I was in the bar having a beer and sulking over my tilted world, thinking nothing worse could happen when Ricky slaps me upside my back and says, “You look like shit.”
Rubbing the bridge of your nose with three fingers and an extended pinky is not a gesture to use frequently, but it fit on this occasion, punctuated by an emphatic groan. “Don’t be mean to me, Ricky. Just buy me a beer and go away.”
“Oh, but Jesse, you realize if I buy you a beer, you buy my company!”
“Unfortunately, yes,” I said. “I was just hoping you’d picked up a sense of decency after going to that fund-raiser for the Belhaven Creek Preservation Society.”
“Oh, my GOD! You should have been there,” he said. “The buffet looked like a crime scene with croutons.”
“Go away, Ricky,” I said. “Just let me stew. Thanks for the beer.”
Then of course first thing Ricky did was run this acid blonde drinking a screwdriver off the stool next to me and sits down with a rude and sinuous motion. Once settled, he lit a cigarette, fiddled with his hair, took a sip, looked at me and said, “You can talk to me.”
I flashed back over a year of juggling one disappointment after another and looked at Ricky, at a face as open as a page. Yes, I could talk to Ricky; I could tell him things I could tell no one else because he wouldn’t care enough to remember. Ricky is one of those people who see others as catalysts for their own self-edification much as Truman Capote did, and Ricky reminded me a lot of Truman: wispy balding blond hair, tortoise shell specks and a wit like a whip, a good guy most of the time, but when he’d had too much scotch you had to dance around him because he got so feely-touchy.
“I know what it is anyway,” he said, leaning back and swiveling on his stool “It’s those damn landmark things.”
“There’s more to it than that… ,” I began.
“No there isn’t,” Ricky smiled as he cut me off. “They’re landmarks, those little pieces of earth that those who are paid to think they know more about history ordain are more valuable than other pieces.”
“That’s not it at all, Ricky, and you know it.” Now he’d gotten my dander up. “This is history! I mean, where do we draw the line? What do we keep? What do we lose?”
Ricky scooted his stool closer and patted me on the shoulder. “Jesse, what is history? What is it to you, I mean.”
“Very well,” I said, “History is a record of human events.”
“Ah,” he said, crossing one leg over the other and scowling at a fat women at a corner table, “Sure, history is a human construct, without us, history is only time, if that,” he said, waving at his sister Ralph. “And on a planet with so much water and vulcanism who’s to say today’s landmark might not be tomorrow’s tidal pool? And what about those “vast and trunkless legs of stone” in a desert stamped ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings/Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’?”. The eastern seaboard used to be eaten up with properties touting that ‘Washington Slept Here’ in hopes some ignorant patriot with a fat wallet might be in the market. Of course, you can say any sort of thing special applying any given set of values, but dates and personages tend to take precedent over architectural details, which if you ask me are more important.”
“No, no, no,” I said, putting my palms on my cheeks. “Ricky, history is important, it’s how we position ourselves in the great Scheme of things.”
“No, it isn’t,” he said, smiling. “It’s only as important as you think it is, otherwise it’s just somebody saying something about a house where somebody lived, or a tree somebody hid in or a place where somebody supposedly stepped ashore. These are just labels on things that history puts her price on. She’s a muse, you know, not beautiful at all, just a skinny old woman with gorgon hair who sits in that winter temple on a bluff with dull ignorance as her partner and repetitious greed as her pimp; she’ll sell you a sign, make out a certificate, roll over, get on her elbows, knees or up ass for enough money.”
“Ricky,” I said, “I really wish I hadn’t asked.”
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Live well and love deeply.”
Anyone who prides themselves on their patience and understanding should wait tables for a week or so to find out just how patient and understanding they really are. Many people are notoriously insensitive to workers in the food service industry; just ask any waitperson, bartender or cook. Any given one of them doubtless has several stories to tell of rude and insensitive if not to say vulgar treatment at the hands of a patron. The business of food and drink is a service industry, and it’s no coincidence that the word service comes from the Latin root servus, meaning slave. The food industry trains people to be servile, to cater to customers (and management) in an overtly deferential way because so much of a restaurant’s livelihood depends on steady patronage. I’m not suggesting that anybody who works in the business is at the beck and call of every s.o.b. with enough money to buy a hamburger, but some people certainly seem to think so.
