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Devil and Angel IconsOvereating has long been associated with immorality. Even the Seven Deadly Sins include “gluttony” as a core evil. Traditionally, gluttony referred to the overconsumption of food. Today, moral judgments aren’t reserved strictly for overeating. At some point, we started placing moral judgments on types of food, independent of quantity consumed.

Morality feeds into our eating choices in multiple ways, such as social responsibility (fair trade coffee), treatment of animals (free range chicken), and so on. Circling back to the Seven Deadly Sins, the morality of food choices still often has religious overtones.

I’ve even seen a certain brand of yogurt referred to as “guilt-free.” Seriously, what could yogurt do that would be worth guilt? Did the yogurt steal a small child’s lunch money? Will eating guilty (as opposed to guilt-free) yogurt make you steal a small child’s lunch money?

The use of moral and religious verbiage with regards to food makes me ponder the world. It makes me imagine a little cupcake sitting in a Catholic confessional booth, declaring to the priest: “Forgive me, Father, for I am sinful.”

Before the 20th century, anorexia was tied to religion, not weight. It’s not too hard to understand the origins of this. Many religions feature fasting as a form of sacrifice and prayer. It is evidence of one’s faith and dedication to God to refuse food. Food refusal is a measure of placing the spiritual above the base needs of our bodies.

Those themes carry forward to today, and have broadened beyond an expression of one’s religious faith. No wonder it’s widespread that our self-esteem takes a hit when we don’t eat “virtuously.” The good/bad; sinful/virtuous language is embedded in our cultural DNA.

Start to notice the language used on food packaging, in advertising, and in everyday language. It’s amazing how pervasive the religious and moral language of food is. It’s so widespread – so ingrained in our thinking – that it’s almost invisible until you look for it.

Here are some examples of religious &/or moral language of food:

How you feel when not eating, or eating only “approved” food

  • Virtuous
  • Righteous
  • Good
  • Controlled
  • Sacrificing (for a greater good)
  • Above the needs of the earthly body

What you may feel around food or when you’re eating

  • Temptation
  • Decadent
  • Sinful
  • Indulge
  • Cheat

What you may feel after eating

  • Guilt
  • Remorse
  • Shame
  • Penance
  • Repent
  • Need to work off the sin calories
  • Beat self up

Words used to describe rich foods

  • Decadent (fun synonyms: corrupt, debauched, depraved, degenerate, immoral, licentious)
  • Sinful
  • Indulgent
  • Tempting

The list above is by no means exhaustive. Let me know what words you think of in the comments below. In what ways do you think religious or moral words affect how you eat?

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