We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Looming Precipice

We were in a Chinese restaurant taking in the usual buffet meal, and I was wrestling as usual with self-discipline.  Sitting across the aisle from us was a young couple that massed somewhere between 550 and 600 pounds.  They were not struggling with self-discipline.  Heaping plates.  Multiple visits to the buffet offerings.  One instance of a public health crisis facing our nation and, increasingly, the world.

The buffet is a perfect example of how so many of us abuse eating—that is, of gluttony, which is defined as "habitual eating to excess."  And the problem is not only how much we eat but also what we eat and where we go to eat.  And the problem is that our young couple are prime candidates for a host of future health problems, and their pending ill health will further stress our medical care system.  Are they victims of a culture of obesity?  Or are they the perps?  Probably something of both—inhabitants of a perpetual eating culture.  And the problem is that gluttony is a sin, which is an old-fashioned way of saying that it is deep down inside a spiritual issue as much as anything else.  And the larger problem still is that it isn't just food that we over consume.  We are virtually changing the world we live on by continuing to consume beyond the means of the planet to sustain our consumption.

Solutions?  Public education seems to be making some inroads, but in the face of the magnitude of the problem it is hard to see it being solved by education alone.  Laws restricting eating just don't seem likely to offer a way forward.  Food isn't like cigarettes, and one just doesn't see the public standing for regulating the consumption of food to any meaningful degree.  Medical science seems to offer the best hope, but when will it finally discover "the pill" that will cure obesity?

So, the biggest question of all is whether we will consume our way right up to the edge of planet-wide disaster but find ways to paddle ourselves back from the precipice—or not?  Stay tuned.