Thursday, January 24, 2008

Paid by the state to go hungry

Now, I've always thought that there is a whole set of weird compulsions surrounding food that many people adopt that are the direct results of our unimaginably bloated commercial culture.

Obesity, anorexia and vegetarianism are at the top of the list. Only in a society where it is almost impossible to go hungry, where "the poor" possess ipods, flat screen tv's and artificial breasts at public expense, can there be people who construct elaborate gustatory fantasies for themselves in which food plays some kind of Freudian replacement role.

I believe C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere or other that such things would be classified by the scholastic philosophers as a sub-variety of gluttony. He called it "the gluttony of delicacy" that gives a little squeal of horror at the sight of more food on the plate than is wanted. Or the wrong sort of food.

In cultures where people do real work and receive real recompense (not just imaginary electronic numbers recorded in a bank computer) for their labour, people eat what is available. The contrast is easier to see in other situations where other kinds of rules apply. I was in a sort of quasi-monastic "lay ecclesial" community once, near Quebec City. I rejected it, after about three months, because it had quite a lot of things wrong with it, but one of the most obvious was the delicacy.

There was, for instance, a young fellow there who insisted that he needed to eat no meat whatever. He made a few rather poorly thought out arguments for this, but it was clear that this was merely his own form of cultural exhibitionism. I was the cook and said that in a community, it was important, unless it was a serious health related thing, to humbly eat whatever was put in front of him. He then set about manufacturing reasons that his vegetarian gluttony was health related.

At the same time, I've always thought it was a manifestation of the sickness of our culture that "diet" food, food, in short, containing no food, is actually more expensive than regular food. Food with food in it.

But here's a new one:
Government to beat obesity epidemic by PAYING fat people to lose weight

I don't think I could have made that one up myself.

Too bad, since I guess it means I'll never get a government job.


Anonymous said...

"elaborate gustatory fantasies "
excellent turn of phrase--kudos. You have outdone yourself, which is no mean task.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry for the late comment - I was browsing your archives)

Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness that can't be put in the same category as a choice like vegetarianism. You can see forms of it going back hundreds of years and in many different cultures (Simone Weil and St Catherine of Siena both starved themselves to death). It's also largely genetically determined and correlates strongly with things like OCD and Aspergers' syndrome. I don't think it's right to categorize an illness as moral weakness.

If you want more information about anorexia feel free to email me (cenophobia at My opinions were quite the same as yours before I was personally affected by it.