Some Thoughts on Gluttony

I’ve already mentioned that I get really tired of the conflation of having a fat body with the sin of gluttony. The times that I’ve seen gluttony addressed in a Christian, religious context, “fat” is usually used as a shorthand for gluttony, and eating in any way that doesn’t make you thin (or at least thinner) is viewed as sinful. Particular foods, specifically anything fatty or sugary, are also treated as innately sinful. (And that language carries over into secular discussions of food….sinful chocolate and virtuous salad.)

But I don’t think any act of eating can be sinful in a vacuum. I think there is such a thing as gluttony, but I think it has less to do with eating too many calories and more to do with selfishly taking from others or refusing to share.  And there’s an example of exactly what I’m talking about in Corinthians:

17But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.

33So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment. The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.

One interpretation of this that I’ve heard is that the communal meal was supposed to be a way of providing for those who didn’t have enough food. But, the wealthy church members who brought food that was supposed to be shared arrived first.  And rather than actually share, they ate early and finished off everything they’d brought. Then, when the day laborers arrived, after working a full day, there was nothing left for them to eat.

So, is eating a piece of chocolate cake sinful? Not inherently. If it’s the last piece of chocolate cake, and you don’t wait to see if everyone else in the house has had some, then I’d say yes. It’s not the food itself, but how it affects those around you.

I can think of a specific time when I was definitely guilty of gluttony.  We were gaming, and there was a bag of Swedish fish. Another player really liked them, and so the bag ended up by me, partly to rag on him and partly so he wouldn’t just eat them all.  Instead, *I* ended up eating most of the bag.  It wasn’t malicious, more a combination of needing something to do with my hands while the game was going on and unthinkingly eating the food that was in front of me because it was there. (I’m usually pretty good at stopping when I’m full, but I need to physically move the food away from me to do so.)

It’s kind of a silly example, and I’m not wracked with guilt or anything (though I probably will bring a bag of Swedish fish to the next game), but it shows the difference I think is important. It’s not eating that’s gluttonous, but eating more than you need in a way that takes away from other people.

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Should you fire someone for fat-hating texts? (Probably not.)

I recently read this Ask a Manager post about a woman who was fired over private text messages. Basically, a retail employee was on her way home from work, texting her boyfriend to complain about the fat woman sitting next to her. Her words were “the fat cow sitting next to me is taking up half my seat as well as hers AND hasn’t heard of deodorant.” Unbeknownst to the employee, a customer was sitting behind her, recognized her from earlier in the day, and took it upon herself to take pictures and pass them to the employee’s boss with a complaint about the employee’s behavior.  The employee was fired, and the store manager won’t let anyone from the store give her a reference. She wrote in to Ask a Manager to ask who was in the wrong.

On the whole, I think Alison’s answer was very reasonable:

Most of all, your employer. It’s no one’s business what you write in private text messages to other people in your personal time. You had a reasonable expectation of privacy in sending a private text message, and they’re wrong to fire you over this.

The woman behind you was out of line in reading over your shoulder, photographing your phone, and sending it to your employer. She shouldn’t have been looking at a stranger’s phone in the first place, and she must have had to make a point of trying to see what you were writing; it’s not like it was forced into her line of vision and she couldn’t help reading everything you were writing. (And even if she hadn’t been able to help it, the polite thing to do in that case is to pretend she didn’t see it — she doesn’t get to comment on, let alone photograph, someone else’s private messages just because she happened to be able to see them on public transportation.)

But your employer is worse. The woman who emailed them was a busybody, but they’re the ones who actually fired you over this. They’re totally in the wrong.

But for what it’s worth, you yourself aren’t coming out smelling like a rose here — and not because of your actions in this story, but because of your commentary on it: You have a pretty gross attitude toward overweight people. Your comment about your store manager at the end of your letter is rude and out of line. That doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t deserve to be fired for what happened, but you’re going to lose a lot of sympathy in life for talking about other people that way, and rightly so. Your boyfriend might be fine with you calling people “fat cows” (although he shouldn’t be), but making a snarky and insulting comment to a stranger (me) about your boss’s weight says to me that you’re out of touch with how kind people talk to and about each other (or possibly that you’re young enough that you haven’t learned it yet). So: Be nicer.

I agree that private text messages that don’t involve anyone from work are not something you should get fired over. I also appreciate that Alison called out the letter writer’s attitude toward fat people.

And yet, I also feel like her manager, on seeing those texts, was put in a pretty awkward position. The texts themselves were none of her business, but the manager herself is also fat (at least by the employee’s description). So, now she’s gotten a glimpse of her employee’s nasty attitude toward fat people and she can’t unsee that just because the texts weren’t meant for her. I wouldn’t want to manage someone who had that level of contempt for any group that I’m a member of, whether it’s women or fat people or whatever, because it’s fairly likely to spill over into work.  Not just for them, but for me too. I’ll admit, it would be hard to deal fairly with this woman if I were her boss, and I understand wanting her gone.

I don’t think firing her was the right call unless it was part of a larger pattern of snotty or sizeist behavior, and if it was, her boss should’ve made that clear. But at the same time, I think it would’ve been totally reasonable to sit her down and say that the comments were out of line, she’s not being disciplined for them because they’re private, but that if she shows that attitude in a work context, or in a way that would be associated with work, she will be.

Where her boss really steps out of line is in refusing to let other store employees give her a reference. That goes from a reasonable desire not to manage someone who doesn’t respect you into petty and vindictive, and it’s definitely not okay.