A Step away from Gluttony (Vice and Virtue Series, Part 2)

Gluttony in America?  Yeah, we've got that.Part 2 of a series of posts reflecting on the Vice and Virtue series of sermons at UUCF.

Gluttony is not a regular word in my vocabulary. Aside from the phrase, “glutton for punishment” this word rarely enters my speech, and even then I use it facetiously. The second sermon in Alex Riegel’s series on Vice and Virtue, Gluttony and Temperance, led me to think beyond that pithy phrase and about the gluttony of my own life. Just as lust refers more than a desire for sexual pleasure, so gluttony refers to more than an excessive intake of food and drink. Certainly anything one lusts for can then lead to gluttony. One can overindulge in food, drink, sex, possessions, sports, TV, or (gasp) yarn. Basically, gluttony is the acquisition of more than one needs.

During the sermon, the congregation was asked to give examples of gluttony in the world. Congregants mentioned Dubai’s massive physical structures, big businesses’ feast on money,Wall Street, McMansions, and the auto industry, all places that certainly embody gluttony for power and money. My first thought was my own home. I live in a 70-year-old cape cod of about 1800 square feet. Its three bedrooms and four baths more than accommodate the boys and I, and there are far more places to comfortably sit than our three backsides can use at a time. Bookshelves in every room reveal a gluttony for books, despite a fine public library system in our area. Closets hold more clothes than we can possibly wear; cabinets, more games than we can ever play — you get the idea.

I doubt I’m alone in this form of gluttony. It’s little comfort to know that most of you reading this post own more than you need to be comfortable. In fact, it’s downright disturbing how much most of us in this country own, or at least the portion of us reading this on our home computer, iPad, phone, laptop, or netbook. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those devices, or anything wrong with clothing, books, toys, chairs, or cars. I’m far from an ascetic in philosophy or practice. But most of us have too much. We’re gluttons even before we tuck into the kitchen table three (or more) times a day.

Now, I come from a rather self-flagellating line on my dad’s side, so berating myself for owning too much, buying too big, or breathing more than my share than the air seems to be in my genes. I’m good at looking at my life and seeing upon what I could improve. I’m not so hot at making changes, but I do try. Several times a year I de-clutter with the aim of reducing the stuff in our lives. These binges usually follow tripping on one too many duct tape sword or noticing the size 5T shirt in my 9-year-old’s closet. Sometimes these sprees are the result of glutton guilt, but more often they’re just my way of bringing a bit of organization to my life.

But I don’t think those sprees of reduction are the point of this sermon topic. Gluttony is more than just having too much or eating too much. Gluttony occurs when our overindulgence steps on another’s right to have enough. It’s easy to absolve ourselves with gluttony on this front. After all, I’ve never taken food out of the hands of a hungry child or evicted someone from a home so I could have a place put my 54 inch flat screen (okay, we have a 20-some inch big boxy TV from some 10 years back).

Or have I?

It may not be the having that’s the gluttony for many of us but more what price others pay for what we acquire.  Picking the fairly traded blouse over the mass-produced name brand made-in-a-sweatshop shirt is a choice away from gluttony.  A move toward eating homegrown or very locally grown produce  and selecting other locally made goods saves fossil fuel for the next generation (although hopefully we find something better for them and the environment) because it doesn’t travel thousands of miles to reach our door.  Fixing a chair rather than ditching it and heading to IKEA for a new one keeps less out of the waste stream on both ends of the production cycle.  All are temperance in action.

So while my urge to move out the excess has its merits to my sense of aesthetics and aversion to chaos, it’s not actually the answer to gluttony.  Control on the buying end and making wise choices seems key.  These same practices help redistribute the wealth, decrease waste and pollution, and respect workers by buying from companies that provide a living wage.

I’m not there yet.  I try to think about purchases, asking myself a few questions:  Do I really need this?  Do I have something already that will do the job?  Who made this, and at what personal and ecological price?  Can I buy something similar with a smaller ecological and human price tag?  Can I do without?   Those questions slow me down, although they hardly stop every unneeded or careless purchase.  And that’s a step away from gluttony.

7 thoughts on “A Step away from Gluttony (Vice and Virtue Series, Part 2)

  1. Great post Sarah. If I don’t reflect daily on wants and needs they start to merge. Thanks for putting these thoughts together.

  2. I enjoyed the blog post and have also thought about Alex’s gluttony sermon. Gluttony is a word that I think about and use often. I think that developed countries are full of gluttony. Most North Americans and middle class people around the gobe partake in glutinous acts. It is important that we recognize and reflect on these acts so that we can minimize them. Whatever we are consuming we should ask ourselves if we can do with a little less. It does not matter what level of consumption you are at someone will think you are living poor and someone will think you are rich. These are matters of comparison. Gluttony should be watched on a personal level. I believe that every few months I should be able to eat a large piece of grilled tuna. One person may think that I am living a very modest life while another may call me a pig because the resources it took to fly that hunk of fish to my table. I am well aware of what that piece of fish costs the world and enjoy it immensely for the fine gift that it is. Am I gluttonous? Yes. The point is that we should be aware of our actions so we can reduce gluttonous behavior and fully appreciate the time of gluttony.

