Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sex and Food--Prudes Everywhere

George Will writes a provocative essay in today’s Washington Post examining a recent Policy Review article by Mary Eberstadt which asks whether we haven’t witnessed a reversal of moral attitudes regarding food and sex. In other words, we are food prudes and sex gluttons where we used to be quite the reverse. Will wonders whether this means that we’re in for another renaissance of sexual mores as--following the trend with regard to food--we become ever more inclined to replace a moral compass with strict evidence from the empirical record. It turns out that the empirical evidence is proving that smorgasbord sex is about as healthy for your body as an all you can eat buffet full of red meat and sweets. No serious reader of Aristotle or ordinary grandmother with common sense is probably surprised by these findings. Lack of moderation in most things can be expected to have both moral and physical consequences.

What concerns me, however, is the increasing (and ironic!) Puritanism that I see bubbling beneath the surface of these reversals. The generation of today’s food police go too far. They cling too tightly and rigidly to their empirical evidence about the health effects of food. If nutrition were the only reason for eating, they’d have a point. But human beings and human bodies are not mere machines operating on a fueling schedule. Those who infuse (or confuse) nutrition with morality take all the joy out of eating and, thereby, make it less human. And those who insisted on the inherent joy of every kind of miscellaneous sex similarly sucked all the joy out of it and made it inhuman by making it more animal. We may get some nominal improvement in our situation if the sexual libertines become infused with this material concern for the health of the body and begin to call for some more restraint with regard to sex. But in the most important (that is to say, the most human) respect we’re still going to be missing something. A morality based only on the importance of the body and health will not concern itself either with joy or with love. After all, the healthiest kind of sex (if we’re talking only about physical health) would be something akin to a breeding program or mere self-gratification of a Seinfeld brand. And with today’s reproductive technology, one could easily imagine a movement toward a completely sexless world (though I remain dubious about the potential popularity of such a movement). The irony of all ironies is that as we have become more and more obsessed with the vulgar things we are pleased to imagine are erotic, we have become less and less erotic. The only way to preserve true eroticism is to preserve true morality and moderation. The only way to get a true morality is to really understand what it means to be a human being.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Shameless self-promotion: This very topic--our paranoid, prohibitionist, and puritanical fear of food--is the subject of more than one essay in my STUCK WITH VIRTUE. And it will make an appearance in my lecture at Bowdoin tomorrow. Thanks to Julie!

Paranoid, prohibitionist, puritanical!!! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Now what pray tell would be wrong with people who follow their principles in either food or sex. It seems that our prophets of Aristotle are no less judgmental of others decisions that the annoying "experts" who tell us to avoid red meat. "Experts" on Aristotle are no more helpful than "experts" on cholesterol when it comes to choosing how to live my life.


What exactly is Will's argument? Is it labeling those with whom he disagrees prudes and gluttons, or it his expertise in philosophy?

I'm not sure this if fair to the Puritans.

Here's a nugget about John Winthrop from Edmund Morgan's classic "Puritan Dilemma: "He was a countryman of simple tastes who liked good food, good drink, and good company. He liked his wife. He liked to stroll by the river with a fowling piece and havt a go at the birds. He liked to smoke a pipe. He liked to tinker wiht gadgets. He liked all the things that God had given him, and he knew it was right to like them, because they were God-given. But how was one to keep from liking them too much? How to love the world with moderation and God without?"

Thanks for the quote Richard.

Julie’s point - "And with today’s reproductive technology, one could easily imagine a movement toward a completely sexless world ...The irony of all ironies is that as we have become more and more obsessed with the vulgar things we are pleased to imagine are erotic, we have become less and less erotic" - reminded me of some of C.S. Lewis' opinions about sex and morality, the most interesting and insightful of which can be found in his novels, as opposed to his prose.

What Lewis and the Puritans, and even the Bible, understood, and which most modern sociologists and "liberators" never will, is that human beings CAN NOT separate the physical action and pleasure of sex from the emotional and spiritual implications of intercourse, and still remain healthy, either physically or psychologically.

It seems I have temporarilly misplaced my ability to disagree, but can still find time for being disagreeable. In such a spirit I maintain that with a few bucks it is still easy to over eat, but hookers are expensive! Conservatives continually give me the false hope that women have suddenly become easy...would that I had such a problem!

John: just keep watching craig's list, with the declining economy I'm sure the girls will soon lower their rates to equal the market. Not all women are the same, I know of a girl who once had sex with someone for a pack of smokes. It's funny that drugs and prostitutes are probably the only two real free market industries that follow classical market principles, mabye not drugs with the US banks laundering the money and military plains flying in the coke.

