Foodie-ism: A Form of Gluttony?

In a fascinating article called “The Moral Crusade against Foodies,” B.R. Myers lambasts the backwards ethics of contemporary foodie-ism, a movement that, as he notes, has adopted the vocabulary and moral stance of a religion:

“Even if gourmets’ rejection of factory farms and fast food is largely motivated by their traditional elitism, it has left them, for the first time in the history of their community, feeling more moral, spiritual even, than the man on the street. Food writing reflects the change. Since the late 1990s, the guilty smirkiness that once marked its default style has been losing ever more ground to pomposity and sermonizing. References to cooks as ‘gods,’ to restaurants as ‘temples,’ to biting into ‘heaven,’ etc., used to be meant as jokes, even if the compulsive recourse to religious language always betrayed a certain guilt about the stomach-driven life. Now the equation of eating with worship is often made with a straight face. The mood at a dinner table depends on the quality of food served; if culinary perfection is achieved, the meal becomes downright holy—as we learned from Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), in which a pork dinner is described as feeling ‘like a ceremony … a secular seder.’”

Myers continues to recount chilling examples of foodies mocking and otherwise disparaging those with actual religious or ethical taboos against eating certain foods. Then he ponders the tendency of foodies to elevate “foodways” and “tradition” to a pedestal—as long as tradition isn’t asking you to abstain from anything.

“Most of us consider it a virtue to maintain our principles in the face of social pressure, but in the involuted world of gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding ‘any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.’ (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, ‘Taking your belief system on the road—or to other people’s houses—makes me angry.’ The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with ‘spluttering indignation.’

That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host—and passersby to please a vendor—than vice versa. Is there any civilized value that foodies cannot turn on its head?”

Foodies, according to Myers, have also turned the vice of gluttony wrong way round. Gluttony, for the foodie, involves bingeing on processed foods, especially those containing the dreaded HFCS. As Myers points out, though,

“In fact the Catholic Church’s criticism has always been directed against an inordinate preoccupation with food—against foodie-ism, in other words—which we encounter as often among thin people as among fat ones.”

Food, like any good gift from God, can become an idol in a variety of ways. The greatest danger lies in pointing out our neighbor’s form of food-idolatry without recognizing our own.

About Carrisa Smith
  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    While I’m sure that there are plenty of directions to critique the foodie movement generally* (elitism for one), I’m not sure that gluttony is the right one. I think people often mistake gluttony for either a) love of food or b) over-eating. I don’t think its either of those, though they may play a part.

    Gluttony seems to be more related to a kind of greed, having to do with the hoarding of food so that others might not have what you hope to claim. After all, feasting is a big part of God-ordained enjoyment. And feasting necessarily consists of enjoying food a lot and eating lots of it. When I think of gluttony, I think of those who might rush to finish the buffalo wing in their hand so that they can grab the last one. Or those in the Corinthian church who would lord their food over others, not letting others partake.

    So while foodies might be annoying, condescending, elitist, unkind, and unsociable, I haven’t run into a lot of gluttony in foodies. I’m sure its there, but it doesn’t seem like their defining sin.

    *note: of course, when talking individuals, general critique may fall apart pretty quickly

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com/ Brad Williams

    Seth,

    The web book definition of gluttony, as opposed to text book, is “the act or practice of eating to excess” or “excessive eating and drinking”. By those definitions, I think that the point easily stands, unless we differ on how to define “excess.” In fact, if we mean by ‘excess’ excessively thinking about procuring, preparing, and eating food, then one could be a glutton without overstuffing.

    That puts me in with those who define gluttony as overeating. Though, I would be quick to point out that this doesn’t mean eating too much at the occasional feast. (As in Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations.) But rather, the sinful habit of overeating so that food and fatness comes to dominate one’s life. And if you meant to say that gluttony is not the same as the occasional indulgence at festival, then I probably agree with you.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    I’m trying to think of other sins that aren’t sins if you only do it once or on special occasions and I’m coming up blank. This isn’t to say that there aren’t any—only that in my post lunch stupor, I can’t readily think of any.

    And when I speak of the meaning of gluttony, I’m not referring to colloquial understanding but biblical. Dictionary definitions rarely give us more than a starting point in understanding harmatological terms. You’ll find dictionary definitions for lie and lust equally insufficient when coming to terms with what the Bible says about each. So while speaking of gluttony in terms of excess is fine for everyday conversation (since that’s what people today usually mean by it), it doesn’t seem to fit the biblical discussion.

    I would agree with you that allowing eating to dominate one’s life would be sin (as allowing anything save Christ dominate your life is sin). I’m just not sure I’d consider it gluttony. It may lead to gluttony, but I see the two as separate things and don’t see any biblical cause to combine them.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Seth,

    I haven’t been really happy with my definition of gluttony either. For some reason, I can’t get this thought out of my mind, perhaps because of the obesity epidemic in the USA. I think it is fairly obvious that the Bible pays more attention to gluttony than we do. That means I ought to have a better working definition than I currently have. As you pointed out, and I think you are correct, that it is certainly more than over-eating. In fact, I think that it is possible to be a glutton and not actually over-eat. Maybe.

    I find that the only satisfactory definition I can give for gluttony is “food idolatry.” What do you think of that? It would cover anyone who was fixated on food, whether over eating or over thinking it.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com Seth T. Hahne

    I think food idolatry is a good overall description to cover the various food sins that we, as a society, seem to suffer under. Obesity, anorexia, bulimia, hoarding, etc. I think gluttony might be a sub-category to food idolatry. Something more specific. Like how lust and fornication would be sub-categories under sexual idolatry.

    One of these days I’ll actually take the time to research scriptural uses of glutton and eating and food and be able to come up with something more definitive.


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