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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Real Food, Real Life

Michele, the Fat Nutritionist, has a fabulous post on why the idea of “real food” is problematic. She talks about how, for every food that’s viewed as unhealthy, worthless junk, there’s someone who depends on that food in one way or another.

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

I think this is hugely important and can’t be stated enough. People vary. People’s needs vary. And just trying to get yourself fed is hard work sometimes. Trying to navigate your own particular health stuff, combined with your preferences, your time and ability to cook, all the messages you get about food. It can be overwhelming. And then, after you’ve done the work of making what really is the best choice for you at the time, and someone takes you to task for that choice, it’s incredibly discouraging.

One time I was out for dinner with family, having recently decided to cut out alcohol (interferes with meds) and caffeine (screws up my blood pressure and ramps up my anxiety). Everybody else was getting beer or wine or soda, and I missed being able to have the occasional drink. So, I’m sitting there pondering what can I actually drink. I settle on ginger ale. And my mother-in-law makes a comment about how she’s not sure she can approve me drinking soda. (I didn’t snap back with “That’s why I didn’t ask you,” but it was tempting.)

I feel like that, in a nutshell, is a perfect summary of our screwed up food culture. It doesn’t matter how “good” I’m being in avoiding things that aren’t good for me, it’s never going to be enough for the self-appointed health police. And my mom-in-law wasn’t even being mean–it’s just such an accepted thing to judge and moralize about food that it was a completely natural comment for her to make.

Predictably, a bunch of commenters on Michele’s post wanted to distance themselves from judging people who kale or low sodium is going to make horribly ill, but still judge anyone who “could” eat better (for that commenter’s definition of “better” of course).

There are, of course, lots of problems with that. First and foremost, adult human beings get to decide what they want to put in their mouths, and someone who *can* eat organic, free-range, whole grain homemade everything is under no obligation to *want* to.

Secondly, “sick” and “healthy” are not binary conditions. Neither are “rich” and “poor.” There’s a whole spectrum of both. Just because someone won’t die if they eat kale doesn’t mean it may not give them a little indigestion. Just because someone makes more than minimum wage doesn’t mean they feel comfortable paying twice as much for organic, or buying fresh veggies that may spoil before they can use them.

A side piece of this is that lots of people move in and out of those conditions throughout their lives. They may go through periods of illness interspersed with periods of relative health. You can go from being a broke college kid to a comfortable white-collar professional to a suddenly unemployed professional living on ramen all over again.

And the messages you absorb stay with you. If you cross that border from well-off to poor, or from healthy to sick, there’s no switch in your brain you can flip to turn off all the guilt and moral judgment you’ve picked up around food.

And, last but not least, as Rachel Held Evans is fond of saying in a completely different context, if your gospel isn’t good news for those who are struggling, then it’s not really good news. If your food gospel doesn’t work for people who are broke, or stressed out, or sick, or tired, then it’s not really the one true way of eating, and perhaps you should stop trying to preach it to everyone who will listen.

Mediocrevores

I really like this article about all the guilt, judgment, and general craziness around food choices. The idea is that a huge part of this comes from the dizzying array of things to consider in order to feed yourself. Not just what do I have access to and what do I like, but all the health and ethical and other things. And there’s no way to do it perfectly.

Given the range of food options and the variety of demands we try to satisfy when we shop and cook, it is no wonder that most of us feel like mediocre eaters – call us “mediocrevores.” We do the best we can, but we know every meal we eat could have been lower calorie, higher fiber, less processed, more local. The Chorus of self-hating eaters is what happens when mediocrevores see people who appear to have solved the food problem and then project their dissatisfaction with their own choices onto them. The Soloist is what happens when a mediocrevore needs to persuade you of his superiority in order to persuade himself.

I would love to see everyone chill out about food, especially at work. I always feel weird if I’m eating a salad or a “healthy” frozen meal and people talk about how “good” I’m being.

A spoonful of sugar

Katja Rowell over at Family Feeding Dynamics has a good post on how a little sugar helps kids learn to like new foods.

