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Lecture XVIIIB

Thoroughly shameful, he used to say, are gluttony and high living, and no one will dare deny it; yet I have observed very few aiming to shun these vices. On the contrary I notice that the majority of people strive to obtain these same foods when they are not available and when they are at hand are unable to refrain from them, and they use them so lavishly when they have them that they make for the detriment of their health. And yet what else is gluttony but intemperance in the matter of nourishment, causing men to prefer what is pleasant in food to what is beneficial? And high living is nothing but excess in table luxury. Now excess is always evil, but here particularly it reveals its true nature in these people since it makes them greedy like swine or dogs rather than men, and incapable of behaving properly with hands, or eyes, or gullet, so completely does the desire for pleasure in dainties of the table pervert them. How shameful it is to behave toward food in this way we may learn from the fact that we liken them to unreasoning animals rather than to intelligent human beings. Now if this is shameful, the opposite must be altogether good; that is, exercising moderation and decorum in eating, demonstrating one's self-control there first of all, not an easy thing to do, but one which requires much attention and practice. Why should this be? Because although there are many pleasures which lure man into wrong-doing and force him to yield to them contrary to what is good, pleasure in eating is probably the hardest of all to combat. For other pleasures we encounter less often, and we can refrain from some of them for months and whole years, but of necessity we are tempted by this one every day and usually twice a day, since it is not possible for man to live otherwise. Thus the oftener we are tempted by pleasure in eating, the more dangers there are involved. And indeed at each meal there is not one hazard for going wrong, but many. First of all, the man who eats more than he ought does wrong, and the man who eats in undue haste no less, and also the man who wallows in the pickles and sauces, and the man who prefers the sweeter foods to the more healthful ones, and the man who does not serve food of the same kind or amount to his guests as to himself.[1] There is still another wrong in connection with eating, when we indulge in it at an unseasonable time, and although there is something else we ought to do, we put it aside in order to eat. Since, then, these and even more vices are connected with eating, if a man wishes to show self-control, he must be free of all of them and not be guilty of any of them. To keep himself blameless and free from such errors one should by constant practice accustom himself to choosing food not for enjoyment but for nourishment, not to tickle his palate but to strengthen his body. Indeed the throat was designed to be a passage for food, not an organ of pleasure, and the stomach was made for the same purpose as the root was created in plants. For just as the root nourishes the plant by taking food from without, so the stomach nourishes the living being from the food and drink which are taken into it. And again just as plants receive nourishment that they may survive, and not for their pleasure, so in like manner food is to us the medicine of life. Therefore it is fitting for us to eat in order to live, not in order to have pleasure, if, at all events, we wish to keep in line with the wise words of Socrates, who said that the majority of men live to eat but that he ate in order to live.[2] Certainly no reasonable being, whose ambition is to be a man, will think it desirable to be like the majority who live to eat, and like them, to spend his life in the chase after pleasure derived from food.

That God who made man provided him food and drink for the sake of preserving his life and not for giving him pleasure, one can see very well from this: when food is performing its real function, it does not produce pleasure for man, that is in the process of digestion and assimilation. At that time we are being nourished and renew our strength, but we feel no sensation of pleasure; and yet there is a longer time involved in this process than in eating. Surely if God had planned eating as a pleasure for us, He would have had us enjoy it a longer time and not merely the brief moment when we are swallowing. And yet for the sake of that brief moment when we do experience pleasure, countless dainties are prepared, the sea is sailed from end to end, cooks are more in demand than farmers; some even squander the value of their estates to spread their tables, though their bodies are not at all benefited by the costliness of the food. Quite the contrary, people who eat the cheapest food are the strongest. Indeed you may notice that slaves are usually stronger than their masters, country men than city men, the poor than the rich, better able to do hard work, less fatigued by their labor, less frequently ill, enduring more cheerfully cold, heat, lack of sleep, and every such hardship. Furthermore, even if expensive and cheap food strengthened the body equally well, nevertheless one ought to choose the cheaper food because it is more conducive to temperance and more fitting for a good man. In general for men of sense and reason, in respect of food, what is easy to procure is better than what is hard to obtain, what requires no work than what requires it, what is available than what is not at hand. But to sum up the question of food, I maintain that its purpose should be to produce health and strength, that one should for that purpose eat only that which requires no great outlay, and finally that at table one should have regard for a fitting decorum and moderation, and most of all should be superior to the common vices of filth and greedy haste.

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