“There are those people who can eat one piece of chocolate, one piece of cake, drink one glass of wine. There are even people who smoke one or two cigarettes a week. And then there are people for whom one of anything is not even an option.” ― Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir
By the time I bravely clambered aboard the bathroom scales, it was way too late for New Year’s resolutions. So, I told myself firmly that I would take control of my eating habits during Lent. Shrove Tuesday came and went, and with it my plan to give up alcohol, carbs, coffee and cream. Anyway, I was fast succumbing to the belief that my waistline was beyond help. Settling back into South Australia had been six months of constant over-eating at dinners, lunches and brunches, as we reconnected with family and friends. Like my mother before me, I began every week with the self-admonition to start a diet – or simply to give up all food and alcohol for the foreseeable future. Sadly, it seems that the strength of my willpower can be measured in hours before I am off the wagon and back at the dining table.
This year, a strange but virulent virus kept us house-bound for months, and what else was there to do but sit by the fridge and comfort binge until the curfew was lifted?
Then it was winter, and the temperature dropped. And, as Road Dahl wrote in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, ‘there is something about very cold weather that gives one an enormous appetite. Most of us find ourselves beginning to crave rich steaming stews and hot apple pies and all kinds of delicious warming dishes.’ And my will power desserts me yet again.
I do try, time and time again, to moderate my habits, but as Solzhenitsyn so wisely put it, ‘you get no thanks from your belly– it always forgets what you’ve just done for it and comes begging again the next day.’
The word gluttony is a little old-fashioned these days. Derived from the Latin gluttire meaning “to gulp down or swallow,” it describes excessive self-indulgence, specifically in the over-consumption of food and drink. A glutton? A person who eats or consumes immoderate amounts of food and drink. Namely, me.
There is a long history of man attempting to control excessive or ‘bad’ behaviour. Religiously speaking, gluttony was one of the seven deadly sins in medieval times, in the same box as pride, envy, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath. The Church frowned upon those who over-indulged. Any sort of excessive, wasteful or uncontrolled behaviour was a cardinal sin, and to be avoided at all costs if we were ever to get through the gates to Paradise – and not just because they were too narrow!
Some time ago, I wrote a paper about the paradox of the saying – coined by British historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto – ‘to eat well is to eat less’ in which I discussed obesity and the monumental waste of food in the western world; a world in which a globalized food industry has eclipsed local markets and fast food is invalidating traditional home cooking. Since the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth century, millions of people have been driven off the land and into cities to work in factories, department stores, retail and restaurants, while country towns struggle to survive. Today, our society has evolved into a middle class of middle management living in suburbia, disconnected from the land and the food that is grown in bulk to fill our supermarkets. Modern technology has bravely sought to eradicate poverty and poor eating habits, yet in first world countries, we have long since passed the point of ‘sufficient’ and moved into ‘excess.’
Perhaps unexpectedly, the industrial revolution and modern conveniences have also marginalized the housewife. These days, most women go out to work. Affluence, abundance and time limitations mean that cooking has become, to many, more of a hobby than a daily chore, as restaurants, take-aways, convenience meals from the supermarket and Uber Eats eliminate the need for anybody to spend time actually preparing a meal. And we eat so much more than we need in these times of fast food, that obesity has become a huge problem, no pun intended – or perhaps it was. In Australia alone, one article I read online claimed that two thirds of Australian adults check in as overweight or obese.
So, what’s the problem with getting too much to eat? Well, plenty, actually. Carrying too much weight is a risk factor in heart disease and diabetes, certain types of cancer, kidney disease, sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis. To name just a few. And the stigma of obesity, in this – paradoxically – era of obsession with body shape, diets and gyms, has been associated with increased depression, anxiety and social isolation.
As humans, we seem to swing from one extreme to another, like a Pirate Ship at the fairgrounds. So perhaps it’s no wonder that the Church has always preached ‘moderation in all things’ – simply, because we are not very good at self-discipline. As Jostein Gaarder wrote, “Health is the natural condition. When sickness occurs, it is a sign that Nature has gone off course because of a physical or mental imbalance. The road to health for everyone is through moderation, harmony, and a ‘sound mind in a sound body’.”
So, I raise my third glass of wine in celebration of balance and moderation… oops! Failed again!