Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hunger games

Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? [...]

One critic said that if he found a country in which such strip-tease acts with food were popular, he would conclude that the people of that country were starving. [...] I agree with him that if, in some strange land, we found that similar acts with mutton chops were popular, one of the possible explanations which would occur to be would be famine.  But the next step would be to test our hypothesis by finding out whether, in fact, much or little food was being consumed in that country.  If the evidence showed that a good deal was being eaten, then of course we should have to abandon the hypothesis of starvation and try to think of another one.  [...] Starving men may think much about food, but so do glutton; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

[...] There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.  
~Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

I have always loved this passage from Lewis.  He uses food as an analogy for the unhealthy sex fixation that plagues the modern world.  Unfortunately, since Lewis's time, it seems as if his analogy--intended to be ridiculous and absurd--has become all too real. We watch food being made on TV, we look at magazines filled with images of delicious-looking food, and there are even websites dedicated solely to the ogling of delectable treats.  Oh, sure, we pretend that they're instructional--we're learning how to prepare the food so we can make it ourselves.  Except we never do.  Or at least, not often enough to justify our enjoyment of the blogs, magazines, and cooking shows.  And I'm among the worst offenders.  I peruse more than a few food blogs, and it's a rare day when I actually try a recipe.  And it's worse now that I am trying to eat better.  Every donut, bagel, biscuit, or slice of toast tantalizes my senses.  Pasta, fried chicken, pie . . . pancakes . . . french toast . . . cinnamon rolls.  It's all forbidden, for the time being.  So I abstain.  Instead, I look.  I imagine what the food might taste like.  I savor the idea of foods I could never justify actually ingesting.  I lust for it.

Which just feeds into the whole porn culture--the attempt to enjoy food from afar, free from consequences.  To taste without tasting.  To settle for fantasy in lieu of reality with its disappointments and after-effects.  We cut carbs and munch on tasteless fat free cookies while visually consuming cakes and ice cream and cheeseburgers and who knows what all.  And I think that by doing so, we continue to create a culture that substitutes pictures for substance.  And not surprisingly, that constant lust leads to over-indulgence, and we get fatter and fatter.  So we swear off the junk food and promise to eat healthy.  We restrict ourselves to carrot sticks and celery and rice cakes, and we fantasize about the days when we'll be skinny and can gorge ourselves on corn dogs and macaroni and cheese and potato salad to our heart's content.

And the funny thing is, in the constant spiral of abstention, indulgence, and lust, we end up spending more and more time thinking about food.  What we're eating, what we're not eating, what we're allowed or not allowed to eat, what we wish we were eating.  Our whole lives revolve around food and how we interact with it.  Our god really is our stomach.

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