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Author: Steve Woods

Sins of the mouth

Updated Thursday, 9th April 2015
Who are the gluttons, the obese or the advertisers who make chocolate so sexy and irresistible?

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Sin of the mouth These days there seems to be more sins being associated with obesity than the Pope can shake his crosier (papal stick) at. David Cameron has been at it again in recent days, demanding the obese accept help or risk losing benefits, and has managed to link their ‘addictions’ to a lack of self-reliance and discipline, an immoral and highly visible ‘sinful’ condition, The obese baiter-in-chief, Katie Hopkins has allegedly been reported to police for  obese ‘hate-crime’. Obesity seems to be such a compelling, almost crusading, issue for the right: people’s flaws are inscribed on their bodies in the physical space they inhabit. They walk among us, flaunting their size ‘sins’, what trigger for vilification and sermonising could be more obvious, more convenient?

Yet, there is mileage in Robert Lustig’s argument that obesity is principally caused by sugar: he has more artillery than mere correlation, though it’s a useful backdrop that the rise in obesity has come accompanied by a global increase in sugar consumption. He describes the biochemistry of metabolism – the identifiable hormonal pathways by which sugar stimulates appetite and deadens physical vigour. Once you’re convinced of this, the answers are sinfully corporate and social, not personal. Most of this sugar is added either to gain competitive advantage, or to elongate shelf-life. They’re fattening us up for profit, in other words, and the leaner your budget, the less able you are to resist and the easier it becomes to sin.

Pope Gregory the Great first established sins numerically in the 6th century; envy greed, wrath pride, gluttony and sloth – all can be closely associated with food but lust and gluttony are most closely linked to obesity and while both occupy adjacent positions in Dante’s purgatory, and now the power of sin falls at the feet of advertisers who encourage the individuals to succumb to food delusions. Food is the new sex, drugs and religion. Cookery dominates the bestseller lists and TV schedules. Celebrity chefs have become lifestyle gurus and cooking is referred to as a high art, and we need to question the role of food and the delusions food brings?

In today’s secular society, for many, the moral authority of church and religion, declines and is frequently dismissed. This estrangement for many from responsibility leaves the sinful in a moral vacuum. Long gone are the days when the local vicar or priest was the primary source of guidance often reminding the gluttonous of their obligation to use the mouth for the purposes of praising God. Sins of speech were always regarded as Gluttony; therefore these sins implied the obese would have been blasphemous and showing contempt for God. However, gluttony is no longer perceived as a sin against God but an illness that leads to further problems, and the wrath of politicians. Enjoyment of food is no longer a crime against God and gormandisers are no longer condemned to hell, and instead endure the vilification of the right. With this in mind, it’s no wonder the Catholic church have completed a re-write of Gregory the Greats seven deadly sins; out goes gobblers and gluttons, in comes environmental issues, genetic research, drug trafficking, poverty and human rights violations


Obesity is often the result of a simplistic ‘more calories in, less energy expended’ mantra, but always so, and is certainly not a sin in the present climate of foodie temptations. It may be that the true gluttons here are the food and drink corporations who still control the market with an abundance of unhealthy choices, when human anatomy is programmed to make snap decisions on what to eat. Gormandisers dictate our purchases at the local supermarket, gluttons are advertisers who make chocolate so sexy and irresistible – modern life has made gluttons of us all, how many pairs of shoes do you own. The greatest sinners may yet be those who preach of the obese as sinners while preaching about the importance of acquisition, aspiration and attainment.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.


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