Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Glorification of Gluttony

An article criticizing the glorification of self-indulgence appeared in the Atlantic last month:

The Moral Crusade Against Foodies: Gluttony Dressed Up As Foodie-ism Is Still Gluttony, BR Myers for The Atlantic, March 2011

Myers characterized members of the foodie community as:

Self-involved - Myers quotes Francine Prose in her prize-winning Saveur article Faith and Bacon:
"Yet she finds it unrealistic to hope that humans could ever suppress their "baser appetites ... for the benefit of other humans, flora, and fauna." "
Vulgar - Myers quotes Dana Goodyear in her article in Best Food Writing 2010:
"[Goodyear] tells how a restaurant served head cheese (meat jelly made from an animal's head) to an unwitting Jew:"
"One woman, when [chef Jon] Shook finally had a chance to explain, spat it out on the table and said, “Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years.” Shook giggled, recollecting. “Not any more you ain’t!” "
Intolerant - Says Myers, "One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons." Quoting Anthony Bordain:
"Taking your belief system on the road - or to other people’s houses - makes me angry."
Gluttonous - Myers quotes Todd Kliman in Best Food Writing:
"You eat and eat and eat ... long after you’re full. Being overstuffed, for the food lover, is not a moral problem."
Gluttony, as Myers notes, is not primarily an act of overeating, but an "inordinate preoccupation" with food - you can be thin and still be gluttonous. He ascribes that definition, as well, to the Catholic Church which had me wondering just how broad the Church defines it:
"... to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony."
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Gluttony
But the Church doesn't limit the definition of gluttony to food. One may engage in spiritual gluttony, "the disposition of those who, in prayer and other acts of religion, are always in search of sensible sweetness." Pleasure for pleasure's sake, they say, "is a very great imperfection and productive of great evils."

From what I can tell, most people think Myers' criticisms are unfounded, or at least unfair.


Angela and Melinda said...

Peter Singer also believes it is wrong to eat gluttonously, that is, for pleasure. We should eat the way other species do, he says, simply to sustain life.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he has an axe to grind. What did you think Bix?

Bix said...

I liked the article but it was harsh in places. People aren't essentially vulgar or selfish, it's just one aspect. Also, if someone is unaware of how they act, if they are acting within their group, as their group does ... how at fault are they?

He may have more success discussing the behavior than discussing the people who he sees perpetrating the behavior. Maybe ... either that or he has an axe to grind.

But the article offered a needed perspective. I actually liked the Catholic Church's take on spiritual gluttony. A lot to chew on there for me.

Angela and Melinda said...

I agree about the church take on it--gluttony and lust are valuing worldly things more highly than loving God; at least that's my understanding of it.

Claudia said...

All the unnecessary killing of animals for sport, and the factory farms just so people can stuff their face sickens me. "But it tastes good!"

manu said...

I eat for pleasure, stuff like berries and certain fruits are extremely expensive here (dry climate) but I pay a premium and buy them because I really, really like them. is that sinful? to waste a lot of resources just so I can eat asian etc fruits? It is a little I fear. But these guys take it to an obscene extreme, sometimes I catch that Anthony bourdain show and it makes me sick, the guy goes to italy, spain and all you see is the inside of restaurants and the food... like he lives to eat. The " Shook giggled, recollecting. “Not any more you ain’t!” "" comment deserved a punch in the face

Anonymous said...

i liked the article and i thought some insightful points were made. i enjoy food: reading about food, talking about food, making food, eating food, etc. but i also recognize that you must have ethics when it comes to anything you do in life- particularly food. i am a vegetarian for the environmental and humane (or inhumane) aspects of the meat industry, that being said i condone sustainably and humanely raised meat consumption (as a limited part in a diet...which goes along with sustainability).

i am completely opposed to the comment "if someone is unaware of how they act, if they are acting within their group, as their group does ... how at fault are they?"

they are at fault...just because someone grows up in a culture that condones nazism, genital mutilation, slavery, etc. does not mean that a person, on their own, does not have the ability to choose to be ethical and conscientious...yes it may be more difficult, but it does not absolve the person's actions by simply saying that is their culture.

Bix said...

Good points.

I was including in "groups" people who are unaware or who do not have choice. I agree with you that once you have knowledge, and can choose, but act to support abuse anyway, you're acting unethically. Or, I should say (I think) immorally. I get the two confused.

Here's a meal: A burger and a milkshake.

The meat in the burger involves abuse of cows raised on industrial farms.
The milk in the shake involves abuse of cows on a dairy farm.
The eggs in the bun involve abuse of chickens in industrial hen houses.
The chocolate in the shake involves abuse of minors in the countries where it is harvested.
The tomatoes in the sandwich involve the abuse of migrant farm workers in the South.
The soybean oil in the bun involves clearing of Amazon rainforest to monocrop genetically engineered soybeans with overuse of chemicals.

The meal involves unnecessary abuse of humans, animals, and maybe the environment.

Say an 8 year old has this meal at a party, or a person in a nursing home or other institution is served this meal. I have difficulty saying they are at fault, although I see your point.