I’m currently reading a wonderful book entitled How We Eat, by one Leon Rappoport. I saw a reference to it in a recent eGullet Forum and immediately went out to pick it up. I’m funny that way.
The book itself provides several dozen theories on the psychology of our food choices, and never insults us by telling us which theory is right, ensuring that we can draw our own conclusions. It’s a joy when a book doesn’t talk down to it’s reader.
I could easily write a post on every chapter within the book, because each topic he covers is that compelling, at least to me. But I won’t subject you all to that, and instead focus on one of the ideas Dr. Rappoport explores.
In the book, he sets forth the idea that the food choices we make are based off of three distinct idealogies: hedonism, health, and moralism. He then goes and applies each of these to the Freudian theory of Id, ego, and superego. This seems a bit of a stretch for myself, but then again, when it comes to Psychology, I’m a Jungian.
But it seems as if there is something to his choices here, and I want to elaborate my own thoughts on them, starting with Moralism today, and the other two in the days to come.
From my own perspective, you can make divide the moralistic choices of food into two subcategories: Spiritual and Political.
Growing up in a Catholic neighborhood in my youth, I saw spiritual choices in regard to food made every Friday – People ate fish in place of red or white meat. The Public schools, which fed a secular neighborhood, even ensured that fish was on the menu during Lent.
Moralism in food often contradicts the Hedonistic choices in food. As Rappoport notes, Gluttony is a venal sin in Catholicism, while those in the Orthodox Jewish faith eat kosher because kosher ensures “purity” of their food products. Muslims often avoid alcohol and pork, while most Hindis avoid beef. Indeed, these religious edicts were most likely made to ensure the tribe survived (pork carries trichinosis, while a heatlthy cow is far more valuable alive than dead), they dressed these edicts up in the swaths of gods so effectively that these behaviors are still in use today, even when science now has provided (some) means to allay the initial fears surrounding these foods.
But even the act of eating has moral behaviors surrounding it. Prayers are often performed before eating by many people. Fasting is done by many religious sects in order to “get closer to God”. In the past, many villages offered plates at the table, or sacrificed animals (and sometimes Humans) in order to ensure a good harvest. In present day India and Japan, people still offer food at the temples of their dieties.
And before those of you who claim to be non-spritual feel all superior to those offering foods to their gods, let me ask you one question: How many of you have left offerings out on the night of December 24th? How is allowing your children to provide cookies (or at the house in my youth…scotch) to Santa Claus, any different?
I’ve read recently (and even recently believed) that all of our food choices were political choices. But I don’t believe that anymore. We make our food choices for a variety of reasons. Sprituality is but one of the reasons. I’ll address more in the next few days.