Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
December 3rd, 2002

Gorged in the USA

Reflections on Overeating in America

 
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Remember the days before “super size”?

Remember when the smallest size coffee you could order was—you won’t believe this—a “small”?

When was the last time you ate out at a restaurant and felt full only after finishing your meal?

Within the lifetime of Busted Halo visitors, it seems American society has actually institutionalized gluttony. Regarded as a sin since the earliest recording of the seven deadly sins 100 years before the birth of Christ, our culture has turned overeating into the norm. Bizarrely, we’ve somehow been able to do this while at the same time depicting the likes of Kate Moss as the pinnacle of beauty.

Cheap food, big portions, larger Americans
Food is cheap in the U.S. Most of the cost of our meals is really tied to labor and packaging. So restaurants and food processors try to compensate by delivering more and more of the food itself. It makes us think we’re getting something for our money.

Turns out, what we’re getting is fat. Recent medical studies report that 63% of American men and 55% of women are overweight or obese. The problem of obesity is so prevalent in our society, that I recently heard a medical commentator on NPR say that if you are thin in this country, you’re “just lucky.” Meanwhile, Americans spend an estimated $40 billion a year on dieting and diet-related products. The traditionally private sin of gluttony has turned into a social obsession for the world’s superpower.

A dangerous habit
But our national overconsumption of the world’s resources—food, water, and land—is
more than just perverse; it’s deadly. It occurs in a world where 24,000 people die each day from hunger.

This stark contrast fits the classic definition of gluttony as indulgence of the body at the expense of the mind and soul. What happens is gluttony replaces friendship and charity with food and drink in a person’s hierarchy of values. It prevents us from having the proper relationship to the earth and the common good. Ironically, gluttony even prevents us from enjoying food itself.

A time to re-think it all
Perhaps the days after Thanksgiving and weeks waiting in expectation of Christmas are just the time for us all to re-examine our relationship to food. A time to construct new ways of demonstrating gratitude. A moment to create fresh expressions of joy at the birth of the Christchild. A chance to mark the passing of time with customs worthy of our attention. A year for our generation to push back the cultural tide.

 
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The Author : Claire Noonan
Claire Noonan writes from Chicago.
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