As anyone who has ever spent time in a vegan store–or a Whole Foods for that matter–knows, questions surrounding the cultivation, harvesting, distribution and consumption of food have been infused with a self-righteousness that has to be experienced to be believed. “Paper or Plastic?” is no longer a question of taste, it’s a description of the state of your soul.
In a recent article entitled, “Is Food The New Sex?” Mary Eberstadt examines just this phenomenon. In the introduction she states:
Of all the truly seismic shifts transforming daily life today — deeper than our financial fissures, wider even than our most obvious political and cultural divides — one of the most important is also among the least remarked. That is the chasm in attitude that separates almost all of us living in the West today from almost all of our ancestors, over two things without which human beings cannot exist: food and sex. . .
“To see just how recent and dramatic this change is, let us imagine some broad features of the world seen through two different sets of eyes: a hypothetical 30-year-old housewife from 1958 named Betty, and her hypothetical granddaughter Jennifer, of the same age, today.”
What follows (at length) is an insightful look into the way this moral reversal has evolved, and is both entertaining and provocative social commentary; however, for our purposes, what is of particular interest here is not the specific arguments surrounding sexual morality or food (although those have value in and of their own right), rather, what is especially relevant to our discussion is how she explains the relationship between the two. The free-range-meat of the article comes at the end. She writes:
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. . . So if there is a moral to this curious transvaluation, it would seem to be that the norms society imposes on itself in pursuit of its own self-protection do not wholly disappear, but rather mutate and move on, sometimes in curious guises. . .
Without going too far afield, I think its fair to say that frustration with the continued power of these “norms”–frustration exacerbated particularly in light of their fluidity–mirrors an assertion about the relationship between the Law and Gospel that Christian theologians have termed lex semper accusat–the Law always accuses.
It is tempting for all people, both Christians and non (12 fold path anyone), to think that if one can get the right Laws, or the right way of viewing the Law, or the right appreciation of the ultimate helpful benefits of the Law, then adherence to it will somehow make life better and, in fact, is the ultimate end of human existence. As rational as this seems, and as many times as its has been tried (and found wanting), it can never work, because you can never buy enough paper bags, have a small enough carbon-footprint, abstain from lust enough, not covet (an iPhone), help enough old ladies cross the street, throw enough starfish back into the ocean etc. etc. etc.
What we’re proposing here is a theological paradigm that is unlike many in that it is predicated upon the assertion that there is no fulfillment of the Law’s demands, no new appreciation or perspective on it that can somehow give us insight into how we should live, because the Law is that which drives our militant protests against chicken farms and/or R-Rated movies.
Lex Semper Accusat–the Law is always accusing and driving us to defend who we are to anyone–the closer the better–who will listen, and the only way this militant self-justification can ever end is for the demand and accusation to similarly end–this is why we keep talking about the Cross. (cf. Romans 10:4)
I realize that there is a lot more to be said on this, and there is more to come but, in the meantime, here is something pretty great (and actually related).