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Anti-Hedonism


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#1 Jennifer Iannolo

Jennifer Iannolo
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Posted 25 September 2005 - 11:13 PM

Although, especially in the English-speaking world, there is a countervailing current of neo-Puritanism that may sabotage the future of dining. The view that hedonistic enjoyment of food is sinful has strong traction in some quarters, and these quarters are growing as a matter of demographic fact.


Steven, I think you've made an interesting point here, and it is a concern I share. I'm hoping you will expand on this thought, and in the interim (with a green light from Bux, of course), I'd like to offer my comments on the subject.

What I find most troubling is that anti-hedonistic ideal combined with the notion of food itself as enemy. Our culture has become so trained by various media sources to believe that certain foods are a dangerous substance (yet they may be the best thing for us day after tomorrow) that to many, Twinkies become a balm for a confused soul when no one is looking.

If I were to paint my ideal future for dining in this country (and even worldwide), it would include the premise that nothing should be forbidden, but rather enjoyed as part of life, in reasonable quantities. Somehow, that ideal has never been embraced by our all-or-nothing culture, yet the book "French Women Don't Get Fat" is a bestseller, as if it is revealing a secret of the ages.

As gourmands I'm sure we are seen as the most guilty of hedonists, as we seek more than sustenance in this lifetime; we tend to be incredibly passionate, and sometimes bombastic in our epicurean pursuits. Perhaps that makes us frightening to a lost culture?

We embrace pleasure as something that ought to be experienced at the table, no matter how fast the world outside is moving. That the focus of our detractors is placed upon the extreme of gluttony instead of simple pleasure paints a telling picture of skewed priorities.

To change those priorities, however, would take the unraveling of decades of mores. What a task.

I, for one, am ready and willing to take it on, however. :smile:

Signed,

A Satiated Sinner
Jennifer L. Iannolo
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
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Food Philosophy. Sensuality. Sass.
Home of the Culinary Podcast Network

Never trust a woman who doesn't like to eat. She is probably lousy in bed. (attributed to Federico Fellini)

#2 Fat Guy

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 04:53 AM

Dr. Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study in the late 1990s that shed some light on this subject. Rozin, a psychology professor, studied cross-cultural food attitudes among more than 1,000 Americans, French, Belgians and Japanese. His research shows that, while the French overall associate eating with pleasure, Americans worry about food and associate it primarily with nutrition (the Belgians and Japanese come out statistically in the middle).

Rozin concluded that, "There is a sense among many Americans that food is as much a poison as it is a nutrient, and that eating is almost as dangerous as not eating." When asked if they would be willing to give up eating altogether in favor of a pill that could fulfill all their nutritional needs, 26 percent of Americans said yes -- double the percentage of French.

As Rozin explains, "Americans try to categorize foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. A third of Americans believe that salt and fat are toxic, like mercury. But most foods, salt and fat included, are healthy in moderation and become unhealthy only when consumed in excess. The French seem to have a better understanding of this notion of balance."

Whether French women get fat or not -- and I suspect some of them do get fat -- the really telling bit of data remains (to me) the "French paradox." While only four percent of French people eat diets that meet U.S. nutritional guidelines, and while the French overall have higher levels of serum cholesterol than Americans, the incidence of heart disease in France is 33 percent lower than in America.

A 1999 piece I wrote about Rozin's study said the following:

in the movie "Sleeper," Woody Allen plays a man who, after years in cryogenic freeze, awakens in a future where superior science has established that cigarettes and chocolate are good for you and that foods thought to be healthy in the 20th century are actually carcinogenic. But truth is stranger than fiction, and the last decade of the millennium has seen numerous flip-flops in the definition of healthy food. For my mother's generation, going on a diet meant eating lots of hard-boiled eggs and whole-milk cottage cheese. Today, these items are forbidden. The latest studies indicate that butter may be less dangerous than margarine, regular coffee may be less dangerous than decaf and proteins may be better than carbohydrates. The highly touted "Mediterranean diet" is losing its appeal now that we know Northern Europeans, who eat substantially more fat than Southern Europeans, live longer. Can a major study detailing the secret health benefits of fat be far behind?

It's no wonder that, as Rozin puts it, "Every bite, for some people, is fraught with conflict." Exaggerated reporting of specious epidemiological studies (which only show correlations and do not offer explanations) has made us into a nation of hysterics. "This availability of information has not been accompanied by education of the public on risks and benefits, basic concepts of probability, and on the gradual and rocky road, in science, from ignorance to knowledge," he argues. "This has led, at least among Americans, to frequent new concerns about particular dietary items, and has promoted tendencies to ignore it all, or to overreact to it all, or to develop simplifying heuristics which take the uncertainty out of every bite."

But here's one thing we do know: Stress is unhealthy. The studies showing links between stress and poor health are legion -- Rozin will be happy to show you hundreds. And, as he concludes, "It is not unreasonable to assume that when a major aspect of life becomes stressful and a source of substantial worry as opposed to a pleasure, effects might be seen in both cardiovascular and immune systems."


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#3 Bux

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Posted 26 September 2005 - 07:06 AM

Let me assure Steven that there exists in France, particularly among women, the cult of thin. Stereotypes are dangerous but the number of slim hipped small breasted women in France is quite noticeable, even to an American who hasn't tried to buy a pair of pants. This sets a standard not attainable to many. I believe Lucy has touched on this in her posts on France and in her Montagnac diet diary. Some French women do get fat and there's a thread in the France forum about the growing obsesity in France which some tie to the growing fast food industry in France. There's a thought to put in yout back pocket and sit on for a while.

Let me also assure Jennifer and the rest of the membership that we are encouraging comments as well as questions, as long as they are on the topic of The Future of Dining as yours are. One of my responses to your comments would be along the lines of Fat Guy's. I recall reading about dining along the are on both sides of the Rhine. There was a concensus on both sides that German restaurants do not have the clientele that will allow them to cater to those who take enormous pleasure in dining and consequently, those Germans who truly love food in the way you and I may love food, tend to go west to dine as oftenas their schedules or wallets permit.

The is one area where I do not believe globalism may be equated with an averaging of cultures and I believe traveling Americans have brought back many tastes from abroad including the enjoyment of taste. This has led to our development of cooking as a respected profession and to the growth of the ethnic restaurant business. I will concede that there is more than a little sliding in France where they've adopted the taste for "le big mac."
Robert Buxbaum
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