In her autobiography, My Life as a Restaurant, Alice Brock, owner of Alice’s Restaurant, describes the situation well and offers a very human response:
I am often accused of being rude to customers. Well, it’s true, I am as rude as they are, only they don’t always realize their behavior is inhuman: after all, I am in a restaurant and THEY are hungry, THEY drove all the way from Florida, THEY just want a sandwich, THEY just want to see Alice, THEY just want to look around, and take a picture, get an autograph, use the bathroom, introduce me to their dog, who is named Alice, have a cup of coffee, SPEAK TO THE OWNER…because this food-covered lady in work boots, who is so rude, can’t possibly be the OWNER. I guess I have a temper…good! I won’t stand for being treated like a piece of public property or a freak and I will never allow a customer to get away with giving an employee a hard time. The customer is NOT always right. Being a “service industry” makes people think we are just computerized slaves.
One of the high-lights of an evening is to hear of a customer bringing a waitress to tears…I rush out to the dining room, pull their plates off the table and point to the door: “OUT…OUT…GET OUT AND LEARN SOME MANNERS!” To try to please the “difficult” customer at the expense of my fellow workers is ridiculous. Some people just have an attitude. They upset the waiter or waitress, who in turn upsets me, who in turn upsets the whole evening. It’s not worth it to try to please or placate these bitter, unhappy people, better to put them out at the first sign of trouble. This is something I have to be there to do…it’s hard to tell or expect someone else to do it. Sometimes I’m wrong, or the waitress is wrong, but better to lose a customer than a co-worker. (p.119)
Ms. Brock is a notable exception, I might add, since most managerial-type people treat their waitstaff as expendable. And, to be fair, most people who eat out frequently learn how to deal courteously with waiters, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is a learning process, not an instinct. Nowadays, dining out is almost always coupled with another experience (a movie, a play or some other sort of public entertainment) but at one time dining out itself was often taken as a singular occasion to be enjoyed on its own merits rather than as an appendage to another event. This happy time was when restaurants were successful not merely on the basis of turnover, but more on the quality of the foods they offered, the comfortable atmosphere they maintained and the genial clientele they accommodated. Great care was taken not only with the menu, which usually involved many courses designed to fit the season as well as the particular talents of the cooks and the general style of the restaurant itself, but also with the presentation, the service, the table, seating, lighting and other elements of atmosphere. Such staging demanded a great deal of planning as well as much care in the execution.
I have seen some degree of return to this tradition, but it is still rare to find a restaurant that does not cater to some abominable god of expediency. I’ve often encountered difficulty when dining out and trying to take my time between one course and the next with a pause to have a bit of beverage and conversation because waitpersons tend to interrupt with an insistent, “Are you alright?” as if to say that by not yelling at them for not bringing the food immediately that they were falling down on their job. The reason for this is that waiters are programmed to turn over tables as quickly as possible and since most patrons have had the “20% tip” rule-of-thumb drummed into their heads, waiters are eager to get the ten or twenty buck tip and get you out in order to get the next ten or twenty bucks. (Me, I tip as well as I can; just want you all to know that.)
To learn how to wait tables efficiently and unobtrusively is an art; I’ve known some champion waiters from both sides of the kitchen doors, and I’ve been subject to the attentions of some world-class bartenders (be nice, people). Yet some customers, out of ignorance or stupidity, will exhaust and demean a good waiter, detracting not only from their own enjoyment of a meal but also from that of others. Bartenders, on the other hand, just will not put up with a bunch of bullshit; trust me, I know. Perhaps what I’m describing is simply an example of what is being called a decline in civility, but, as Alice says, “Some people just have an attitude,” and in my book as well as hers, such people simply require an adjustment. This, you understand, takes patience and understanding. To a point.
