulation and accumulation. For Bentham’s universal individualistic morality they are only sentient beings, capable of suffering and enjoyment, who act in the market calculating at all times how to increase their total utility.

Bentham is aware that in the ideological venture he is culminating, both Malthus and he are reducing workers to the level of subhumanity attributed by capitalist-slaveholders to slaves, almost to the level of beasts of burden. So he makes a libertarian flourish, equating worker-condition, blackness and animality and vindicating for all mercantile freedom over their own slavery.

The day may come when the rest of animal creation will acquire those rights which could never have been denied them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that blackness of skin is not the reason why a human being should be abandoned without compensation at the whim of a torturer.

It may one day be recognized that the number of legs, the hairiness of the skin, or the termination of the sacral bone, are equally insufficient reasons for abandoning a sentient being to the same fate. What else should draw the unbridgeable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty of speech?…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they speak? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law deny its protection to any sentient being?…. The time will come when mankind will spread its mantle over everything that breathes.

Jeremy Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Where classism and the most savage racism are evident, the radical Anglo-Saxon petty bourgeoisie will find the roots of animalism and the moral foundation of a new dietary policy: vegetarianism. In Great Britain the bourgeois revolution had originally taken the form of religious dissidence, and both there and in the USA the main expressions of petty-bourgeois democratic radicalism will be born in continuity with different expressions of Protestant Puritanism, still visible in its latest offshoots under the slogan the personal is political.

That is, the bourgeoisie had renounced during its time of glory any dietary policy that might hinder accumulation and the extension of the world market. But not the petty bourgeoisie, which kept its umbilical cord with Puritanism. Vegetarianism during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th and veganism since then would express and accompany the increasingly reactionary evolution of petty-bourgeois utopias: from spiritualism to Tolstoy, from New Age to the mysticism of Deep Environmentalism.

Read also: To Understand Veganism (in Spanish), 6/5/2019

Veganism, Vegetarianism and the dietary policy of the Green Deal

The French government has already made at least two attempts to remove meat and high-quality proteins from school menus.The return of the dietary policy now serves the Green Deal.
The French government has already made at least two attempts to remove meat and high-quality proteins from school menus.The return of the dietary policy now serves the Green Deal.

Veganism and vegetarianism, like kosher, halal and lent, are not diets. They are dietary policy, ideological practices with the same will to homogenize and transform towards a certain morality the populations in which they settle and promote, as their feudal ancestors did. The morality supporting them changes, evidently from feudal morality to capitalist morality. They are as immoral as the malthusianism serving as their basis and to which they keep associating themselves again and again. That is why they are bourgeois ideology ready for political action. And that is why they are so useful as tools for the massive pauperization of the workers now under the Green Deal.

One only needs to open the major audiovisual content distribution platforms to find all kinds of documentaries and sensationalist reports against fishing, industrial livestock farming or dairy consumption. All of them end up being linked to the climate emergency discourse and advocating the generalization of the vegan-vegetarian diet. They are the agitprop of a new dietary policy. Casually, the message coincides with the goal that governments have set themselves in order to revive agrarian accumulation: to forcibly change the technologies of exploitation even at the cost of drastically reducing the consumption of quality proteins by workers.

The propaganda for this dietary policy works. At least in the US. There, for example, consumption of cow’s milk has dropped 40 percent since 1975 and, in the last decade, 20,000 dairy farms closed down.

The vegan plant-based milks are a new boom for investors although nutritionally they can even be harmful, many of them with less than 4% of their supposed main component and more sugar than would be healthy. The few that manage to be a real nutritional alternative to real milk, achieve this only partially and on the basis of additives and supplements whose elaboration, if they were to be scaled up to totally replace milk consumption, would once again become prohibitively expensive at affordable prices. As is the development of alternatives to all high quality protein sources.

And yet another old bourgeois fantasy appears there, taking up the Benthamite idea: feed the proletariat with fodder, industrial compounds made from waste with the chemical composition necessary for them to carry out their work without problems… and nothing else. The dietary policy of the ultra-capitalist utopia.

The proletariat as cattle: from “A Modest Proposal” to Soylent and the dietary politics of 996

Jonathan Swift in his "A Modest Proposal" sarcastically laid bare the arguments of the new morality, proposing child cannibalism as a solution to famine and disaster in Ireland. The sarcasm would eventually inspire an entire dietary policy in Silicon Valley.
Jonathan Swift in his “A Modest Proposal” sarcastically laid bare the arguments of the new morality, proposing child cannibalism as a solution to famine and disaster in Ireland. The sarcasm would eventually inspire an entire dietary policy in Silicon Valley.