    I also think that we metro Detroiters are rich and live in posh neighborhoods. A Detroit trailer park would look like heaven to a worker in a China clothing factory. A Detroit trailer park would be like Bloomfield Hills when compared to a neighborhood in Iraq, Peru and one a thousand other places. I live in a 60 year old home with two bathrooms. Compared to the North American standard for rich, I am not rich. Compared to the rest of the world I am a lottery winner. On reading this blog I would say that yes I am rich and gluttonous. I’d also say that most Americans are gluttonous. If one is treated to fresh tuna a few times a year that is gluttonous. If one eats a hamburger a few times a week it is gluttonous. Beef production uses up a huge amount of the worlds resources. If we all stopped eating at McDonalds the world price of grain would drop and less people would starve. I suggest that we all start acting a little more rich. Skip the weekly burgers and on your birthday have that 16oz steak or that grilled tuna or fancy imported mushroom. Make the acts of gluttony a little more memorable and start enjoying the rich life that we as Americans were born into.

    • Thanks, Marc. Awareness of our indulgences and gluttony was my main point, along with a reminder to myself to think before buying.

      Wealth is relative, that’s certain. Like you (despite a wealth of toilets), I’m not rich. Like you, I can make choices to have that tuna now and then (although for me, that’s more likely to be salmon). Like you, I eat low on the food chain because it’s better for the environment (and easier on my pocketbook).

      Mindful consumption is part of the fix for gluttony. Eating that occasional indulgent meal and savoring it, being in that moment, is some of the antidote to overindulgence. As I try to eat an apple while I type, I know I’m in need of putting your wisdom into practice.

  3. This is an interesting post. I do disagree with the below:

    “Gluttony occurs when our overindulgence steps on another’s right to have enough. ”

    My understanding of gluttony was that it was independent of resource scarcity. You can be a glutton even if there is enough for everyone. Waste is waste. I thought that the spiritual sin was in the coupled lack of gratitude, lack of good stewardship of one’s resources. Gluttony encourages one to work to much for things you don’t need, robbing one of peace. Gluttony encourages one to eat beyond being sated, robbing them of their health. I would agree that an element of good stewardship is sharing resources with those who may not have enough, but I do think gluttony goes beyond the issues you raise.

    • Christine,
      Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t touch on the eating issues of gluttony, nor the “doing” ones, although these would be interesting to explore as well. Part of the definition of gluttony I was working from (and the one in the sermon upon which I’m reflecting) involved injuring the planet as well. Overuse of almost every material kind does just that. So even if every person has all they need (and the likelihood of that in our lifetime is nil), we’d be taking from the land, especially given the way we (industrialized nations as a whole) damage this world to have more stuff. This is but one view of gluttony. Greed will be covered next, and I’ll likely address the work issue you brought up there.

  4. I agree that gluttony is mainly a sin of privilege. I, as a small example, am gluttonous in purchasing craft supplies. When my kids have a project, I buy more glue, even though I suspect we already have some glue laying around the house somewhere, but I don’t want to have to be stuck later going back to the store. So I buy more, and perhaps a few sharpies in case we need them. I buy all this because we have not taken good care of the supplies we purchased before. If I had less, then I would be valuing my glue, scissors, tape, etc., and keeping them always in a safe place. I also, unfortunately, must be teaching my kids to be gluttons because they don’t remember to put the cap on the glue. They must assume there will always be more money to buy more glue, and that a glue stick is disposable. It could be argued that our disposable society is a result of widespread gluttony.

    Mark makes an excellent point about savoring as a response to gluttony. For example, I buy a big tub of crispy chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joes. My kids plow through them in two days. If I could teach them to savor just a serving off cookies a day rather than mindlessly chowing down, this would be a step towards resolving this problem. Gluttons consume without appreciating.

    If we appreciate what we have, instead of mindlessly consuming, we will hopefully as a byproduct of this better attitude remember to share with those who have less.

    • Sigh. Sharpies and yarn. Those are weaknesses here, too. Good luck on the glue instructions with the kids. I’d like mine to go easy on the duct tape, but I’ve yet to figure out how.

      Regarding the cookies, consider a cookie meditation. Sitting in silence, each person takes one cookie from the container, spending time looking at the cookie — really looking. Second, smell the cookie carefully and feel its texture. Then take one small bite, chewing slowly, noting the feel and sounds with the bite, then the flavors. Chew and swallow, only then taking the next bite. Continue until the cookie is gone. The kids have done that same meditation with a clementine at church, but since one didn’t like clementines, the message was a bit lost. Probably time to do again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s