The Common Good

Gluttony takes a toll

Sojomail - July 9, 2003

Quote of the Week Virginia Woolf: Think small
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: What's eating you?
By the Numbers Weighty worries: Kids' obesity in USA
Funny Business Searching for WMD on the Net
Soul Works Poetry: Communion
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Tech Ethix Government prying, the right kind
Culture Watch Shrek director to film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Web Scene Building a new Catholic church | Best readings on globalization | Musicians unite against sweatshops | The many uses of duct tape

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Let us not take for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.

- Virginia Woolf, "Modern Fiction"

What's eating you?
by David Batstone

David BatstoneFew of us truly believe that we overeat. Given the opportunities to consume food, we are more likely to have pride in our restraint. In the United States, at least, the results of health research paint a different picture. The vast majority of Americans are carrying around more body fat than a healthy body should. It's not only the amount we eat; it's the kind of food we eat. To keep a nutritious eating regimen in this country means swimming arduously upstream.

Given the fact that more than 840 million people in the world are malnourished, gluttony is a sin of social injustice. Hordes of children are more than happy to send their peas and squash to the other side of the world, of course, but the structural mechanisms for a just distribution simply are not in place. Put simply, there is more than enough food to go around the planet, but too much of it stays on our kitchen tables.

Gluttony also takes a toll on the interior life. When we preoccupy ourselves with food, our capacity to pursue more transcendent values is curtailed. It's sobering how much of our soul force we forfeit during the course of the day anticipating food intake. If you're like me, you can pass an entire day looking forward to a delicious Thai curry for dinner. A glutton is not only susceptible to overconsumption. Delicacy wraps a pretty bow on the same package.

Oh, by the way, how's your diet going? Nearly everyone you bump into these days is either on a diet, breaking a diet, or hoping to embark on one soon (after the next holiday). Talk about dominating your sense of self! Dieting is one of the more subtle forms of gluttony. In this case, it's anxiety about the food that you're not eating - or the list of foods that you can eat - that sucks up your spirit.

Gluttony wears many masks. Its practice does not rely on the quantity, quality, or even scarcity of our consumption. It feeds, so to speak, on our obsession. And that's the peril of gluttony. It turns sustenance - and the natural pleasure of appetite - into a worthy end unto itself. We no longer eat so that we can live; we live so that we can eat.

Once a year I spend a weekend at a Buddhist monastery that is populated by a community of monks and nuns. The retreat serves as an annual reminder of how spiritually out of focus I am. Invariably, at the beginning of my stay, I find it very hard to sit still for even ten minutes in meditation. My mind appears to have a mind of its own. That's the right observation, my spiritual teachers tell me. If we cannot control our own minds, then we have to inquire into the forces that actually do control our thoughts. And let's not even get started on those untamed emotions....

In that light, it is foolish to search for the magic diet sufficient to resolve our obsession with food. In most cases, the obsession fills a void that we have left untended at the core of our self.

*A longer version of this commentary appears in the July-August issue of Sojourners magazine.

To read more commentary by Sojourners Executive Editor David Batstone, go to:

Brew up Some Justice

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Weighty worries: Kids' obesity in USA

Prevalence of obese children in USA ages 6 to 11:

1976-1980 7%
1988-1994 11%
1999-2000 15.3%

Prevalence of obese children in USA ages 12 to 19:

1976-1980 5%
1988-1994 11%
1999-2000 15.5%

Sources: American Obesity Association, Center for Disease Control

Searching for WMD on the Net

If you're in need of a really good laugh (and who isn't?), go to Follow further instructions.

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by Anne Yohn

Two ancient cups upon the table
wait for every man's choice:
two portions--
Eros and Thanatos.

Some scream war - lust gorging on death
not knowing kinship's meaning
while here we are
you holding me with such need
that I tremble at your look, your kiss,
honey flowing through us.

How can they destroy life
tumbling limbs, scattering bodies
across landscapes
when you touch my breast so
welcome and warm
against me?

One cup galls as oily lips close upon the rim.
The bitter portion of war spills blood
upon earth's agony
while the other cup holds
life's deepest communion between lovers
with bright-stained lips of joy.

When spirits soar at the birth-cry of a child,
when echoes from the babe's creation--
I love you
oh, I love you -
resound through life
how can they kill?

Tell me.
How can they?

*Anne Yohn was born in the US and lives in an isolated part of the North Carolina inland coast. She has been a teacher, a corporate manager, a civil rights investigator, a writer, musician, and a parent. Yohn has had poetry published in Buffalo Bones, The Mandrake Poetry Review, Baltimore Lite, and several on-line poetry magazines. "Communion" is an original submission to SojoMail.

SojoMail readers hit reply

Mary Pat Foster writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan:

I was raised Catholic, going to both Catholic grammar and high schools. Since I was a child, I knew I was what they now call transgendered. Words used to describe people like me made me feel like I was a pervert as a child. These feelings drove me away from Christianity as a young person, and I delved deeply into world religions, philosophy, and psychology to try to understand myself. In this journey, I left Christianity behind as a bigoted belief system that emphasized control rather than relationship.