Dennis Herron Murphree (1886-1949) of Pittsboro, Mississippi has the singular distinction of serving twice as governor of Mississippi without ever being elected to office. He was twice elected to the lieutenant governorship, once in 1923 and again in 1939. In each instance, he succeeded the governor who died in office and completed the term of his predecessor. In March 1927, he became Governor of Mississippi after the death of incumbent Henry L. Whitfield and served for about ten months until Theodore G. Bilbo, who defeated Murphree in the Democratic Party primary by 10,000 votes, was sworn into office in January 1928. With the death of Gov. Paul B. Johnson, Sr. in December 1943, Murphree finished out the three weeks left in Johnson’s term, serving until the swearing in of Thomas L. Bailey in January 1944.
According to historian James M. Young, Murphree wrote/compiled his county history in 1928 but that it wasn’t actually published until sometime later. “Some references I’ve seen show the publication date as ‘unknown’ and some show 1948. I remember that The Monitor-Herald published it (in installments, I think) at least two times, and I suspect that the first time was in 1948 and that copies in the form of a book were also made at that time. The last chapter of Murphree’s history deals with the organization of Bruce and the last paragraph in the history is the one I sent you (the following text; jly) concerning the roads out of the new town of Bruce. Murphree’s version consists of 16 chapters. The first 5 or so (short chapters) were written by him, and then a section covering 1852-1876 which had been written by Judge J.S. Ryan was inserted. This was followed by a section consisting of a long letter covering the legislative creation of the county, written by Judge J.A. Orr (who introduced the bill in the legislature). A section covering the period 1875-1900 was written by Thomas Martin Murphree (Dennis Herron Murphree’s father) followed that, and the final section was written by Dennis Murphree and was titled “History of Calhoun County from 1900 to 1928”. The Orr, Ryan, and T.M, Murphree sections are heavy with who got elected to office. Dennis Murphree’s section has some of that as well but also lots of more interesting stuff; for example, he has a fairly detailed account of the murder of Robert Lee Crawford, Papaw Young’s brother-in-law, in the yard of the T.W. Young house across from the church at Ellzey. The section written by Thomas Martin Murphree was published by The Calhoun Monitor (in Pittsboro) at the end of the summer of 1904. 500 copies of the “booklets” (as Dennis Murphree called them) were printed and sold for 25 cents each.”
In order to tell the story of the “Skuna Valley Railroad” and the new town of Bruce, in Calhoun County, Mississippi, it will be necessary for me to go a long way back as to make the proper beginning.
It was, I think, in the year 1901, that a very smart, shrewd old Michigan lawyer first came into Calhoun County. His name was Roger W. Butterfield. Mr. Butterfield had watched the huge white pine forests of Northern Michigan fall relentlessly under the lumbermen’s saws and axes, and he realized that timber would sometime be a real item of value, and so having some money to invest, he looked about over the country for some places where timber could be bought cheaply and in bountiful supply. Somehow, he chose the South and Calhoun County, Mississippi as the base for his operations and investments. He sent several men of his own force into the county seeking to buy land and timber, employed Attorney J. L. Johnson at Pittsboro as his local attorney and then hired Andy J. Bounds of the Bounds neighborhood and one of the county’s best citizens to represent him as land buyer and local representative.
These people immediately entered on a land and timber buying campaign which lasted several years. They took their time, looked about, located land which was not expensive and which was covered with fine timber and then made the purchase. They did not seek to link up all the tracts, although naturally they preferred to buy in a block as much as possible. In the main, however, they avoided buying any in cultivation. They bought large acreage in the Schoona River Valley, and they bought many tracts in the hills. Most of their purchases, however, were north of a line which might have been drawn east and west through the center of the county. When finished the Butterfields owned some twenty-five thousand acres of timbered lands in Calhoun County and some three thousand in Yalobusha with a small amount in Lafayette and Pontotoc Counties. The average price paid for these lands was approximately $2.50 per acre.
