Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Healthy Eating is the New Morality

It used to be that sexual promiscuity received moral censure a few decades ago. Now it is what you eat that gets the moral finger wagging.

Our obsession with food and the ways to prepare it have given the First Lady a new career, as the Food Czar of the Obama government. Never before has a president's wife spent her time appearing so regularly on television; one would think that politics and television have become symbiotic entities.

Mrs. Obama's 2012 campaign media blitz has already brought her to daytime airwaves ("The Ellen DeGeneres Show"), prime-time reality TV ("The Biggest Loser") and children's programming ("iCarly"). This week, she's hitting up "Good Morning America," "The View," Rachael Ray's cooking show, "LIVE! with Kelly (Ripa)" and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Out: Let's Move! In: Let's Move ... in front of the TV cameras! - Michelle Obama's Civilian Act is hard to swallow, by Michelle Malkin

While Michelle Malkin is concerned with Ms Obama's uncriticized entry into public life, even though her husband defends her rights to be treated as a private citizen and left alone, I am more concerned with why the attention is being paid to diet when the real threat to our children's health is sexual promiscuity.

With the staggering increase in sexually-transmitted diseases, and the fact that many are viruses that will trouble their hosts for life (unlike 50 years ago, when most STDs were bacterial and could be treated with antibiotics), shouldn't our concern be more with people's sexual behaviour than with their eating habits?

The social climate of today's society does not permit judgment of any sexual behaviours; whereas one's eating habits are fair game for anyone to criticize, even for governments to impose guidelines. Wouldn't Michelle Obama achieve more benefit for our kids if she were to promote abstinence education rather than getting everyone to count transfats? Unfortunately, we have reversed the moral code; we have made our eating habits the stuff of morality, whereas our sexual behaviour, no matter what form, gets a pass.

One author who has written about this astutely is Mary Eberstadt in her most recent book Adam and Eve after the Pill, Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.
In chapter 6, titled The Transvaluation of Values, Is Food the New Sex?, Eberstadt asks; how did this reversal of values come about? It seems that we have reversed the values around food and sex, making what we eat a moral issue and how we engage in sex a matter of personal taste. In Eberstadt's words "mindful eating and mindless sex".

She juxtaposes a 30-year-old housewife Betty in 1958 against her granddaughter Jennifer in 2012. Betty prepares a dinner with a piece of meat, some servings of vegetables from cans, and perhaps a fresh potato. The table is set and the family comes to dine. Jennifer, on the other hand, has a dinner of cooked tofu and fresh salad; she usually eats alone and the only accompaniment on her table is her laptop. When it comes to sexual morality, Betty thinks that sex outside of marriiage is not correct, in fact she considers it wrong, whereas Jennifer will disapprove of infidelity in marriage but on all other sexual matters, she refrains from judgment. It is simply not her concern.

Jennifer is genuinely certain that her opinions about food are not only nutritionally correct, but also, in some deep meaningful sense, morally correct - i.e. she feels that others ought to do soemthing like what she does. And Betty, on the other hand, feels exactly the same way about what she calls sexual morality... Betty's Kantian imperative concerns sex not food, and Jennifer's concerns food not sex. In just over sixty years, in other words - not for everyone, of course, but for a great many people, and for an especially large portion of sophisticated people - the moral poles of sex and food have been reversed. Betty thinks food is a matter of taste, whereas sex is governed by universal moral law of some kind; and Jennifer thinks exactly the reverse.

At this point, the impatient reader will interject that something else is driving the increasing attention to food in our days, namely, the fact that we have learned much more than humans used to know about the importance of a proper diet to health and longevity... One reason that people today are so much more discriminating about food is that decades of recent research have taught us that diet has more potent effects than Betty and her friends understood, and can be bad for you or good for you in ways not enumerated before.

All that is true, but then the question is thIs: Why aren't more people doing the same with sex?

Today, however, two generations of social science replete with studies, surveys, and regression analyses galore stand between the Moynihan Report and what we know now, and the overall weight of its findings is clear. The question raised by this record is not why some people changed their habits and ideas when faced with compelling new facts about food and health; it is rather why more people have not done the same about sex.

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone- and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.

- Mary Eberstadt, Adam and Eve after the Pill

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