Last March Sojourners got me to go to Washington to protest the war, and I did it again in April. Both times I left with a great bunch of dedicated people from Ann Arbor. I'm glad I am tied in with you, and feel that what you are doing around the world is trying to help people, rather than ram the philosophy "I'm good, you're bad" down their throats. Keep up the good work.


Mark de Roo writes from Holland, Michigan:

While I concur with much of what Jim Wallis said about the Governor's new stance on taxes in Alabama, I failed to see an acknowledgement that support for the poor in Alabama or elsewhere is more than just financial support. The argument would contain considerably more substance if you outlined ways that each of us, including the government, furnishes ways for people to take responsibility for themselves, to see the merits of hard work and accomplishment, and to be stewards of the gifts that God has granted them. Why did your article omit this perspective?


Ken Truitner writes from Hennepin, Minnesota:

Thanks to Jim Wallis for his article on tax reform in Alabama. I have always believed that there is Biblical support for governmental or systemic solutions to social problems as well as for fairness in policies. The creation of the deacons as recorded in Acts is certainly only one such case and apparently represented a priority of the early church. If we interpret the early church as a type of social-religious system, the deacons could be described as "social workers" of their day and they specifically participated in redistribution of wealth, apparently by collecting funds from wealthier people. Also there are all of the prophetic writings that argue for fairness to the the powers that be. How can we disregard this overwhelming volume of writings that are so central to our tradition?

Of course, the governments in those days were somewhat different in structure from today. But in fact there were horrendous inequities that, for example, the Roman Empire perpetuated based on systemic support for privilege, landed/wealthy families, and a tendency for the empire to extend its economic and political influence by unilaterally sending poor people to fight wars against those neighboring territories that they considered a threat to (and/or limiting) the wealth and security of their privileged classes. I believe the early churches tended to undermine some of these policies in a systemic sense.


Claire Grether writes from San Luis Obispo, California:

Thank you David Batstone and all those who replied to his comments about child labor in Peru. I worked and paid for my own clothes from the age of 11 in this great country, the United States. I developed competence and confidence. Granted, I lost interest in education, but I have no regrets. I also worked for a California State Preschool and took preschoolers "home" to migrant farm workers housing. There, they were under the care of an 11 year old child for an hour or two. Did I doubt her competence to look after a couple of sleepy four year olds? Not at all. Train a child, respect a child and she can take part in the family's economy. However, my co-workers had a different view, because they were conditioned in the middle class mainstream thinking and we had to try to "fix" this problem. I think discussing these issues helps us all to see that there are many solutions for all kinds of problems. Bless you all for trying.


Rik Reynolds of Joyce, Washington writes:

Re: U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, on one way to control people who illegally download music from the internet: "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines." The irony is that Hatch's website was caught using unregistered (pirated by another name) software. Stand back from your monitor, Orrin - she's gonna blow!


Rick Wilkerson, youth pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Cary, North Carolina, writes:

Did you notice what the so-called "Christian Coalition" states as their position? Make sure every economic level pays its fair share. In other words, keep it regressive.


Jimmy Lee writes from New York City:

Where is the empirical evidence that mergers have been bad for us - in the media especially? I will support it if you can convince me. I used to be an investment banker focusing on mergers in the media industry.


Thomas Lawrence writes from Staten Island, New York:

I also agree with Tom Brooks of Spokane. I, too, want to know how to proceed with the suit against President George W. Bush. Any ideas?


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

Government prying, the right kind
by Michelle Delio

The US government has endless ways of keeping tabs on Americans and what they're up to. Now the Government Information Awareness site turns the tables, letting you keep an eye on your government officials.

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab unveiled the Government Information Awareness, or GIA, website Friday. Using applications developed at the Media Lab, GIA collects and collates information about government programs, plans and politicians from the general public and numerous online sources. Currently the database contains information on more than 3,000 public figures.

>>Read the entire feature

Shrek director to film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Andrew Adamson, a New Zealander who won the best animated film Oscar for Shrek, which he co-directed, wants to shoot some of his next film in New Zealand.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with a reported budget of $170 million, is based on the first book, published in 1950, of C. S. Lewis' seven-part Chronicles of Narnia.

>>Read the entire feature

*Building a new Catholic church

FutureChurch is a national coalition of parish-based Catholics who seek the full participation of all baptized. If you'd like to see woman ordained, and married clergy, in the Roman Catholic Church, this site is for you.

*Best readings on globalization

Excellent annotated bibliography on globalization and cultures offers a great start for budding scholars:

*Musicians unite against sweatshops

Spearheaded by folk rock legend Billy Bragg, No Sweat Apparel (US) and Ethical Threads (UK), Musicians Against Sweatshops is calling on all musicians of conscience to take a stand. Find out more at:

Musical artists, big and small, who may want to participate are invited to email

*The many uses of duct tape

A zany e-zine full of fun and insightful parody. Go to:

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