It would be a real treat for members of the younger generation to see today the giant trees which made up a large part of the growth on these Butterfield lands. In the river and creek valleys the huge forked leaf white oak trees grew often fifty feet from the root to where the first limb appeared, and several feet across the base. Other hardwoods grew in like size and great abundance. In the hills, the old “virgin” pines dotted the hillsides and they too were a sight to behold, because they grew so tall, so straight, so uniform and with only a small cluster of limbs in the very top. On the hillsides too as in the valleys, grew every specie of hardwood likewise in great abundance. Until the coming of the Butterfields, these trees were valueless on the market. In fact, the first time in my life I ever knew about timber of any kind being sold was when some stave workers came into Schoona Valley near where we lived at Oldtown and paid $1.00 per tree for huge over cup and white oak trees several feet through, provided these trees would “split” after being cut down, meaning that provided they could easily be split up into staves six feet long. If the tree did not split well, they simply abandoned the log and went away leaving these huge logs, the kind which became almost priceless in later years, to rot where they fell.
I well remember that during the winter of 1902-3, Mr. Butterfield sent a young lawyer and a young lady who was an expert clerk, though not a lawyer, down from Michigan and they spent the winter in the old courthouse making abstracts of the land which Butterfield had up to that time purchased. These two people were a source of much amusement to the young people of that date, with their, to us, Northern accent, quaint expressions, unusual customs, etc. I am sure that on their part, they found us even more amusing. Time passed, and Roger W. Butterfield went the way of all mankind, but his heirs held on to the Calhoun County lands and timber and each year paid their taxes regularly, while from time to time, a few more acres were bought and added to their holdings. Along about 1920, however, these owners began to feel the urge to sell and dispose of their property. This was probably because timber prices had advanced to such an extent that they could secure a huge profit on their original investment; and, second, because with the cutting of canals in the rivers and creeks and the issuance of bonds for roads, schools, etc., their Calhoun county taxes, which in the beginning had been practically nothing, began to be a heavy burden.
I have related how that over all the long years, it had been the dream of the people in Pittsboro and the Northern section of the county that someday they would see the building of a railroad into that section. Along about 1921, it became known that the Butterfield interests would sell their holdings in Calhoun, and hope began to be revived as to the possibilities of a railroad being built out into our section in order to carry the timber. It will be remembered that this was in the days when the huge log trucks powered by gasoline and used over concrete roads were utterly unknown in our section. Much discussion was had between various citizens and firms seeking some plan to accomplish the result desired. Acting on instructions from an organization of Calhoun County business men, a meeting was arranged whereby representatives would go to Chicago and there meet with Mr. Markham, President of the Illinois Central Railroad, and seek to interest him and his railroad in the idea of building a short line of railroad either from Coffeeville or Bryant out to Pittsboro. Mr. H. H. Creekmore of Water Valley, a native Calhoun citizen, Mr. Jim L. Johnson and I were chosen by our people as their representatives on the proposed trip. This I remember it was in 1922.
Agreeable to plan, we three went to Chicago and had a lengthy and friendly session with Mr. Markham. We found him very sympathetic to the proposal. Naturally so, since it would mean an immense amount of tonnage to be hauled by the Illinois Central Railroad after it had been brought out to their main line. However, Mr. Markham would not agree to undertake the building of the short line. He promised that IF we could get some timber manufacturer or sawmill company to buy the Butterfield tract and the railroad right of way and do the grading for the new railway, the Illinois Central would furnish the steel rails for the road and when finished would also furnish the locomotives and box cars to use on the new railway on a very long time sale plan with a low interest rate. Our people were very well pleased with the report of the Committee, and then began an effort to try to interest some timber company or manufacturer in buying the timber and building the railway. This kind of effort went along over a period of two or three years. I remember that on my own personal expense and with the consent of the Butterfield folks, I placed an advertisement costing a neat sum in the Manufacturers Record of Baltimore, briefly outlining this situation. I had a number of replies and furnished each with quite a bit of information. I had nothing to do with the making of the deal between the Bruce Company and the Butterfield heirs when the timber we have been talking about finally passed out of the Butterfield hands. I have always thought, however, that it was easily possible that all the planning, talking, advertising and publicity which I and others in Calhoun County had been doing, had something to do with bringing this matter to the attention of the Bruce Company folks and therefore the ultimate result.
