When Francine Prose was invited to a downtown Manhattan eatery for lunch, she came face to face with modern gluttony. Prose is one of the authors who have written the “Seven Deadly Sins” book series. The series includes seven books by different authors and her edition is titled “Gluttony”.
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Each book focuses on one of the seven “deadly sins” and all of the books are published by the New York Public Library. In the introduction anecdote, Prose details the events surrounding the lunch she had with almost a dozen women in a Manhattan restaurant. During the lunch, almost all the women present revealed details of their battle with gluttony. Some of the women revealed some unlikely victories in this battle.
For instance, one woman confessed to being almost unable to get her takeout food home without nibbling on it on the way. Another one claimed to call hotels in advance to make sure no sugary foods were in the mini bar of her hotel. Prose then compares this modern view on gluttony with other historical views. This introduction lists the main ideas covered by the author in her book “Gluttony”.
According to the author, the modernistic view on gluttony would have no place in the ancient world. This is because there is no longer a food shortage in the modern world as opposed to the frequent food shortages that were characteristic of the ancient world. In ancient civilizations, gluttony was associated with affluence. People who lived during those ancient times were always proud to let the rest of the world know that they could afford more than enough.
Therefore, during these times being plump or obese was a sign of affluence. However, during the modern civilization that began after the industrial revolution, being fat or obese is almost considered an epidemic (Arrington 124). The author notes that one of the main concerns for the women at the restaurant was how they appeared to the world. The women are willing to deny themselves a lot just to avoid being associated with gluttony.
The author continues by examining gluttony from a spiritual perspective. The book refers to some spiritual authorities on the subject of gluttony. Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas both argued that gluttony was associated with an individual’s spirituality. Today gluttony is more associated with health and illness as opposed to spirituality. This is why gluttony is the subject of various treatment methods today. The modern view is that gluttony is more of a “disease” than it is a “sin”.
This change in dynamics is cemented by the fact that most people avoid gluttony because of its accompanying health complications. Categorizing gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins has something to do with its context. As the women at the restaurant are discussing their relationships with food, the author notes that there are aspects of virtue, self-control, temptation-avoidance, and abstinence in the ensuing conversation. All these aspects point towards gluttony being a sin.
Gluttony has always been considered a sin except for the brief period in which it became a “badge of pride” during the renaissance and part of the industrial revolution period (Prose 88). During this period, obesity and gluttony were signs of vitality, good health, and prosperity. This is why the author decides to explore gluttony in its context as one of the seven deadly sins.
The book explores gluttony in its context as a sin. According to the book, most sins always present a scenario in which the rights of the others are transgressed. When it comes to gluttony, only the glutton suffers from gluttony.
This premise is what contributes towards gluttony being a sin against the spirit. Theologians claim that gluttony becomes a sin because it signifies a scenario where human beings “worship the belly as God” (Prose 61). According to this theory, focusing too much attention on tastes and foods turns human attention from God to food.
Theologians have often classified this practice as a form of “food worship” that translates into a sin. The author’s description indicates that this is still ongoing but in a different form. Nowadays, some foods like French fries are almost considered evil while others like salads are almost worshipped. For example, parents go through a lot of trouble just to get their children to eat salad. These kinds of efforts indicate that food worship still exists albeit in a different form.
Other than food worship, the book also alludes to instances when gluttony has been termed as a badge of pride. During the times when it was hard to afford a full table of food, those who could afford it made it their business to parade this ability.
This is why it was acceptable for the rich men and women to be heavily built. This is because their body weight showed the rest of the population that they could afford a full table of food. Therefore, being a glutton was indeed a badge of honor for captains of industry during the early period of the industrial revolution.
This practice still exists today but mostly in the developing world where there is no enough food to go around. In addition, most developing countries are not scientifically advanced enough for them to be aware of the health implications of over-eating. The parts of the world where gluttony is still offered as a badge of honor include Africa, parts of Asia, and South America. However, most of the Western world avoids gluttony like a plague because of its accompanying health complications and social stigma.
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The author explores how gluttony features in today’s society. Currently, most people treat gluttony as an illness. The book notes that this has the effect of absolving individuals from the gluttony blame.
Those who view gluttony as a disease lean towards medical and professional help when dealing with their gluttony (Unger and Scherer 350). Then there are those who believe that gluttony can be conquered using personal will power. The author also presents a third angle on the matter by making the argument that food is meant for both sustenance and pleasure.
Therefore, those who over-eat are not doing anything out of the ordinary. In addition, the choice to be moderate has to be influenced by personal preferences. According to this third argument, gluttony is influenced by neither illness nor will power. The choice for various men and women to remain trim and thin can help expound these arguments. There are those who achieve this state by engaging a specialist such as a psychologist.
Others just wake up one day, choose to pursue this state, and achieve it because of their personal preferences. Then there is the third group that manages to achieve this state almost effortlessly using only their will power. These three arguments can also be explored using the state of “being fat” and its accompanying social stigma. There is a section of the population that is of the view that “fat” people just lack the will power to adjust their diet and their weight (Prose 121).
Another group is of the view that being overweight is a problem that goes beyond will power and afflicted individuals should seek “professional” help. Then there is a group that feels that being overweight is a valid personal choice just like being thin. On the other hand, the individuals who are considered “fat” can lean on these same arguments to explain their weight status.
The ancient glutton suffered both social and eternal condemnation (Hill 34). The modern glutton on the other hand is exempted from the eternal condemnation but has to contend with increased social rejection. The increased social rejection is mostly fueled by increased negative portrayal of gluttons.
Media and advertisers vilify thin people at the expense of “gluttons”. Moreover, various parties are intent on profiting from the plight of “gluttons”. Prose notes that a weigh loss of one pound costs an individual approximately $180. However, the aspect of external damnation has since lost its relevance in the modern world.
Prose explores a subject that is dear to most people in the modern world. The world today is bombarded by a culture that has a love-hate relationship with food. There are those who fear food because of the effect it will have on their personality.
In today’s world, men and women are denying themselves food to avoid being referred to as “fatties” or “gluttons”. Another small group is of the view that it is natural for them to over-indulge because their body requests it. Therefore, the description of modern gluttony seems to vary from one individual to another.
Arrington, Robert. “Two of the Seven: Deadly Sins.” The Sewanee Review 112.3 (2004): 124-145. Print.
Hill, Susan. Eating to Excess: The Meaning of Gluttony and the Fat Body in the Ancient
World: The Meaning of Gluttony and the Fat Body in the Ancient World, New York, NY: Praeger, 2011. Print.
Prose, Francine. Gluttony: the seven deadly sins, New York, NY: OUP, 2007. Print.
Unger, Roger and Philipp Scherer. “Gluttony, Sloth And The Metabolic Syndrome: A Roadmap to Lipotoxicity.” Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 21.6 (2010): 345-352. Print.