The idea was born as a satire by Jonathan Swift, surely the most lucid critic within the British establishment of the moral aberration that would eventually crystallize into the works of Smith, Malthus and Bentham. Swift, dean of the Anglican cathedral in Dublin, would present to parliament a sarcastic proposal entitled A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.

The famous A Modest Proposal used the moral underpinnings of the precursors of Malthusianism and Benthamism, as well as their exaltation of the social function of poverty to propose a way out of the humanitarian emergency caused by the Irish famine: intern the children of day laborers and poor peasants on farms and use them as beef cattle. The sarcasm, beginning in the aloof style which still characterizes the Oxbridgean world, followed the irony and satire Swift had used against the Royal Society three years earlier in his Gulliver’s Travels.

Although he was condemned at the time for his bad taste, needless to say, the literal idea of cannibalizing unemployed workers, i.e., unused by capital, was perfectly consistent with the precursors of Malthusian-Benthamite morality. Swift had located the waterline of the new capitalist morality, and that was his aim.

Soylent, the 996 regime's diet policy experiment in Silicon Valley
Soylent, the 996 regime’s diet policy experiment in Silicon Valley

But just as Bentham’s animalizing argument eventually sowed animalism, the fact that cannibalism could be defended with the same arguments used today by advocates of prostitution and surrogacy left a permanent imprint on the bourgeois subconscious. As such it was released again and again under the predictable forms of humor and dystopia. One of these, a product of the American counterculture of the 1960s – a milieu in which, by the way, today’s veganism would germinate – is the film Soylent Green (1973), based on a 1966 counterculture classic, Make space! (Make room!)

But we would have to wait until the 2000s for the idea of replacing menus with a compound feed for workers to become a reality. It could only happen in the most capitalized offshoot of the American counterculture: the underworld of Silicon Valley programmers and engineers. They called it Soylent. It wasn’t made from human flesh, but its foundational stories and myths seemed a parody of the alienated life it was intended to support as the underpinning of a new dietary policy.

They had been living mainly on ramen, corndogs and frozen quesadillas from Costco, supplemented with vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy, but the grocery bills kept mounting. Rob Rhinehart, one of the businessmen, began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. The food was such a burden, he told me recently. It was also the time it took up and the hassle. We had a very small kitchen and no dishwasher.

He tried his own version of Super Size Me, living off $1 menus from McDonald’s and $5 pizzas from Little Caesars. But after a week: I felt like I was going to die. Kale was in, and it was cheap, so next he tried a diet based exclusively on kale. But that didn’t work either. I was starving, he claimed.

The End of Food, New Yorker

Not that Soylent hasn’t generated problems, but what’s important is the idea: replacing food with a shake/feed that can be taken without leaving the workstation. A diet policy for tech company workers enslaved under a 996 work regime: nine in the morning to nine in the evening, six days a week, with no lunch break. Or as the advertising put it: designed to save … resting time.

Dietary policy and nutritional discourse as part of the ideological offensive of the “Sacred Climate Union”

Vegan demonstration in London. Veganism has discovered its chance to become dietary policy of the Green Deal.
Vegan demonstration in London. Veganism has discovered its chance to become dietary policy of the Green Deal.

68% of French people already believe that there is too much meat consumption. 32% of respondents have reduced their meat consumption according to Le Monde. Vegan propaganda conditioned at least 56% of them to do so. The same report acknowledges however that the impact of vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets is concentrated among the university-educated petite bourgeoisie. This segment of that class is the most sensitive to climate change. And climate change is the first argument today of vegetarian and vegan proselytizing, which wants to present itself as dietary policy of the Green Deal.

The reality is that the promotion of a new, supposedly low-emissions dietary policy has nothing to do with methane emissions or their effect on the climate, but with the needs of recapitalizing agricultural production. This policy is so instrumental that it enables them to overlook the food needs of millions of children and adults who will be denied by the new food policies a diet allowing them a full healthy development. It was certainly not their concern when they were stuffing workers with degraded and unhealthy industrial foods, it is not their concern now when they wondrously (re)discover animal welfare.

Vegetarianism, veganism or soylent are not solely nor fundamentally supermarket choices, they are ideologies. Malthusian ideologies – truly immoral even if cynically or childishly dressed up as sensitive – which are presented as dietary policy and that if imposed globally would condemn millions to hunger.

Veganism and vegetarianism have been spontaneously integrated into the Sacred Climate Union and thus serve as an ideological argument for what is nothing more than a massive transfer of income from labor to capital. Transfer that happens among other things by impoverishing the diet of the vast majority of workers by reducing by half the consumption of dairy and meat and concentrating access to these products among the highest incomes.

If you liked this article you may also be interested in: 
Nutrition, gastronomy and revolution (on dietary debates during the Russian Revolution)