Anyway, about 1924 or early 1925, the Bruce Company of Memphis, Tenn., purchased outright all of the Butterfield holdings in Calhoun and adjoining counties. Soon thereafter it began to noised around that their plans included the building of a standard gauge, common carrier railroad, from Bryant’s Spur, located four miles south of Coffeeville on the Illinois Central Railroad, up the Schoona Valley to the neighborhood of the old town of Pittsboro. In my service as Lieutenant Governor, I was often called on to serve as Acting Governor on those occasions when the Governor left the state. On one of these occasions, for me a very happy coincidence, Attorneys H. H. Creekmore and N. I. Stone, came to the Governor’s office, bringing with them the proposed Charter of Incorporation of the “Schoona Valley Railroad.”
The Attorney General of the state, who was Hon. Rush Knox, himself a native son of Calhoun county, but at that time a citizen of Chickasaw, approved this charter and at ten o’clock A.M. on the 1st day of June 1925, as Acting Governor of Mississippi, it was my sincere pleasure to sign the Charter for this railroad for which along with many other Calhoun folks I had worked for and hoped for so long. I pause long enough to say that later on, by amendment, the name of the railroad was changed from “Schoona Valley” to “Skuna Valley”. This, I think came as a result of effort made by Will C. Bryant, who had always claimed that “Skuna” was the proper way to spell the name of the Valley. Personally, I think “Schoona” is correct, because all of the old records, manuscripts, etc., which I ever saw in Calhoun County spelled it that way. Slowly the new railroad was built, and during the year 1926, progress was made in laying off and planning the new town. The name decided upon for it was “Bruce” because of the fact that the Bruce Lumber Company of Memphis, Tenn., was the force behind the plan.
Governor Whitfield became ill during the summer of 1926 and spent almost all the rest of the year in a hospital in Memphis. So I was very busily engaged during the period acting as Governor during his absence. It is my recollection that in such capacity I also signed the Charter for the new town, but of this I am not positive. Anyway they named one of the streets in the new town for me, for which I have always been grateful. Governor Whitfield returned to Jackson in February, but rapidly grew worse and died on the 18th day of March 1927. After the Constitution, I succeeded him, and on taking the oath of office became the 35th man in our state’s history to be Governor of Mississippi. It has not been my intention at any time to clutter up these pages with stories of my various political campaigns. I will say again, however, that Calhoun County people have never failed me, and I have carried the county by a large majority in each and every race that I made. This has always been a source of much pride and gratitude to me. By force of circumstances, I was “pitchforked” into the race for Governor in 1927. I had not planned to run, and felt always that I would be defeated but after Governor Whitfield’s death, it became necessary that I run or forever be branded as one who was afraid to try. In July 1927 my Calhoun County Campaign Committee planned a huge barbecue and political picnic for me and chose as the spot for this great gathering the location of the brand new town of Bruce. I think that it was on July 4 1927. The location was what is now the public square at Bruce, which at that time was only an old field with only one or two houses. Thousands of people from all over the state attended, and it was truly an enthusiastic and heartwarming affair. This was the very first public gathering ever held in Bruce, Mississippi.
The new town of Bruce grew rapidly. Besides the huge Bruce Company mill, several other timber manufacturing plants were established there. A number of people from over the county moved in and set up various lines of business. Too, there was in influx of immigration from several of the northeastern counties of the state, particularly from Tishomingo and Alcorn counties. These new people settled largely in the Bruce area and many of them still remain in that section. Another thing which contributed to the growth of the new town was the policy adopted by the Bruce Company of selling off its valley lands as soon as they cut the timber. The land bought at a reasonable price was immediately opened up for cultivation so that now, for miles up and down the Schoona Valley, where I had as a boy hunted for squirrels, turkeys, etc., there flourished the finest farms in the country. New roads began to be projected: one going east toward Houlka out of Bruce, another west down the Schoona valley toward Coffeeville; another toward Water Valley. Neither of these roads has been fully improved as deserved, but all hope that they will be in good time. Laying out of these roads had an odd effect on the old time traveler who returned to view the section. Oftentimes he found himself “lost” in a neighborhood or area where in former years he was absolutely familiar.
