Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Competitive Eating and Gluttony

Q - Thanks for all the hard work you put into this blog; it is a daily must-read for me. I managed to catch a part of the annual hot dog eating contest today, and I was wondering: Is competitive eating a sin? The sin of gluttony comes to mind, but I also am thinking about wasting food that could go to others who need it. Of course, I can be guilty of over-eating at times, but it is certainly not on this scale or in the public eye (scandal?). I would be interested to know what you think. Thanks again.

A -
Thanks for the question and for the compliments. We are always grateful for those that read our blog and are very happy that you find it helpful.

Gluttony is a sin when our passions become disordered, esp. in regards to food. The opposing virtue is temperance, which moderates the use of food and other things. Gluttony happens when a person eats an excessive amount, food that is not healthy at all and might endanger our health over a period of time.

Unlike a lot of other sins, this one is more difficult to reign in because the body needs to be nourished. It is clear that in our modern culture we have an obsession with food. Obesity is an epidemic and overeating is the norm. Billions are spent on fad diets and pills and the Food Network is one of the most popular cable channels.

But, that doesn't answer your question - what about competitive eating, which is now treated as a 'sport' and featured on ESPN. Yet, it is not without critics. The American Medical Association has endorsed a resolution that recognized "competitive speed eating as an unhealthy eating practice with potential adverse consequences." One doctor called it a form of binge eating that could result in terrible problems including a ruptured stomach.

The competitions end with many (if not most) of the competitors throwing up the food they engorged themselves on.

This sounds like a clear case of gluttony to me. It also seems that the sin of pride and greed might play a part, because the winners of such contests now become celebrities that can make hundreds of thousands of dollars in a day. But, that may or may not be the case depending on a person's motivation.

As to the wasting of food that others could use, I would be less stringent. It seems we are too quick to say that something could be "given to the poor", but not all good things in life that are non-essential should be given to the poor. Now, that isn't to say we don't have an obligation to help the poor, esp. those that can't help themselves, but not every luxury or excess is sinful.

Pray for temperance - of which the Catechism says:
1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: "Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart." Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: "Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites." In the New Testament it is called "moderation" or "sobriety." We ought "to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world."
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one's heart, with all one's soul and with all one's efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).
I hope this helps.

1 comment:

Gert said...

Great article in wikipedia on gluttony and the Christian perspective.


One type of gluttony that I had not heard of before was defined by Thomas Acquinas:

"Studiose - eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared."

I think we see a lot of that. I don't know how you could not define the competitive eating as gluttony. However, I doubt the "competitors" are aware of their sin and perhaps are somewhat less culpable because of that, and because the supply of food today is so great it is not possible to say that their intake results in another's denial.

I watched part of the competition this weekend, and it is not something I enjoyed. Pretty disgusting.