We were delighted with the thoughtful comments to this post. We could (and may) write several blog entries based on them. One was started by Lynne Murray‘s comment that “dieting has become a minor religion in America,” although we are going in a somewhat different direction than she was pointing.
Her comment got us thinking about the morality of food. The world we live in seems to treat food very much like the Puritans treated sex: an obsessively present temptation which is simultaneously sinful and irresistible. Eating high-calorie food is the only thing that contemporary secular Americans call sinful.
And, of course, while you can give up sex, if you give up food you will die.
In Victorian morality, masturbation is done in secret. It is an irresistible act which carries with it the fear that you will, among other things, go blind. Going blind isn’t just an affliction on its own terms; it’s also the way that your sin is revealed to the rest of the world. In that context, sex is acceptable in marriage, which is why it is “better to marry than to burn.” If you abstain from sinful sex you will go to heaven and live forever.
In contemporary morality, secret eating is done with the fear that it will be revealed in weight. Gaining weight, like the fictional blindness or the very real “illegitimate” pregnancy, is the public revelation of sin. Being thin is a visible sign of virtue and, therefore, of salvation. If you eat sinlessly, the culture tells us, you will live forever: secular heaven on earth.