Peter Reinhart is an acclaimed American baker and teacher who came to working in the food industry through ministry work. Through his books and lectures, he promotes bread baking as a spiritual exercise. We asked him if foodie-ism is gluttony dressed up as ethical sophistication?
This is actually a question I ask myself often because, like so many in the food world, I struggle with gluttony on a daily basis; I simply love food – good, wholesome, locally produced or not – to excess.
The charges are also magnified by the often heard assertion that people in movements like slow food, locovorism, carbon-footprinting, and other food and wine, or gourmet organisations, while all jumping on the green bandwagon or sustainability ark, are actually just looking for a tasty, feel-good, guilt-free meal. There’s nothing wrong with that, actually, but there does seem to be a sort of muddle about where epicurean and ethical pursuits converge.
It would seem clearer and cleaner if a person simply copped to it: “Yeah, I like food, can’t stop searching for the next taste sensation even if comes from a nearly extinct bird or a rare jungle cat’s organ.” But no, it doesn’t work that way because most people don’t live on the extreme edges and, in their hearts, want to do the right thing.
Let’s face it, we all eat to live and many of us live to eat. So yes, we do dress it up, even if sincerely, in a type of ethical sophistication that justifies whatever drives us on our gluttonous food quests. Whether we call it the celebration of artisans, sustainability, organic, the protection of pure flavours, fair trade – whatever – if we’re able to get involved in such pursuits, we’re probably also part of the small community of people from the First World who contribute to the problems in the first place.
The whole purpose of sin, as I understand it in its historical and theological context, is to arouse a sense of guilt and remorse for our fallen, less-than Godly state, and drive us toward a pursuit of something holier – or, in today’s terms, wholier. Gluttony was, and is, one of the cardinal sins and many wise men have written that it may be at the root of all sin (though pride usually wins that debate, as the sin of sins). So, perhaps, a little guilt inducement is not a bad thing if warranted and if it ultimately leads to a good thing. The real question is, does it?