(Photos courtesy of the Calhoun County Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society, Timber: A Photographic History of Mississippi Forestry, by James E. Fickle, and msrailroads.com)
Over time many dishes have been needlessly–and recklessly–consigned to specific holidays. How often do you roast a turkey, stuff eggs, or make a fruitcake? What’s sad and paradoxical about this occasional consignment is that many dishes we prepare only for the holidays are those that bring us the most comfort, that make us feel most at home and closest to the heart of our lives.
Gingerbread is an extreme example of this culinary exile, particularly because when gingerbread is prepared even for the holidays it’s most often make into cookies. Instead, let’s make loaves any day of the year, any time of the day. Many recipes employ equal measures of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice as well as ginger–almost as an afterthought–but ginger should shine.
Cream a stick of unsalted butter with a half cup of light brown sugar, beat until fluffy, and mix well with two eggs and a half cup of sorghum molasses. Mix one and a half cups of flour with a half teaspoon of baking soda, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground cloves, and allspice along with a heaping tablespoon of ground ginger. Add two teaspoons vanilla and a half cup buttermilk. Pour batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350 for about an hour. If you have the willpower, cool before slicing. I never do.
This recipe has a distinguished pedigree; I got it from ex-pat Kentuckian Lynn Tucker, who got it from Tish Clark of Prestonsburg, KY, who amended the one in Kentucky’s Best, Fifty Years of Great Recipes by Linda Allison Lewis.
Lynn said, “Years ago, certain bakeries in Louisville used to bake pink and green loaves of bread just for these popular finger sandwiches, a staple at Derby parties, weddings, showers, and appropriate funerals.”
1 8 oz Philadelphia cheese, softened
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
3 tablespoons of grated cucumber, drained well with a paper towel
1 teaspoon finely chopped green onions with tops
1 teeny tiny drop of green food coloring (the color should be delicate)
a dash or two of Tabasco
“Blend all ingredients together and mix well. Yield: 10-12 servings (I multiply by eight.) You may serve this on trimmed bread as finger sandwiches or as a dip. Please note there is not a single drop of Benedictine liqueur used in this recipe!”
“I like to make a nice pile of these sandwiches on a silver tray lined with a paper doily and garnished with a few cucumber slices and parsley. (Cover with a damp paper towel so your sandwiches don’t dry out and curl before serving. Refresh as necessary.)
“I also put out big crystal bowl of pimento cheese with Carr’s crackers, celery stalks, salty peanuts to encourage drinking and deviled eggs to prevent or at least stall off utter drunkenness.”
Now that pears are on the verge of ripeness, it’s time to put some up for baking and spooning atop those buttermilk biscuits you make on Sunday mornings. This recipe provides you with firm chunks of pear in a simple syrup that will keep just fine without processing for weeks and weeks if jars and lids are sterile and the syrup hot. For two quarts peeled, sliced, very firm pears, use a quart of sugar, and enough water to cover by an inch. Add lemon juice, if you like; ginger is a nice touch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until syrup thickens. While hot, ladle into hot sterile jars, cover loosely, and cool a bit before sealing.
For best flavor, you must use bananas that are soft, aromatic, and with a light freckling. The vanilla wafers should just be broken up into small pieces, not reduced to crumbs. Some people top these with whipped cream and a banana slice, but that makes them soggy.
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 ripe banana mashed
1 package banana cream instant pudding mix
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup smashed vanilla wafers
Preheat oven to 350, and line baking pans with lightly oiled parchment paper. Combine flour and baking soda, then set aside. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly, add the banana, pudding mix, and eggs. Mix until smooth and slowly stir in the dry ingredients, then blend in the chips and wafers. Use about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Bake until lightly browned, about ten minutes.