I will definitely say that sugar was instrumental in helping me learn to like coffee. I’m not sure if that’s a *good* thing, exactly, but when I was in college, I sometimes really needed coffee to stay up late working on papers. So I either drank super-sugary lattes or put a ton of milk and sugar into regular coffee. But, gradually, I started to appreciate the flavor of coffee itself and used less and less sugar. I still think my husband’s habit of drinking black coffee is weird, but I have a much stronger sensitivity to bitterness than he does. And, with really good coffee, I might drink a sip or two black.

Also, if sugar is forbidden, a kid is going to want it all the more. Part of appreciating things without sugar is actually satisfying that natural desire for sweetness somewhere else.

A couple quickies

First off, my little ego is doing a happy dance that I’m being quoted all over Tumblr. I know, of course, that this is purely due to my own awesomeness and not the fact that I’m on the Fatosphere feed. Or, for that matter, Lesley’s fricking brilliant post on the urge to control our bodies at all costs that got me thinking in that direction. [/sarcasm] The particular quoted bit is:

“In our culture, we have the idea that health is controllable. If you eat the right foods, do the right exercises, live “virtuously,” you will be thin and healthy for 80 or 90 years. And if you’re unhealthy, you must have done something to deserve it, and if you start doing the right things, you can fix it. Again, at its heart, it’s about control. We don’t have near as much control over our health as we’d like to, and we can’t get around the fact that everybody gets sick and everybody dies.”

Second, the search engine terms by which people find their way to my blog are a never-ending source of entertainment for me. My two current favorites:

  • “feminazi” (yeah, once I get people to stop using sexist language and quit paying women less than men for the same work, I’m totally taking over Poland)
  • “kelly divine” To whoever came here with that term, I’m not the porn star you’re looking for. Move along. (And no, for anyone wondering, I didn’t know that off the top of my head. I had to look it up. Also, Google safe search…isn’t, necessarily.)

Third, it would make my week if people would stop talking incessantly about their diets, oh, excuse me, their lifestyle changes, around me. I accept that it’s a hugely important thing to some people, and that people who are hungry and miserable need an outlet for venting. But after you’ve gone on about points and calories and the things you’re allowed to eat for fifteen minutes, I want to jump out a window. Or vindictively eat ice cream at you. The diet talk isn’t what I’d call triggering per se…just annoying. Nails on a chalkboard, kind of. And it’s so often people I don’t know well enough to mention my own thoughts on diets, particularly when they’re coworkers.

Speaking of ice cream, vindictive or otherwise, Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey is the bomb. Banana and walnut with chocolate pieces. The combination of textures with the subtle banana flavor, and the creaminess of good ice cream. Aw, man. I bought a pint of it, enjoyed some tonight, and will probably be having ice cream as a bed time snack for the next day or two. (I will resist the urge to eat it in front of the dieters, hoping that they give me lip about it so that I can reply, in perfect honesty, “Sorry, just following my nutritionist’s instructions.”)

How people eat

So, this past weekend, I helped my husband cater a friend’s Christmas party. He’s done feasts in the SCA before, so cooking for twenty-odd people is well within his capabilities. And said friend is an awesome person, who is also paying us, so all good.

We did a fairly standard holiday spread: a honey-glazed ham, roast beef, potatoes both roasted and mashed, baked ziti, homemade rolls, a fruit salad, and cooked broccoli/carrots/cauliflower with Savory Toasted Cheese, an SCA staple. One family member being vegan, we also did a stir fry with tofu, peppers, scallions and broccoli.

We expected the STC to disappear in a flash, but we actually ended up never making a second batch. You know what went over the best, leaving little to no leftovers? The vegan stir fry, the fruit salad, and the mixed veggies.

This seemed a little odd to me, until I realized that this was a Christmas party at the end of the holiday season. After Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are probably pretty well hammed and turkeyed and potatoed out. But fruits and veggies? OMNOMNOM, apparently. Guess people’s food intake really does balance out over time.