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Philippa Martyr: This Lent, tackle gluttony’s false god

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The spiritual antidote to gluttony is the virtue of temperance – learning to do all things in moderation, including consuming food and drink. Photo: Freepik
The spiritual antidote to gluttony is the virtue of temperance – learning to do all things in moderation, including consuming food and drink. Photo: Freepik

I recently saw a movie called The Menu. It’s definitely not suitable for the kiddies.

But if you’re a thinking Catholic adult, this movie is almost a modern morality play about a sin we never talk about. This is the sin of gluttony.

Ever hear a homily on it? Me neither. I learned everything I know from (a) being a glutton, and (b) reading The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis. Letter XVII on gluttony is brilliant; you should go and read it.

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Gluttony is the immoderate desire for food. But it’s not just eating more than you need, so that others go without.

It’s a distorted way of relating to food so that it becomes an idol set up between you and God. And like all idols, it can also be used as a weapon against other people.

Food is created by God, and eating is pleasurable, and it’s all good. We eat God Himself when we’re lucky enough to receive Holy Communion.

“So it’s not surprising that obesity levels are high in Western countries. Some people eat because they’re sad, bored, or lonely, until they’re too obese to move.”

But gluttony – one of the seven ‘deadly’ or mortal sins – distorts that good relationship into an evil one. We gradually organise our lives more and more around our own personal God of Food.

There’s heaps of signs of our culture’s very peculiar and idolatrous relationship with food.

Go and put the television on right now, and I bet you will be able to find a free-to-air program on food sources, food prep, and/ or eating.

Very few of us in Australia have a risky food supply, even if we are homeless. Enough food is discarded daily to feed the very poorest, and it usually does.

So it’s not surprising that obesity levels are high in Western countries. Some people eat because they’re sad, bored, or lonely, until they’re too obese to move.

There’s also an epidemic of starving, bingeing, and purging. Young women are especially prone to depriving themselves of food to try to maintain underweight, stick-like bodies.

The early Church practice of fasting in the strict sense consisted of eating only one meal a day, towards evening, writes Fr Flader.
The early Church practice of fasting in the strict sense consisted of eating only one meal a day, towards evening, writes Fr Flader.

And there’s also an epidemic of real and imagined food allergies and intolerances. The real ones are difficult enough, and I’m so sorry if you have one – it’s a heavy cross.

But the imagined ones are a plague and are often used to manipulate other people. They also tend to make us less patient with the people with real food allergies.

Obtaining a takeaway coffee now takes half an hour, a hefty fee, and an easily offended hipster. Geisha style coffee, a hard to obtain variety, will set you back around $200 a cup in Melbourne.

Paradoxically, it’s said that around half of all young Australians can’t cook at all. They can’t boil an egg, or follow a recipe to the end. We watch MasterChef while eating takeaways. So how do you break the grip of gluttony on your life? First of all, you have to recognise how you’ve been seduced by it.

The spiritual antidote to gluttony is the virtue of temperance – learning to do all things in moderation, including consuming food and drink. But some lifestyle decisions can also help.

If you can’t cook, then learn to cook normal everyday food. This is the royal road to a healthier body, healthier relationship with food, and healthier bank balance.

“If you’re trying to fill what feels like a bottomless pit in your heart with food, you should also get help.”

Stop watching ‘food porn’ unless the show is going to teach you how to cook plain meals on a budget. PS: No one is interested in how you sourced your açaì.

Make your own coffee if you want, but don’t be a bore or a snob about it. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, good for you, but please don’t mistake this for a Christian virtue (see the Catechism, sections 1803-1845).

I have spent years cooking for other people, so I love lavish eating out (‘I think we’ll have the Winston Churchill All You Can Eat Champagne and Fois Gras Special’). So that’s something I must give up for Lent.

If you’re starving, bingeing, and purging, get help. Emily Stimpson Chapman is a wonderful Catholic writer who recovered from anorexia, and she’s blogged about it. Read her stuff – but also, get professional help.

If you’re trying to fill what feels like a bottomless pit in your heart with food, you should also get help. God is waiting to fill you instead – there are better solutions for pain, hurt, loneliness, boredom, and lack of purpose in your life.

So this Lent, why not start tackling your own gluttony? You may be surprised to see how sneakily it’s been at work – getting between you and God, and between you and other people.

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