Around my emergenty world, my friends have been having colonics and juice cleanses for years. I tried a juice fast once, but couldn’t go more than a day without coffee, so I quit. And, no, I’ve never had a colonic.
In the New Republic, Judith Shulevitz investigates the hipster trend of juice cleanses and fasts, “Jesus and Moses Went on Cleanses: That Doesn’t Mean You Should“:
Ask a doctor about cleanses, though, and she’ll probably become enraged. I e-mailed Michael Gershon, a professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University’s medical school and the author of a groundbreaking work on the neurology of the gut called The Second Brain, and he wrote back: “I think that people who use cleanses may have had rough anal periods (see Freud, Sigmund).” Cleanses and their cousins, colonics, have about as much medical merit, declared Gershon, as the acts of penance done by monks who’d “walk across Europe and hit themselves on the back to purge themselves of the plague.”
Aharoni and others made it clear that they fast for more than the mere improvement of their psycho-physiological wellbeing. Aharoni described his cleanses as “journeys” or “traveling while staying at home,” phrases that echoed (to me, at least) the visionary transports achieved by fourth-century Christian desert ascetics and medieval holy women. As it happens, these saints starved themselves only partly out of piety; rejecting food, they also rejected a church committed more to institutional growth than the extremes of religious experience. Another explanation I heard was that people cleanse out of a sense of shame: Their eating and sometimes their lives feel out of control. In the past, this same feeling might have provoked atonement, particularly for the deadly sins of greed and gluttony.
These new cleanses are “religion without theology,” my friend Ruby quipped. But now that I’ve read Junger’s Clean, the best-selling text of the cleansing movement, I’ve decided I don’t agree. Clean is theology all the way down. As in many a devotional text, fasting is presented as a way to embody a purer social order.
It’s a fascinating article, in which Shulevitz concludes that fasting is not a cure, it’s a symptom of a deeper psychological condition: The Idiotic Cleanse Craze and the Modern Theology of Juice Fasts | New Republic.