Vice Week: On Gluttony

Gluttony is an outdated sin, in my opinion. I’ve said it before: Never, ever, ever stop eating. If you stop eating, the advertisers and the tabloids and self-hatred win.

Here’s the thing: Gluttony was a sin mainly because eating too much meant depriving other people of food. And that was true, when we lived in tiny communities, living scarcely, with no food industry that had mechanisms to provide food from somewhere, all the time. Today, we have a different dilemma: If you don’t buy the food, it’ll probably get thrown away, which seems more wasteful than anything. Our economy wants us to be gluttons – certainly, the Beef Council and the American Beverage Association (and so on) do.

But in Biblical terms, it wasn’t just eating too much that constituted gluttony. No, according to Pope Gregory I and Thomas Aquinas, you can be a glutton in five different, equally damning ways:

  1. Laute: Eating food that is too luxurious,
  2. Nimis: Eating food in excessive quantities,
  3. Studiose: Eating food that’s prepared “too daintily,”
  4. Praepropere: Eating too soon or not at the right time, and
  5. Ardenter: Eating too eagerly.

Jumping Jebas, can I just eat?! And the main question, I think, is this: By whose standards are we judging these items? I’ll be the very first to admit that I sneer at the food at Alinea for being “too dainty,” but hey, man, that’s me. And what’s “the right time”? On whose schedule – the schedule of a philosopher or the schedule of a field worker? Is it subjective, and if so, what’s the point of having a rule about it? And this shit about “too eagerly” – like, can I smile about eating or about a nice meal shared with friends, or is this an issue of eating too fast?

The rules clarify nothing, they just complicate the issue, and leave themselves so open for interpretation that they seem like a mist or a façade. And while it’s still relevant today to consider our own eating habits in relation to those who have less than us, that, for instance, Americans live with an abundance of food while people in places like Burundi, Eritrea, and Yemen do not, it’s not that well-nourished individuals can do anything for under-nourished individuals by buying and consuming less food. Rather, we should be finding some way to better distribute food.

And in any event, I prefer the hedonistic way of thinking about consumption, which is that pleasure is the most moral principle. That means that, ideally, everyone’s physical and emotional pleasure should be provided and accounted for. The best system is the system in which no one is unduly deprived or in undue distress, no one is in avoidable pain, that what we consider “pain” and “pleasure” should be subjective but should not infringe upon anyone else’s pleasure. And let’s be real, if you eat fast or you’re happy to eat, if you eat more than someone else would want or need to, if you eat schmancy or rich food, if you eat at 3 PM instead of 5 PM, if you eat when you’re not hungry, you’re really not causing anyone else pain. We’re free-willed people, we can make up our own damn minds about how we want to eat.

So eat up! Just make sure you do your part to make sure that others, near and far, can do so, too.

[Liberty Fund]

[Global Citizen]


[Image via Shutterstock]

Please take a minute to donate whatever you can to the Midwest Food Bank and Action Against Hunger! Send me a line at [email protected] and follow me on Facebook.

Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.