Posted by Word Camel on January 10, 2002
In Reply to: "You Are What You Eat" posted by Douglas Becker on January 10, 2002
: I enjoy the origin offered here, that this expression originates in the Hippy Era of the sixties and is associated with eating natural foods, however I also know that this was an expression/concept popular in 19th century German Philosophy.
It was a pun actually, used most famously by Feuerbach who wrote, "Der Mensch ist, was er ißt." Ist and ißt are pronounced the same way in German so you might take it either way - i.e. Man is what he eats; Man eats what he is. I don't know if he based this on a probverb that already existed or if he was the first one to coin the term. I suspect the latter.
Feuerbach was responding to Hegel for whom the driving force of society was the development of the Idea (Zeitgeist?). Feuerbach thought that the driving force of civilization was humanities' material needs and circumstances, and that ideas flowed from those circumstances.
It is actually possible - in a limited way - to predict the political and social outlook of people through and analysis of their diet. In Feuerbach's day, peasants tended to eat more grain and less meat, the petite bourgeoisie, more meat and sugar and the bourgeoisies had the most meat/protein as a proportion of their diet of all. (Today we could would probably create a similar map of social strata today by looking at the proportion of sugar and fat in people's diets.)
In my opinion, many of the health-obsessed people using the phrase today really are literally just extentions of what they eat.