Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that yes, it is very possible.
Other eras and cultures weren’t quite so afraid to call themselves out on this. In fact, they had a word for this: gluttony.
Gluttony seems like an arcane word, one that no longer pertains to us.
But it’s come to my attention that I have a very real problem.
I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that’s wrestling with these issues. So here’s where I’m coming from:
Two weeks ago, I attended my friend’s daughter’s birthday party. My friend made and decorated a gorgeous cake with fondant. I love fondant. Most people find it too sweet, so they eat the cake and discreetly leave the fondant on the side of their plate. As parties tend to go, plates get left behind, littering tables and windowsills and counters.
At this party, I relished my piece of cake. If I’m invited to have another, I don’t shy away. (Note: that was probably the case at this party.) Then, in an effort to help the hosts clean up, I went around, picking up those discarded plates.
In an effort to clean up, I ate all the leftover fondant on those discarded plates.
The other guests left it on their plates because they have the self-control that I lack.
(Or less of a sweet tooth. Potato, po-ta-to.)
On my third or fourth serving of straight-up fondant, it dawned on me that I’m not thirteen anymore. My 40-year-old pancreas may just be nearing its lifetime limit of sugar regulation. By continuing to “help my friends” by cleaning up (and eating leftover fondant), I might–quite literally–be killing myself.
This is gluttony. If we’re enjoying things to the point of harming ourselves, we’re gluttons.
Now, some may say that sounds an awful lot like addiction. They may be right. But there may be more nuanced differences between addiction and gluttony. For one, I’m guessing that gluttony is less habitual than addiction. For gluttons, we do have more conscious control about what we’re doing to ourselves. Or maybe not. If anyone more expert on this subject would like to weigh in on this, comment away!
Not Just Food
Culturally, we’re accustomed to thinking about gluttony merely in terms of food and overeating. But, reflecting on this birthday party episode, I’m convinced that there are other ways that gluttony is present in my life and in our culture in general.
The definition of gluttony that I’m working with is, “the enjoyment of a good thing to the point of harming oneself or others”. This isn’t saying that it’s bad to enjoy good things. Jesus is famous for telling the Pharisees to lighten up, loosen up, and enjoy the good things in life. (Rough paraphrase of Luke 5:33-35.)
We just need to enjoy things in moderation.
If we’re making ourselves sick, that’s clearly not good.
But are there other ways, besides food, that our excesses are making us or others sick?
Walking through the supermarket makes me dizzy. There’s an entire aisle of soda pop, bottled up in single-serve packages. One, the soda itself does no one any good. Two, the bottles they’re packaged in will be used once and then thrown away, where they will sit around in landfills, outliving all of us.
We all know that’s the tip of the iceberg of the ways we’re ruining the environment. The problem is so overwhelming that it’s easier just to tune out and continue to obliviously consume as we’ve always been doing. (Well, as we’ve been doing in our lifetimes. Humans in general have never thrown things out on quite this massive of a scale.)
We know we’re killing ourselves. And not just ourselves, but every living thing on the planet. Gluttony is the nicest term I can give these habits.
Used lightly, plastic is a good thing. I’m glad surgical equiment comes wrapped in plastic. However, I’m not so sure my bread needs to be wrapped in three different bags, though.
Need some more ideas about living lighter on the planet? Here are some great links:
- 54 Ways to Be More Sustainable (gentlysustainable.com)
- 30 Ways to Eliminate Plastic from Your Life (rusticelk.com)
- 12 Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions (ilumecoblog.com)
Profits Over People
Along the same vein, producing a product is a good thing. I love that I don’t have to bake my own bread every day, churn my own butter, and milk my own cow. Selling products and running a business are all very good things.
However, it’s important to know where our products came from, who produced them, and who sets the prices on those products. When I was on a tour of Xochimilco, it was run by a local farming cooperative. They let us know that farmers who grew tomatos generally have one option: either sell to a huge, multinational business or sell their tomatoes at the Mercado de Abastos. Either way, the farmers don’t get to set their prices. If the people in charge of the Mercado de Abastos say they’re only buying tomatos at 8 pesos pero kilo, it doesn’t matter much if those same farmers spent 12 pesos growing that kilo of tomatoes. They’ve got no other place to sell the tomatoes. So they can either sell the tomatoes at a loss or take their tomatoes back home (with all their tomato-growing neighbors) and let them rot.
Either way, there’s no good option.
As consumers, our cheap tomatoes are coming at the expense of someone who isn’t getting paid for their hard work. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’m not comfortable with that.
Tomatoes are just one example, but it happens in many, many industries.
So let’s educate ourselves on where our products come from, who made them, and whether or not they were paid fairly for their work in making those products. Does that sound overwhelming? It can be. Start with your local farmer’s market. Products may be more expensive than in the supermarket, but you’ll be paying a fair wage for whatever you buy there (set by the people who made or grew the product), and the money you spend stays in your community.
Making a profit is a good thing. Taking advantage of others is not.
Need more ideas for buying items sustainably? Check out these links:
Shopping as a Hobby
How many memes have I read about someone who went to Target with the intention of buying just one thing, and then walked out after spending $100?
We buy way too much. So many of us have way too much. Some of us are metaphorically drowning in our things.
This is probably why Marie Kondo is so popular at the moment. Not only are her methods intriguing, but she’s solving a very real problem for so many of us. We are literally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we have. We have to get rid of a lot of it.
Having stuff isn’t a bad thing. So many things are very useful.
But when we have too many things? That can paralyze us. Don’t believe me? Watch an episode of Hoarders. That always motivates me to kick some of my clutter to the curb.
So a solution here is to stop accumulating so much clutter. Shopping should not be a hobby. Sometimes when shopping, I go back to the theme of environmental degredation: will this product honestly be useful, honestly better my life in some way, or will it ultimately spend too much time taking up space in a landfill?
That question cuts down on a lot of crap.
Minimalism is the answer?
The KonMari phenomenon isn’t just a passing trend. It may be, as a culture, we’re realizing that we’ve got a problem. Like any addict, we’ve got to admit we’ve got a problem in order to be able to dig ourselves out.
With the curiosity about minimalism, it seems that we’re getting there.
Is minimalism the answer to all our woes? Of course not. But it may help.
Minimalism, moderation, and mindfulness are all useful tools to keep us focused on the present, the people around us, and what we actually need. Not “it might come in handy”, not “this might be useful”, or “gee-this fondant will just go to waste.”
Then again, with regards to food, a friends’s mom is known for saying that if we’ve had too much, the food will either go to waste in the garbage or on us. I need to take that to heart again. For my own good, it’s better that it goes to waste in the garbage.
Much like me, taking extra care to NOT finish off all the leftover fondant at the next party, paying attention to our actions, and striving to live in moderation is a solid step in the right direction.
While gluttony might seem like it’s the ultimate expression of freedom, it really makes us slaves to our habits. Or stuff. Or food. Whatever it is that we’re enjoying too much of.
Because if it makes us sick, are we honestly enjoying it?
Awareness about our tendencies to gluttony–however gluttony might manifest itself in our lives–is the key to our liberation. To be able to enjoy things–and then stop, look around, making sure that there’s enough left over that others may also enjoy those things–that seems like a much healthier life than the one I’ve been living.
Featured salad photo by Eszter Biró on Unsplash
pink frosting photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
taco photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash
tomato photo by Marc Mueller on Unsplash