Wednesday 29 August 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

By Edmund Lo, S.J.


After my annual eight-day retreat in Montréal about two weeks ago, I decided to stick around for a few more days to visit friends. During those days, I was twice taken out to all-you-can-eat restaurants. Although I enjoyed the company very much, I felt ill at ease during the meals. It wasn't that the food was mouldy and disgusting, but it was rather the idea behind the all-you-can-eat or buffet concept that was jarring.

During my younger days in Vancouver, I used to enjoy these kind of meals quite a bit. After all, you can get a great quantity of food from a large selection for a fixed price. You may as well get your money worth, no? One example of that was Japanese food; it meant that I could have all the salmon sashimi that I had ever wanted. Then, somewhere down the road, I began to reflect on this experience of eating in general.

In addition to fulfilling one's hunger, eating (in most cases) is also pleasing to the senses. When we take in copious amount of substances to stimulate the senses, our sensitivity to this particular stimulation decreases. We then need an even larger quantity to achieve the same level of sensation the next time around. This is essentially the neuro-biological basis of addiction. When one is addicted to something, that stimulus ceases to be pleasurable. It feels numb. This is applicable to all-you-can-eat as well: it desensitizes our taste buds. That first bite of that piece of salmon sashimi does not taste the same, nor does the subsequent mastication process have the same feeling to it.

It was also helpful for me to understand the nature of Japanese food a bit more. Sushi and sashimi are not day-to-day dishes in the Japanese diet; in fact, they are only reserved for festive occasions. Furthermore, they are not to be consumed in large quantities, as they are delicacies. When they are merely churned out on the assembly line, it is a cheapening of their inherent value. In other words, the whole idea of all-you-can-eat sushi goes against the existence of sushi in the first place; it is contrary to its original purpose of being.

I cannot help but think that this is quite insulting to the farmers. One can argue that this is of little importance now, as small farms are being eaten away by large-scale, commercial agricultural methods. This may be inevitable, but at the beginning it was not so. My grandmother—who grew up in rural China—often reminded me when I was a young child, “We owe it to our ‘big brother’ farmers for the rice in our bowls. Do not waste even one grain.” In the Chinese country-side, food is grown and prepared neither for profit nor for a large scale of personal consumption; these are not its primary purposes.

More importantly, however, it is a big slap in the face for the Creator God. We are rendering the food meaningless when we over-indulge. We are essentially saying, “God, I don't want the meaning that you have inscribed in your creation. I just want my meaning, one that makes me satisfied.” The Lord wants us to be in dominion with the rest of creation, but not to lord over it as if we are God himself. When viewed in this light, perhaps it makes more sense why the Church lists “gluttony” as one of the seven cardinal sins.

One could criticize that I am over-thinking. Yet I believe that the food I enjoy is created both by God and by human beings for a purpose. Similarly, I believe that I am created to eat with a deeper intentionality.

1 comment:

  1. Over-indulgence in anything is in some sense an offense to God and creation, which is perhaps why "Temparance" is 1 of the 4 cardinal virtues. Although food is arguably the most common temptation, we must beware of this in all aspects of our lives as well.

    Great post Br. Edmund!