In this silly age we insist upon making a problem of weight.

This is too good not to share. An excerpt:

“The root of the Hebrew word for glory means weight. In English, girth rhymes with mirth and worth. Everyone loves a fat man.

I remember as a child going to the beach with my uncles and my father. I can still see, glistening in the sun and surf, handsome padded expanses of back. I can still smell the unforgettable reek of salt, sweat and olive oil as I hung on great shoulders and rode fearlessly over the waves. But I am sure that now, if there are any such men left in the world, they are troubled about their weight—that their wives, their physicians and their friends are engaged in a vast and successful conspiracy to worry it off them.

It is the non-historical approach rampant. I remember my uncles as sacred groves, as places in my history, as anointed stones of the city of my being. But the diet-mongers see them only as abstract spaces. They inquire after their height—a dreadful irrelevancy to being with—and, after consultation with a table, they arrive at what they think should be their weight. They refuse the men themselves; they insist upon a diagram of humanity instead. They dwell only upon what they would like a man to conform to; they never come within a hundred miles of knowing what a man is. A curse on them all! If they had their way, there would not be an uncle in all the world worth having.

Ah, you say, but surely you are not about to allow the world to be overrun by fat? Does not even a love of men for themselves—does not even a priestly and historical offering of uncles—impose some canons, some standards? Of course it does. I have nothing against reasonable efforts to remain in human shape. I object to only two things: abstract definitions of that shape, and dieting as the means of achieving it.

The abstractions are wrong because, nine times out of ten, they are based only on fads, social or medical. No chart can tell you how fat my uncles should be. You must spend some time with them before you attempt so delicate an estimate. You must see them swim and dance and carry children on their backs; you must look at them for months of Sunday-night suppers, behold them at plates of braunschweiger and steins of beer, before you dare to decide anything as intimate to their history as their weight.

And the dieting is wrong because it is not priestly. It is a way of using food without using it, of bringing it into your history without letting it get involved with your history. It is non-historical eating. And it is pure fraud. Bring it down to cases. Take an uncle with an embarrassingly low metabolic rate: if he gets more than 1,800 calories a day, his weight goes up out of control. He puts himself in the hands of dietary experts. They oblige him with a program. It works. At 900 calories per diem he becomes an up-to-date, low-budget uncle. But, if you see him in a year, he will have put it all back on again. And why? Because no sane human being can stand living on 1,800 calories every day till the clap of doom. So he nibbles away for a while, and then in desperation surrenders himself to creamed lobster, mashed potatoes, and a proper string of double scotches. He is lost, and he knows it. He just gives up.

The only thing that can save him is historical eating—eating worthy of the priesthood of Adam—eating that alternates as it should between feast and fast. The dieter is a condemned man. Every feast is, ipso facto, a sin. He apologizes for eating my pâté; he abjectly acknowledges his guilt over my wife’s Cake à la Bennich. Good is evil to him, and bounty a burden. But if he would fast! If he would take no food on Wednesday—and none on Tuesday too, if he wills to reign like a king—what prodigies might he not perform at Thursday’s dinner; how, like a giant, go from course to course?

What a poor, benighted age we live in. How we deny ourselves all the sauces but the best. How little of what surrounds us is ever offered either by use or abstinence. And there is a secret. Fasting is an offering, too. The dieter says: Sweets are bad; I cannot have them ever. The faster says: Sweets are good; I will not take them now. The dieter is condemned to bitter bondage, to a life which dares not let food in. But the faster is a man preparing for a feast. His Lent leads to an Easter, and to mirth and weight of Glory.”

Robert Farrar Capon, An Offering of Uncles: The Priesthood of Adam & the Shape of the World (88-90).


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