Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eat your spinach!

David Brooks handed out his Sydney Awards for great essays last week and Mary Eberstadt’s essay “Is Food the New Sex?” made the list:

In her Policy Review essay, ''Is Food the New Sex?,'' Mary Eberstadt notes that people in modern societies are freer to consume more food and sex than their ancestors. But this has produced a paradox. For most of human history, food was a matter of taste while sex was governed by universal moral laws. Now the situation is nearly reversed. Food has become enmeshed in moralism while the privacy of the bedroom is sacred. Eberstadt asks why, and provides a philosophical answer.

I have not read the essay yet, but I thought that both food and sex were traditionally considered under the domain of morality. The classical view towards food was it should be regulated in light of the cardinal virtue of Temperance. Gluttony was condemned not so much because it harmed your figure, but because it enslaved your reason to your appetites, thus inhibiting the ability to choose. This is a significantly different take from the way the ‘Whole Foods’ Crowd thinks about food today. They are still moralistic, if not downright preachy, about overeating or eating poorly; however, it is for health reasons. Harming one’s body is a serious no-no. Health and Safety (one is tempted to add the environment) are the only sources for moral absolutes in this picture.

Having eliminated the distinction between soul and body, the choices left are either to deify the body (pantheism) or reject the divine altogether (atheism). If latter approach is taken, then the Cultural Libertarian view emerges in which food and sex are viewed as merely personal preferences or lifestyle choices. Either way, both approaches are fruits of the same ideological tree.


  1. I think there are two things at work here: the political/governmental and the cultural/individual. For the later, temperance with regards to sex and food has always been a function of a personal internal struggle. This struggle can obviously be augmented by the supply or lack thereof of food or sexual partners.

    The political/governmental dimension acts as a "grab for power" function that is a kind of "lowest hanging fruit" mentality of fascist or socialist regimes. If those titles take it too far, at the least I would consider that history proves that those in government who become intoxicated with the power to control look for easy opportunities to control the population in an attempt to gain greater controls later. Generally this happens through taxation.

    Look for the prostitution tax.

  2. But I wonder if history bears that out. The rise of fascism in the 20th century didn't seem to occur that way:

    Spain: Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War
    Germany: Nazis were able to tap the anger of the German people over the Carthaginian peace of the Versailles Treaty
    Italy: I'll defer to anyone out there about the rise of Mussolini.

  3. Good points...maybe this is a kind of fabian socialism. I think there should also be a distinction between the rise of fascist dictators/dictatorships and the general sentiment necessary for the success of such regimes. Maybe my descriptions suits the later.

    Thanks for the article post...