The thing with food that needs to be addressed is how food has fundamentally changed over the past two decades. Modern food is a completely different animal(pun intended) than what our grandparents or forefathers ate. The rise of additives and GMO goes hand in hand with the rise in diabites and other illness. The current youth have a life expectency that is lower than their parents. That's right, current children are projected to die before their parents on average. The 80 year old farmers in this country did not grow up eating skinless chicken breast salad every meal. How this has nothing to do with the quality of food is insane. What does Monsanto or a seed company do with thier GMO foods? Do they test it for years and years to see what the longterm effects are, NO. After a few mice studdies where the mice get sick they just Lobby congress to make it illegal to say their food is GMO on the package. How does this solve world hunger? Are they going to engineer giant tomatoes to feed the third world like Lisa Simpson's dream?

Umm Brutus, in 1930 the average yield per acre of corn was 30-40 bushels. Now with seed technology its 140-150 bushels/acre. Try feeding people growing food at the rates of even 50 years ago and there'll be a shortage. Would you rather die of hunger/pay 50% of your income to feed yourself, or live to be 75 instead of 80....

This is interesting. What I perceive here is a rejection of "morality" when it is backed up with science, but an acceptance of the same morality when it stands independent of science.

It is not dehumanizing to moralize about food when the basis is some quasi-religious construction about right and wrong: "Clean your plate, because they are starving in Armenia. Hold your fork like this, and not like a boor. Don't eat meat on Friday, because you are a good Catholic, don't eat pork because you are a good Jew, etc.".

The same seems to be true of sex: You like to moralize about sex when your morals are connected to some gate-keeping function at Heaven and Hell, but it is dehumanizing to bring science into the bedroom, or to the kitchen!

Suddenly, to think of ourselves as animals,enjoying the biological benefits of sex, is to be robbed of our sexuality by scientists! To be told that we should limit our red meat in order to reduce our cholesterol is to be robbed of our right to love life by scientists.

But, to be told that gays should not marry, or even be gay -- or to suggest that ethnic minorities are oversexed and under-moral, or that kids will go to hell if they have sex before they are married -- that is okay, and not dehumanizing!

So, the moral of this story seems to me: Go ahead and tell me how to have sex, and when and with whom. similarly, please tell me what to eat, what not to eat, and how much as long as you base your authority on the Bible/Torah, Koran, etc. But, stay out of my kitchen and my bedroom if your advice is based on science! That is dehumanizing!

Oh please ! not these pseudo-"sophisicats" again ! C'mon people ! there are very few things left to us, for us, during this period of great Financial NEED ! Let's just eat and screw and not try to connect these things with anything more than, they are just darn satisfying !

Not everything about modern seed technology is bad. I think certain aspects are, and some of the GMO stuff does not get tested properly. It's not a matter of loosing five years, its more like 25. Now, Do you realize how much farm land goes untilled in the Midwest right now? The shortages come from the cost of production. Those high tech hybrids are not cheep and the fertalizers they require are not either. If you can give me a figure about the cost of production in regards to a bushel of corn figuring in inflation then that would be a better figure I think. There has to be a medium between yield and safe practices. We have no idea what the longterm effects of GMO are on people eating them or on the surrounding plant life. Food actually works in reverse in some ways, as technology increases it becomes more expensive. By the data you gave it would seem that the family farm should be flourishing, but anyone from Ohio knows that is not the case. When oil was high getting fuel was a huge expense. Also the petro chemical fertalizers that modern seed hybrids require got more expensive. The funny thing though was, that when corn went up due to foolish ethanol subsidies the petro chemical companies just raised fertalizer prices in accordance. 30 years ago my family grew corn that did not require the petro chemical stuff. I can go on and on about modern food. Since milk now is pastuerized, its not subjected to the same standards so all the blood and puss goes into the mix and then just gets boiled along with the growth hormones. Taste an heirloom tomato and compare it to a Frankenfood one from the supermarket. Mabye people should spend more on quality foods and less on mindless consumer products or sex toys in the spirit of the argument.

I agree with your article basically, except for the idea red meat is bad. This is scienfitically inaccurate. Red meat contains more vitamins and minerals than any known fruit or vegetable you could consume. The link between saturated fats and heart disease has long been proved to be non-existent, based on faulty or speculative science. Red meat contains a complete set of amino acids. No vegetable protein boasts a complete set, and thus is harder for the body to utilise. In short, red meat might just be the "perfect food" for humans nutritionally - a fact that many people ignore at the peril of their own health.

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