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You Are What You Eat

It has been said you are what you eat. People take this to mean it has to do with food. Perhaps they should. The origin is summarized brilliantly here:

“The phrase ’You are what you eat’ refers to the notion that to be healthy you need to eat nutritional food. It originally appeared in 1826 when Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer, politician, and famous gastronome, wrote ’Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es,’ which translates to ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are’ [1,2]. The phrase resurfaced in the 1920s when nutritionist Victor Lindlahr used it in association with ‘bad’ food by saying that ’Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap food stuffs. You are what you eat.’”

The comedian Jim Gaffigan stretches this to include in this “That’s McDonald’s” set. He says “I’m tired of people acting like they are better than McDonald’s. It’s like you may have never set foot in McDonald’s, but you have your own McDonald’s. You know, maybe instead of buying a Big Mac, you read US Weekly. Hey, that’s still McDonald’s. It’s just served up a little different…”

I concur with his opinion.

You brain eats content too. If you are what you eat, your brain is what it reads and takes in through other sources. So, what are you?

My sister had a refrigerator magnet for years. “If I am what I eat, then I’m fast, easy and cheap.”

It’s hard not to be. The internet provides a functionally infinite amount of information for free. At the same time higher quality writing from newspapers and reputable journalists move behind paywalls. Attention spans are harder to hold, and books and long form writing becomes more difficult to sell. We want the answer to complex questions in snippets we can consume in less than five minutes. “Can you get that content to me in a tweet? TLDR.”

How do we get around it?

In scientific circles there is a concept that a paper which has been cited 1000 times is more important than a paper cited 2 times. A paper still actively cited and used by new research 50 years after its first publication is more important, more central to science, than a paper cited for a year before falling to irrelevance. Books can be thought of the same way.

There is nothing wrong with the occasional junk food, but we can’t forget the center dishes. Eat your mental vegetables. Find pieces that are older, more seminal, more central to the corpus of literature, and read them. Read them slowly. Find beautiful words. Learn new words. Ponder beautiful sentences, discover why they are beautiful. Discover why they resonate with you.

Not every food, even great food, appeals to every palette. Similarly, not every great writer appeals to every reader. But I guarantee there are ones out there for everyone that will. We just need to seek them out. When you find them, read them to expand who you are. Read them for growth. Feed your brain. It is what you read.

Be thoughtful, complex and compelling.

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