In The Taste of America, John and Karen Hess refer to an article by Harriet Van Horne, “Edunt et Vomant” (“They have eaten and let them vomit.”), commenting on a 1975 fluff piece in the New York Times describing a dinner Craig Claiborne and his partner Pierre Franey had in Paris, a $4000 meal for two that featured 31 dishes and 9 wines. As Claiborne and Franey were licking their decadent fingers, the fringes of their world hungered and starved.
Van Horne wrote, “No journalistic caprice has, in my memory, set off such a shudder of distaste. This calculated evening of high-class piggery offends an average American’s sense of decency. It seems wrong, morally, esthetically and in every other way.” The Hesses included Van Horne’s quote to further elaborate on the gourmet absurdities of the time which elevated overpriced, tasteless food, (canned foie gras, canned truffles, cottony chicken breasts in a floury velouté sauce) that were championed by those like Claiborne who lauded expense as a barometer of taste. The Vatican newspaper echoed, deploring the display while millions were starving. Paul VI “as a humble servant for a suffering humanity” demanded significant changes of the rich in America and Europe in favor of the poor, a plea the affluent either ignored or atoned with in pittances.
In the most general terms gluttony involves an over-indulgence and/or over-consumption of food, drink or intoxicants to the point of waste, particularly in terms of a misplaced desire of food or its withholding from the needy, an excess that’s damned by every spiritual path in the world in every quarter of the globe. European theologists from the Middle Ages took a more expansive view of gluttony, arguing that it also consists of an anticipation of meals, the eating of delicacies and costly foods, seeking after sauces and seasonings, and eating too eagerly. Gregory the Great described five ways by which one can commit the sin of gluttony, and corresponding biblical examples:
- Eating before the time of meals in order to satisfy the palate. Example: Jonathan eating a little honey when his father Saul commanded no food to be taken before the evening. [1Sa 14:29]
- Seeking delicacies and better quality of food to gratify the “vile sense of taste.” Example: When Israelites escaping from Egypt complained, “Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,” God rained fowls for them to eat but punished them 500 years later. [Num 11:4]
- Seeking after sauces and seasonings for the enjoyment of the palate. Example: Two sons of Eli the high priest made the sacrificial meat to be cooked in one manner rather than another. They were met with death. [1Sa 4:11]
- Exceeding the necessary amount of food. Example: One of the sins of Sodom was “fullness of bread.” [Eze 16:49]
- Taking food with too much eagerness, even when eating the proper amount and even if the food is not luxurious. Example: Esau selling his birthright for ordinary food of bread and pottage of lentils. His punishment was that the “profane person . . . who, for a morsel of meat sold his birthright,” we learn that “he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully, with tears.” [Gen 25:30]
In his Summa Theologica (Part 2-2, Question 148, Article 4), Thomas Aquinas revised the list of five ways to commit gluttony:
* Laute – eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
* Nimis – eating food that is excessive in quantity
* Studiose – eating food that is too daintily or elaborately prepared
* Praepropere – eating too soon, or at an inappropriate time
* Ardenter – eating too eagerly.
Aquinas notes that the first three ways are related to the nature of the food itself, while the last two have to do with the time or manner in which it is consumed.
Even to the exclusion of these examples, which are admittedly rather fastidious themselves, we are all guilty of gluttony in our complacency as citizens of one of the most affluent nations in the history of human civilization. We quaff fine wines, stuff ourselves with costly foods, watch celebrity chefs preparing dishes in a gladiatorial setting and sinners of an advanced degree sneer at those who eat off-cut chops, misshapen homegrown vegetables or don’t use Zanzibar cinnamon. Hunger itself has come to be seen as a sin, almost as an illness that needs treatment, but perhaps hunger might be more of a cure, a discipline for we who have grown too indulgent with ourselves, yet you’ll never hear a preacher damn Twinkies.