Saturday, September 10, 2016

Don’t you think that’s an awful lot of...?

“Don’t you think that’s an awful lot of salt?”
The question surprised me.  My classmate Scott was pouring what seemed to be about a third of the salt in the shaker onto his pasta, but I had become used to that after years of dining with him in seminary.  What shocked me was that he be challenged on it right there at the table.
“No,” he answered unperturbed, and continued shaking.
Eating comes with all sorts of expectations and even rules: which fork to use, how to obtain an item from across the table, and no double dipping.  Because food is something we need to live, there is an assumed intention to avoid what is harmful and seeking what is healthful.  Sometime this can bring about concern over seemingly unhealthy eating choices, like my friend Scott’s.  But those concerns encounter the etiquette of what is polite to discuss at the table, and criticizing the food choices of others while they are eating has a substantial stigma - or at least it did at one time.
Now, activists vandalize restaurants because of items served there, and loudly harass diners for what they are eating.  On a more intimate level, table companions are more likely to chide one another because of what they eat for reasons beyond health, ranging from substance, source, and price to environmental impact.
Meanwhile, over the same period of time, another activity essential to human thriving, also subject to all sorts of expectations and even rules, has undergone the reverse transition: fewer rules, and criticism or correction is forbidden.  I speak of sexual relations. 
I recently finished reading Adam and Eve after the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, by Mary Eberstadt, a local resident, but a nationally known author.  Apparently it has been out for some years, since Fr. Gallaugher observed he had read it when it was in hardback.  Eberstadt presents in straightforward and conversational manner a matter-of-fact analysis of data about the impact of certain behavioral changes in advanced countries over the past fifty years.  She has identified a widespread and willful ignorance of measurable results of the changes advanced by the sexual revolution, results that have been grievously harmful.
One of her chapters, Is Food the New Sex? presents the fascinating analysis that public moralizing has shifted from sexual behavior to eating behavior.  If you think about it, you will not have trouble coming up with examples. 
She writes: Both appetites, if pursued without regard to consequence, can prove ruinous not only to oneself, but also to other people, and even to society itself.  What happens when, for the first time in history, …adults are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want?  …The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasboard is not.
So what does it mean to have a civilization that is puritanical about food, and licentious about sex?  …It would seem to be that the norms society imposes on itself in pursuit of its own self-protection do not wholly disappear, but rather mutate and move on.
I highly recommend this little book to you; it will change the way you look at all sorts of things, if you look at them the way you have been trained over the past fifty years.  You will think you have been let “in” on some big secret.  You will wonder why everybody didn’t notice long ago.
You may also smile quietly the next time you are seated near someone who is a vegan, and arguing that you should be one, too.

Monsignor Smith

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