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Why don’t rich people eat anymore?

Extreme dieting is the latest way for the mega-rich to signal their wealth and status

“I don’t want all this shit,” shrieks Logan Roy, characteristically hot-tempered, in the opening episode of Succession’s second season. The “shit” in question is platter after platter of shucked oysters, fat orange prawns, and lobsters smothered in garlic butter served up on beds of ice. “Pizza! We’ll have pizza,” Logan commands. And so his staff carry away the dishes teeming with crustaceans and unceremoniously dump them into the bins outside. The emergency pizzas are duly ordered and laid out on the dining table as the Roy family get down to business, but these too remain completely untouched.

In Succession, status is signalled by what characters eat – or don’t eat. When Cousin Greg brings along his arriviste date to Logan’s birthday party – the one with the “ludicrously capacious bag” – Tom Wambsgans quips that she’s “wolfing all the canapés like a famished warthog”. Tom occasionally reveals his own middle-class greed and snobbery through his irrepressible excitement about fine food, as in the scene where he introduces Greg to the pleasures of eating deep-fried ortolan. Later, when he’s threatened with prison time, the first thing he frets about is the “prison food” and the logistics of making “toilet wine”. By contrast, the Roys, the billionaires atop the Waystar Royco media empire, seem to barely eat or drink anything at all.

Succession is fiction, granted. But it remains an impressively accurate (and well-researched) vignette of the lives of the mega-rich. Like the Roys, the one per cent are increasingly styling themselves as having conquered and subdued their appetites: X co-founder Jack Dorsey once admitted to fasting for 22 hours a day, while multimillionaire biohacker Bryan Johnson has previously claimed to do a 23-hour daily fast. Many other Silicon Valley workers swear by meal replacement shakes like Soylent and Huel under the guise of “biohacking”. But extreme fasting isn’t just confined to tech bros: Bella Hadid’s morning routine video featured over 20 different supplements and vitamins and just one bite of a sad-looking croissant.

Of course, the most obvious example is Ozempic, the weight loss drug du jour among the elites, which works by suppressing hunger. Ozempic’s impact has been so seismic that analysts have reckoned the drug could have an unprecedented impact on food consumption. “I obviously don’t know when someone is taking drugs,” Anthony Geich, director of guest relations at Priyanka Chopra’s haute Indian restaurant Sona, told The Cut back in 2023. “[But] I’ve definitely noticed the trend of salads being ordered more, or people who are boxing their food up at the end of the night.” 

A person’s relationship to food has always revealed a lot about their class. The English king Henry I famously died after eating “a surfeit of lampreys”. In the UK, the connotations carried by different foodstuffs have always been “heavily dependent on scarcity,” explains Pen Vogler, author of Stuffed: A History of Good Food and Hard Times in Britain. “The economists’ old friend, the supply and demand curve, is a fairly reliable indicator of what foods are used to signal high status: venison and game, the sale of which were highly controlled, from the Norman invasion onwards; spices in Medieval and Tudor England; French food in the 19th century,” she says. “For centuries anything imported was high status – and we still grant ‘middle class’ to imported foods such as avocado or quinoa – even though they might be peasant foods in their countries of origin.”

@babybella777 mornings with me before we start making things for you cc @Orebella ☁️🤍🫶🏼🪩 #orebella ♬ ♡ ᶫᵒᵛᵉᵧₒᵤ ♡ - SoBerBoi

As food choices are so closely linked to status, it follows that we also view certain body types as more ‘desirable’ than others. “Fatness used to be a symbol of wealth and lack of need – and therefore desirable – whereas thinness was associated with poverty – and therefore undesirable,” explains Dr Maxine Woolhouse, a senior lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University with expertise in social class and eating practices. “In contemporary times, some trends have flipped.” Our work-centric society leaves little time for people – particularly people on low incomes – to plan, purchase and cook healthy food or exercise, and as Dr Woolhouse says, “this is a key reason why fatness is now more associated with the working classes as opposed to thinness.”

Today, despite the ‘body positivity’ movement’s best efforts, Western culture continues to valorise thinness. It's a trend which has had a devastating impact on public health: in the UK, around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder and the number is rising sharply. Society has never prized thinness more, and yet it has never been so unattainable. “We are surrounded by so much food now, it is harder not to eat than to eat,” Vogler explains. “So many things push food upon us: marketing, social media, TV advertising, delivery apps, supermarket meal deals, cheap ultra-processed food which is designed to make us eat more.”

Things are very different for the elite. The mega-rich don’t have to eat obesogenic food,” Vogler says. “It might be quite tough in our food and social media environment to be slim – and healthy too – but the mega-rich have the resources they need to do it: access to good fresh food, education, space, time, social validation.” It’s also worth noting that Ozempic is still primarily used by the wealthy, with reports claiming that users of the drug are concentrated in affluent areas like Manhattan and Hollywood. Elon Musk, the third richest man alive, has also admitted to using the drug.

“Being able to demonstrate a lack of need for material goods, like food, suggests social transcendence” – Dr Maxine Woolhouse

Consequently, hosting a lavish banquet or ordering lobster is no longer a sufficient signifier of status; today, a sign of true wealth is the ability to forgo food entirely. Eating essentially betrays a person’s most basic human needs; in an era obsessed with ‘self-optimisation’, not eating suggests that a person is somehow ‘beyond’ needs and has achieved total mastery of their body with a heightened capacity for efficiency and focus.

“There is a history in Judeo-Christian societies – and likely in many other religions, hence the widespread practice of fasting – where demonstrating a lack of need for material things, especially food, and being able to demonstrate self-control and discipline are signs of spiritual transcendence,” Dr Woolhouse says. Famously, Italian saint Catherine of Siena would fast for prolonged periods of time as a means of demonstrating her devotion to God through extreme self-control. “But there’s also a class dimension to this,” Dr Woolhouse continues, “because being able to demonstrate a lack of need for material goods, like food, suggests social transcendence too; it’s symbolic of living a life whereby our material needs aren’t a daily concern.” She adds that “fad diets are very unlikely to take off in societies where there are food shortages or food insecurity.”

It’s still jarring to watch celebrities openly admit to fasting for 23 hours a day or taking 14 different supplement pills in lieu of a balanced breakfast. “It normalises and sanctions practises that in other contexts would be regarded as eating disordered,” Dr Woolhouse says. “When eating practices are packaged as ‘done in the name of health’, they are more socially acceptable and difficult to contest.” She points out that a normal teenage girl restricting her diet in the same way as Johnson would likely be regarded as ill and in need of medical intervention. “What we, as a society, regard as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ eating is contextual and largely rides on how those eating practices are framed.”

It’s obvious but bears reiterating that extreme, fad diet trends are both ineffectual and dangerous. But this trend isn’t really about food or health. It’s about performance. It’s a way for the moneyed classes to signal their wealth and status and posture as above us mere mortals who debase ourselves by eating. Ultimately, though, there’s no such thing as a jab or pill or meal replacement shake that can totally eradicate the need to eat – so you might as well enjoy it.

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