In Defense of Consumption

There are many voices telling us we should consume less.  And we most definitely should. But I also think we need to consume more.  And consume well.

Myself and two of my good friends went on a fishing trip where we ate what we caught.  We had an inextricable connection to our food. While we talked and enjoyed our company, we put a worm on the hook, cast the rod, reeled in the fish, removed the hook and the fish’s head, then cleaned, gutted, and removed its scales.

Bread Fish Mosaic

Basket with Loaves and Two Fishes, mosaic from a 5th century church

At the end of the day we grilled our catch along with spices and fruit and many other tasty provisions, making a lavish meal out of our day’s work. And then, only then, could we feast. This took time and energy (we used the whole day) to create, and we enjoyed the abundant setting.

Contrast this experience with going through a fast food drive-thru window. You talk to a menu, a disembodied version of a person whose only relationship to you is economical.  You order a number. You give your new friend some money and receive a bag with more bags and boxes in it.  You don’t know where this food has come from, the people preparing it don’t even know where it came from. The food inside your box inside your bag bears little resemblance to anything you might have seen in the real world. You consume the food as quickly as possible (sometimes without even looking at it) and you don’t even need to leave your car to do so. The eating experience is trying as hard as possible to erase itself.

In this process we are attempting to live as much outside of the world as possible. There is little affirmation of our place in the physical world through the lens of a drive-thru experience.  It plays down our earthiness at the expense of time and pleasure.  The more we see our food as abstract from this world, the easier it is for us to see that in ourselves.  We are gnostic eaters.

Wendell Berry gets it right in his anthology of essays, What Are People For? in saying the modern experience of eating is more like feeding than feasting, and this makes it easier for us to lose the connection to our place in this world.

Some of this might sound absurd: we’re lamenting the ease of our existence? But what we’re really lamenting is not embracing our existence.  It’s not the ease so much as it is the forgetting. We forget that we are physical creatures, dependent on the land and therefore, the Lord, to supply our needs.  We like to forget this because it gives an air of autonomy, thin slice it may be.

Now we won’t always have time to spend an entire day on a meal, and I’m not saying that fast food is intrinsically morally evil, but we should be seeking lives that lead to less material consumption and more proper, meaningful consumption. The kind that emphasizes our connection to this world and doesn’t seek to remove us from it. This affirms how God made us. We need to feed less and feast more.