Fall is an interesting time for the topics I explore on this here little blog of mine. In October, I wear the same dress for a month, celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and mark World Food Day. In November, I have a birthday, witness American Thanksgiving and suffer through that horrible day that has spread around the world known as Black Friday (if “black” is referring to dark and doom, then it’s very aptly named. However, I believe it’s about economics, and going into the “black” from the “red”).
This fall, my faith community went through a series on the “Seven Deadly Sins” and I was asked to speak on the subject of gluttony. Rather perfect, don’t you think?
Even more perfect, the day I shared was the Sunday after Canadian Thanksgiving and World Food Day – what a time to talk about gluttony! I meant to share this with you all way back then, but I got busy and neglected my poor little blog. Now that we’ve suffered through American Thanksgiving and Black Friday, I thought it was time to share. So if you have a mo, take a look at my views on gluttony:
A rather timely topic. In one week we experience both Canadian Thanksgiving, and World Food Day. On one hand, thankfulness for blessings and abundant feasting to the point of overeating (don’t deny it) and on the other, a day established by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization to “increase awareness of world hunger and poverty and to inspire solutions for world change”. An interesting juxtaposition that happens to us every year.
Of course, traditionally, gluttony refers primarily to the excessive consumption of food, or, “making your belly your god.”
Pope Gregory I, coming from the ascetic tradition, really took this concept and ran with it. He broke down this idolatry of the belly much further than I had originally imagined possible, and described five ways in which the sin of gluttony is committed:
- by eating before the proper time of meals
- by eating particularly luxurious, exotic or costly food
- by eating food that is particularly dainty or elaborate to prepare
- by eating an excessive amount of food
- and by eating too eagerly
I don’t know about you, but I am certainly guilty of all of these versions of gluttony. In fact, I may have committed all five this week alone. Let’s call it research.
Pope Gregory’s definition of gluttony is based primarily in the evils of pleasure. He notes that the fifth form of gluttony, eagerness, is the worst of them all because it most clearly shows attachment to pleasure. Eager and excessive eating shows a base, animal behaviour abhorred by early Christian ascetics, and was considered by some to be more even primordial than lust. Gluttony represented all of the “sins of the flesh”.
Throughout different times and cultures, pleasure in food has been seen as a “gateway” to other sinful behaviour. Even Gandhi’s community had rather harsh restrictions on food, because it was thought that indulging in spicey or particularly flavourful food would lead people into indulgences in other areas, primarily in sexual misconduct.
While the Christian bible is rather contradictory about eating, or taking pleasure in food, it seems to me that the overarching biblical message on gluttony is to enjoy food, to eat, drink and be merry! But just not too much. The key here is enough, a fine balance between needs and pleasures. Food is one of the most essential things for life, and naturally it can and should be enjoyed. The sin is, in fact, excess rather than pleasure.
A more modern definition of gluttony has moved almost entirely from the sinfulness of pleasure. It has also moved beyond involving mainly eating – perhaps as a result of the western world’s removal from regular hunger and food insecurity. Gluttony, today, is defined as the over-indulgence and over consumption of food, drink or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste, a misplaced desire of food or wealth, or withholding from those in need.
In a world where there are over 800 million people who are malnourished, but 1.5 billion are considered overweight, a world where 32 percent of all food produced is lost or wasted, a world where human activity is causing climate change and reducing the abilities of many people to feed themselves, a world of rampant and growing inequality, this is a very apt definition.
Our world is defined by excess on one side and need on the other. And as a globe, we certainly do not have the balancing act figured out. As an individual, I do not have this balancing act figured out!
I am a privileged North American, and in my opinion, Gluttony is the trademark sin of privileged North America. (ahem, Thanksgiving and Black Friday together forever.) As a group, we consume more in almost all respects than anywhere else on the planet. We are the birthplace of convenience, of fast food, plastic packaging, and huge cars. We consume more food, water, land, fossil fuels, clothing, and nearly everything than anyone else, ever. We’re gluttons for entertainment and leisure activities, for vacations and other creature comforts. We are a culture of instant gratification as well as a culture obsessed with appearance. Gluttony comes to us in the form of not only excessive eating, but also of excessive dieting, obsessive exercise, food fads and disposable fashion. We are the “treat yourself” people! We are excess personified, gluttony personified. And I am no different.
Simply because I am North American, I eat more (of everything) than anyone else on the planet. I have what I honestly consider the luxury of food allergies (which I’m sure Pope Gregory would file under gluttony)! I take up more space. I use more oil. I produce more garbage. I have more clothes and God knows, more shoes. My life, though perhaps not quite as excessive as others, is filled with over-indulgence and over consumption.
The reason gluttony, this life of excess, is a sin, is that when we consume excessively, it is always at the expense of someone else. Gluttony is also interpreted as selfishness; placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others. Excessive consumption of food exploits farm labourers and certainly the planet. It produces more greenhouse gases and therefore harms us all, most notably the people already suffering the effects of climate change. Consumerism exploits the people who make the stuff we buy. Sweatshops are not limited to clothing manufacturers. And again, the planet and therefore all of humanity takes a hit with each useless plastic thing made, bought and thrown away.
This is a reality I have struggled with for much of my life.
As a personal experiment, and a way of combatting, or at least trying to deal with the reality of my gluttonous life, I embarked on a “consumption sabbatical”. Beginning in July of 2013, I attempted to take a year-long break from gluttony. This year was meant to be a time for me to focus on living and not consuming.
In some ways it was a success. I stopped buying things I didn’t need. I did more mending. I did more canning. I wore the same thing for a month. I stopped using most “cosmetic” products that I used to think I needed. For Lent, Dan and I gave up consuming plastic, which was not as difficult as I had expected and greatly impacted our gluttonous food consumption. I did without many things that I soon forgot I ever thought I needed, and I have not returned to them. All in all, this sabbatical was a good exercise in understanding what enough just might mean. It was an attempt at finding that elusive balance between needs and pleasures.
However, now that this sabbatical year is over, I find myself easily slipping back into the same patterns of over indulgence. I told myself that I would be better at using less plastic, but I don’t think I am. I told myself I would only buy fairly made, non-sweatshop clothing and shoes, but I certainly haven’t. I told myself I would be better at moderation, but I really don’t think I have got that under control. My consumption sabbatical really taught me that mindful consumption and balance is possible, but gluttony is easier, and avoiding it requires constant vigilance.
Perhaps gluttony really is the gateway to a myriad of other sins.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another Thanksgiving dinner to attend. (or deals to find and stuff to buy.)