Friday, February 27, 2009

Is Food the New Sex?

As a retired food service manager, this via Execupundit caught my eye.

Put down that cheeseburger and listen up: If food has become what sex was a generation ago -- the intimidatingly intelligent Mary Eberstadt says it has -- then a cheeseburger is akin to adultery, or worse. As eating has become highly charged with moral judgments, sex has become notably less so, and Eberstadt, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, thinks these trends involving two primal appetites are related.

In a Policy Review essay "Is Food the New Sex?" -- it has a section titled "Broccoli, pornography, and Kant" -- she notes that for the first time ever, most people in advanced nations "are more or less free to have all the sex and food they want." One might think, she says, either that food and sex would both be pursued with an ardor heedless of consequences, or that both would be subjected to analogous codes constraining consumption. The opposite has happened -- mindful eating and mindless sex.

...If food is the new sex, Eberstadt asks, "where does that leave sex?" She says it leaves much of sex dumbed-down -- junk sex akin to junk food. It also leaves sexual attitudes poised for a reversal. Since Betty's era, abundant research has demonstrated that diet can have potent effects, beneficial or injurious. Now, says Eberstadt, an empirical record is being assembled about the societal costs of laissez-faire sex.

...Today "the all-you-can-eat buffet" is stigmatized and the "sexual smorgasbord" is not. Eberstadt's surmise about a society "puritanical about food, and licentious about sex" is this: "The rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone -- and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat."

George Will noticed the trend, concluding with a trenchant comment.

Stigmas are compasses, pointing toward society's sense of its prerequisites for self-protection. Furthermore, as increasing numbers of people are led to a materialist understanding of life -- who say not that "I have a body" but that "I am a body" -- society becomes more obsessive about the body's maintenance. Alas, expiration is written into the leases we have on our bodies, so bon appetit.

The name Mary Eberstadt rang a bell. Sure enough, I vicariously linked something else she wrote when Fr. Neuhaus died last month. I marked the occasion by reposting something from June, 2007.

This started off as a toss-away post, but Mary Eberstadt's essay is more serious than the cute title suggests. Her article prints out to nine pages of 10-point type. Short snip here...

As much as you want

The dramatic expansion in access to food on the one hand and to sex on the other are complicated stories; but in each case, technology has written most of it.

Up until just about now, for example, the prime brakes on sex outside of marriage have been several: fear of pregnancy, fear of social stigma and punishment, and fear of disease. The Pill and its cousins** have substantially undermined the first two strictures, at least in theory, while modern medicine has largely erased the third. Even hiv/aids, only a decade ago a stunning exception to the brand new rule that one could apparently have any kind of sex at all without serious consequence, is now regarded as a “manageable” disease in the affluent West, even as it continues to kill millions of less fortunate patients elsewhere.

As for food, here too one technological revolution after another explains the extraordinary change in its availability: pesticides, mechanized farming, economical transportation, genetic manipulation of food stocks, and other advances. As a result, almost everyone in the Western world is now able to buy sustenance of all kinds, for very little money, and in quantities unimaginable until the lifetimes of the people reading this.***

One result of this change in food fortune, of course, is the unprecedented “disease of civilization” known as obesity, with its corollary ills. Nevertheless, the commonplace fact of obesity in today’s West itself testifies to the point that access to food has expanded exponentially for just about everyone. So does the statistical fact that obesity is most prevalent in the lowest social classes and least exhibited in the highest.

And just as technology has made sex and food more accessible for a great many people, important extra-technological influences on both pursuits — particularly longstanding religious strictures — have meanwhile diminished in a way that has made both appetites**** even easier to indulge. The opprobrium reserved for gluttony, for example, seems to have little immediate force now, even among believers. On the rare occasions when one even sees the word, it is almost always used in a metaphorical, secular sense.

**Donald Sensing observed long ago how the introduction of reliable contraception has had a more destructive impact on traditional marriage than all the queers in the world.

***Stories about obesity among the Pacific Islanders have also been around a long time. Only when the problem strikes close to home do we pay attention.

****Just last night I caught an interview with a former True Believer in Mao's Cultural Revolution whose bubble burst twenty years ago at Tienanmen Square. Her sad retrospective observation is that China's nouveau riche is experiencing a "real spiritual vacuum. They've given up worshiping Chairman Mao. Nothing has replaced him. They're worshiping Western materialism. But...we know what they don't know, that that's empty and you need something more in your life."

Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Outliers. goes into detail about the impact that agriculture has on education. The connection is at least academic, but implications are great for social science, health, politics and economics.

There is a connection, you know, between these thoughts and the current economic meltdown. Back off from the trees and take a look at the forest. You will see that what we are calling is not an "economic" meltdown as much as a CREDIT Meltdown. As Pogo said, "We have seen the enemy and he is us." The US economy has been "growing" on credit for decades. We got away with it for a long time until creative minds figured out how to convert the first level of credit into another generation of credit backed by other credit. They called it "securitized debt" to make the new credit look like it was "secured." It was, in a sense, in the same way that sub-prime loans to buy houses were "secured" by the actual real estate. Slick brokers arranged what they called "neutron loans" knowing that even if the original borrower walked away the land and house remained. We see now how insecure that arangement can become. In the end, as the new Chinese economic aristocracy has yet to learn, you don't get something for nothing.

Meantime,don't spread it around. If they discover what we are hopefully learning (the hard way), China might stop lending us the money we need to climb out. Oh wait. I think that's what they call "enabling."

Did I say "money"?
I meant credit.
They're not the same, you know.

Here is an inciteful little snip I found buried in the bowels of a long, dry document from a pissed-off shareholder who probably lost a big piece of his ass when Washington Mutual went to the chopping block:

A bank’s assets are its loans, because loans are where people owe you money plus interest, an income stream. Deposits are a liability, because the bank owes the depositor the money, plus interest, and is liable for its payment on demand.

That's exactly opposite how most people think. For you and I what we have in the bank is an asset and what we borrow is a liability. For the bank, it's exactly the opposite. Banks are to the economy what black and white film negatives are to prints.
That's why we call them "negatives."

Puts banks in a different light, no?

So how did we get from food and sex to credit?

Same way a tobacco smoker graduates to grass, then crack, then heroin and meth, and finally to prostitution and larceny to support the habit. See how that works? Credit is the new prostitution and toxic assets are the new larceny.

(So is IT the new condom?)

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