Monday, April 14, 2008

dieting and gluttony (5e) Henry Fairlie on gluttony

Here's a scathing, witty attack by Henry Fairlie on the modern obsession with fine dining, dieting, and health food:


An invitation to dinner has ... become a hazard. What used to be a sociable occasion has been turned into a form of solitude. The hostess or host - for when they take up cooking as a fine art, men are the worst offenders - will hardly be with their guests. They will be in the kitchen. But that is not all. The guests in turn are hardly permitted to be with each other. As each course is brought to the table, it must be tasted, discussed, each ingredient told ... This is no less a form of solitude than that of the glutton at his trough. All companionship is destroyed. The guests might as well have stayed at home and read The Art of French Cooking, or watched Julia Child whip up a souffle on television. At least they would not have had to applaud her ...

[W]e usually think of gluttony as so unsightly and bloated that few of us today may seem guilty of it. On the one hand, there are the dieters and calorie counters; on the other, the addicts of health food. ... These may seem to reflect a self-denying abstemiousness, but there is Gluttony in all of them. (Fastidiousness in eating is regarded in theology as just as much a fault of the sin as excess in it.) ... They are just as obsessed with their food, even if their attention is fixed only on a raw carrot and a prune ...

It is worth watching the obsessive dieters. They are constantly going to their refrigerators ... They gaze on the morsels, fondle them, even rearrange them ... From hour to hour they return to ... count the spinach leaves. But at last the bell rings. It is mealtime. Salivating like Pavlov's dogs, they scurry to the kitchen table with a stick of celery, a radish, a spoonful of cottage cheese, and a dried apricot for dessert. Watch them as they eat. They devour their delicacies just as the conventional glutton sucks up his bouillabaisse. Their eyes also are fixed on their plates.

They occupy the rest of their days by reading and thinking about food. There must be some new regimen they should be following, one more impurity that has been discovered in the endive. Whether they are eating or not, their minds are on their food and what their food is doing to their bodies. ... There is neither time nor need to talk of anything else. The interest is gluttonous and, as with all forms of Gluttony, the end is solitude. For none of the activities needs a companion. The driving motive of the dieter is again an inordinate self-love.

This is no less true of the addicts of health foods, as they exclaim at the wholesomeness of a sassafras nut or hymn ecstatically the savour of a sunflower seed. They also may not seem to be gluttons in the common sense, yet their interest in their eating is again a form of Gluttony. It is disproportionate and unnatural. There is a great deal of the fastidiousness of self-love in it. A creaturely thing is magnified beyond its actual significance and made some kind of expression of oneself.

One of the pleasures of food ... is that it offers occasions for social intercourse. But it is precisely this that is refused by the dieters and addicts of health foods. Eating is their one staple of interest and conversation. By giving to food a false value, they also rob it of its real value. ...

The Gluttony of our own age ... has at least a part of its cause ... in the boredom of our societies. When there is so much to do, when so much is spread before us for our titillation, surely we should not be bored. Yet it is all so dissatisfying, with neither purpose nor deep reward. ... We are left with a hollow at our core, a sinking feeling in our spirits from day to day, and we resort to the device of the glutton ... We will fill and stuff our emptiness, even if it is only by chewing ravenously on a raw carrot. ... If our societies are founded on Avarice, the state to which they reduce us is Gluttony.
Highlights mine; this quote is from Henry Fairlie, The seven deadly sins today, cited in Os Guiness, Steering through chaos pp.222-5.

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