Jonathan Soder, Assistant Faith Editor
According to “Turkey Facts,” a list of holiday turkey-consumption trends compiled by the University of Illinois, Americans will consume approximately 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day this year, indicating to many a tendency towards gluttony on the annual day of thanks. Multiplied by the average weight of a Thanksgiving bird (15 lbs.), and divided by the population, this figure equates to 2.4 pounds of turkey being consumed by every individual age nine or older. In comparison, the suggested daily-intake for the average adult male is 2,500 calories, or less than one pound. According to author Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, the vice of gluttony can be avoided this year. But, first this temptation must be correctly understood.
“If there’s anything simple about gluttony, it is its focus on pleasure,” DeYoung says in her book “Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies”. “Gluttony is really not about how much we’re eating, but about how much pleasure we take in eating food and why.”
In her book, DeYoung details five major types of gluttony. Each variation of how one might eat gluttonously makes up a letter of the acronym F.R.E.S.H. – fastidiously, ravenously, excessively, sumptuously, and hastily. Eating excessively is the first one thought of in regards to Thanksgiving.
“The excessive overeater is one who will eat past the point of fullness for the sake of indulging her tastes,” DeYoung says. “Although this type of glutton does not intend harm to her body, she is willing to risk or overlook the consequences in order to have more pleasure.”
The temptations to eat ravenously and hastily often accompany the temptation of overindulgence, forming a trio of unhealthy eating habits.
“My children use the term ‘shoveling’ for someone who eats too quickly, too greedily, and too much all at once,” DeYoung says. “The shoveler offers us a living picture of the verse, ‘All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is never satisfied’ (Eccles. 6:7).”
The parallel between the “shoveler” and many families on Thanksgiving Day, for DeYoung at least, speaks to the divine design of humans.
“There is something sad and a little pathetic about these last three forms of gluttony,” DeYoung says. “It’s a bit undignified to find the type of creature God created as the crown of his creation sitting hunched over a plate of food, mouth overstuffed, shoveling more in as if he can never get enough. But that’s the point of reflecting on what sort of creature we are. Because we are human, the pleasure of food can never completely satisfy.”
By understanding the nature of gluttony, the problem of gluttony can be summed in two points.
“First, bodily cravings never have anything but temporary satisfaction,” DeYoung says. “Second, as human beings, we are more than just material beings. Satisfying our desire for the pleasure of eating doesn’t ‘fill up’ the whole person. Our spiritual desires are left empty.”
A strong proponent of self-control and moderation, Saint Augustine of Hippo expresses a thought DeYoung finds relevant to the problem she describes.
“Virtuous people avail themselves of the things of this life with the moderation of a user, not the attachment of a lover,” Augustine says.
For Augustine, the things of this life encompassed any physical need or pleasure. Incidentally, both categories apply to food. So how does one resist the urge to glut when eating is a necessity?
“Our eating should be regulated not only by what is physically necessary for life and health,” DeYoung says. “but also for what is ‘becoming’ or ‘befitting’ all that God calls us to be and do, and for those with whom we live out that calling. What really matters is that whatever and whenever we eat, we not be so overly attached to the pleasure that we cannot easily and uncomplainingly choose to give up when duty or necessity requires this.”
For DeYoung, this year Nov. 23 represents an opportunity to demonstrate self-restraint and a true sense of thanksgiving to the Creator of the 46 million turkeys being consumed.