Gluttony

Gluttony

Gluttony

Gluttony

Synopsis

In America, notes acclaimed novelist Francine Prose, we are obsessed with food and diet. And what is this obsession with food except a struggle between sin and virtue, overeating and self-control--a struggle with the fierce temptations of gluttony. In Gluttony, Francine Prose serves up a marvelous banquet of witty and engaging observations on this most delicious of deadly sins. She traces how our notions of gluttony have evolved along with our ideas about salvation and damnation, health and illness, life and death. Offering a lively smorgasbord that ranges from Augustine's Confessions and Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale, to Petronius's Satyricon and Dante's Inferno, she shows that gluttony was in medieval times a deeply spiritual matter, but today we have transformed gluttony from a sin into an illness--it is the horrors of cholesterol and the perils of red meat that we demonize. Indeed, the modern take on gluttony is that we overeat out of compulsion, self-destructiveness, or to avoid intimacy and social contact. But gluttony, Prose reminds us, is also an affirmation of pleasure and of passion. She ends the book with a discussion of M.F.K. Fisher's idiosyncratic defense of one of the great heroes of gluttony, Diamond Jim Brady, whose stomach was six times normal size. "The broad, shiny face of the glutton," Prose writes, "has been--and continues to be--the mirror in which we see ourselves, our hopes and fears, our darkest dreams and deepest desires." Never have we delved more deeply into this mirror than in this insightful and stimulating book.

Excerpt

Several years ago, I was invited to a midtown Manhattan restaurant for a lunch that was part of an ongoing series of gatherings hosted by two women who were writing a book about women's attitudes toward their bodies, eating, diet, weight loss, and so forth. The lunches were designed to enable the writers to talk to groups of women, to hear what women were saying about what they ate and what they didn't eat and how they felt about it—and to pick up clever dieting tips that readers might find useful.

Perhaps a dozen women attended. Some were plump, some were thin, all were attractive and appealing, none was anywhere near obese. But many of them described their relationship with food as a ferocious, lifelong battle for power and control.

The lines were drawn, the stakes were clear. In one corner was the women's resolve, their fragile self-regard, their sense of how they wanted to look and feel, how they wanted the world to see them; in the other corner was the refrigerator and a gallon of chocolate ice cream. One woman described how triumphant she felt when she succeeded in getting her carton of takeout dinner from the store all the way to her house without wolfing it down in the car on the drive home. Another passed along the helpful caloriecounting . . .

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