SIN OF THE MONTH — When I began writing this monthly column a gazillion years ago, it was in order to discuss each of the Seven Deadly Sins. The trouble with that, as you will know if your math skills are beyond the second grade level, which mine are not, is that to do this takes approximately, oh, seven months or so, at which point, one runs out of sins. This is how I was forced to begin making up sins, some of which, such as “Inadequate Lawn Care” and “Bad Hair,” were not quite as deadly as they ought perhaps to have been.
But every so often, I have occasion to revisit one of the original Seven Deadlies. At this time of year, as the days grow shorter and the hours in which one is forced to stand around buffet tables gorging oneself grow longer, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to everyone’s favorite sin, Gluttony.
For a precise, if unreliable, definition of the term, I decided to consult the font of random information that is Wikipedia. As I tell students, Wikipedia is a totally unacceptable source for research, and there is a special evil laugh teachers reserve for anyone who cites it in a paper. One can’t mention the W-word to any of my colleagues without being castigated.
However, I think Wikipedia has a pretty good take on Gluttony: “an anticipation of meals, the eating of delicacies, and costly foods, seeking after sauces and seasonings, and eating too eagerly.” Next to that is a little picture of me–no, I’m kidding, it’s actually a little picture of you. No, seriously, it’s a picture by Hieronymus Bosch — of course.
Anticipating meals, eating adorable European things from Balducci’s, eating too eagerly–this is the American holiday tradition in a nutshell
(or a chocolate in the shape of a nutshell). Of course, this year, not everyone will be celebrating in the usual manner, i.e., people who have
lost jobs, houses, etc. Yet if you go to the grocery store or the mall or watch ads on TV, you would think it was all business as usual.
But I don’t want to contemplate the depressing state of affairs that is America in 2010: I want to contemplate food, and I find myself doing
that a lot lately–and with alarming results. It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I recently saw a video of myself that was shot from behind.
It was an angle I had never seen before, and to make things worse, I was wearing a midriff top–it was a bellydance performance–and just above my
colorful belt (which I had festooned with shells, beads, and at one point, two plastic chickens, which fell off somewhere on the dance
floor) were two rolls of what can only be termed, well, fat.
“What the hell is that?” I yelled at Facebook, where one of my fellow dancers had posted the video. Facebook did not answer, so to
punish it, I untagged myself.
But it was clear to me, and no doubt to Facebook, what it was: I had developed love handles, or if you prefer, a muffin-top, though visible
only from the back, like a muffin someone had taken a bite from.
I decided right then and there to start paying more attention to what I ate. I found a little notebook someone had given me that says “I
feel a sin coming on” on the cover and began recording every morsel I put in my mouth. This was not a diet–I was against diets on principle
because they are based on self-denial, and I find that if I deny myself something it becomes all I can think about.
Having said that, a while back, I gave up “white foods” — rice, flour, sugar, potatoes, and daikon radishes (they’re white, right? Anyway, I
don’t like them). My chiropractor had recommended it, saying that it might help my back pain. I didn’t see the correlation but figured it
was worth a try. (I decided that milk and brie were not exactly white — more of a beige, don’t you think?) Not eating white foods was
kind of fun, since it made me feel virtuous, but gradually, they snuck back in food by food and apparently made their way directly to my back.
So, while not exactly dieting, I began eating cautiously, likesomeone who is afraid of being poisoned, and waited for the excess
weight to fall away. But after more than a month of this, I got on thescale and discovered that I had actually gained a couple of pounds.
Apparently, as one ages, one’s metabolism slows down, or else there are way more calories in low-fat yogurt than it says on the label. For
whatever reason, it was obviously going to be harder than I’d expected to lose the love handles.
Reluctantly, I decided that it was time to go on an actual diet, which I had not done in many years. I had begun dieting at age
thirteen, when my idea of abstemiousness was to buy low-cal cookies at Walgreen’s and eat the whole box, and subsequently tried many strange
diets, including one that involved kelp, lecithin, cider vinegar, and Vitamin B6 (why??), then discovered the regimen that got me through
college: coffee for breakfast, coffee for lunch, a hard-boiled egg for dinner, and for dessert, three or four donuts. After college, I began to eat what was then called “health food” and had really not thought much about dieting over the years — until now.
I decided the simplest thing to do would be to just count calories. I started measuring the cereal I eat in the morning and counting the
sugar cubes I put in my tea (15 calories each) and was amazed to discover just how much I was packing away every day in dribs and drabs.
After I had spent a few days monitoring my intake, it became clear that on most days, I basically do nothing but eat. I have a drawer full
of snacks in each of my offices; my car has a stash of goodies from Trader Joe’s; my cabinets at home are generally pretty barren, but I can
always manage to find something to snack on — a can of smoked oysters, or a bag of stale gluten-free chips left over from the No White Foods era.
I had to face the facts: instead of eating to live, I was living to eat. In the words of Wikipedia, I was seeking sauces and seasonings, and eating too eagerly. My favorite TV show was Top Chef. I had become like Esau, who sold his birthright for “ordinary food and a potage of
lentils.” I was a Glutton.
And I had picked the worst time of year to realize this. Not only was I contemplating the imminent necessity of eating a number of holiday
dinners, but there were the usual holiday events, including three retirement parties, one of which is a banquet.
It all goes to show — but my husband came in as I was writing this sentence, decided it was time for a chat, and sat down. He was outraged
at the recent news stories about people who are outraged at the personal fortunes of members of Congress. He noted how hard our
congressman works, going to the Hill for a vote at 3 a.m. and then returning several hours later for a fourteen-hour workday; and he added
that if we want people who serve in Congress not to be wealthy, we have to make it affordable for people who are not millionaires to run for
When he had finished, I said, “You know, there are worse sins than Gluttony. There’s Greed. There’s Intolerance. There’s failing to
appreciate how lucky one is to be able to afford adorable European foods, at least for the time being.”
“Oh, are you writing one of those Sin articles?” he asked. I told him I was. He apologized for disturbing me and — no, I’m kidding: he said
some more stuff about campaign finance, and then we went out for Mexican food.