Sunday, March 13, 2011

Conspicuous Consumption

A few months ago I mentioned how some people are utilizing Facebook and Twitter to track their diets and lose weight. On the flip side, more recently I've encountered the phenomenon of in-your-face eating, a public gorging of sorts, and I'm wondering what the motivation is for such behavior.

My interest was piqued after reading an article in the New York Times about actresses' "documented instances of public eating." It is more common than not, that high profile interviews with female celebrities are conducted in restaurants where the waif thin starlette will indulge in an unnecessarily decadent meal, documented in print as she discusses her latest film, television show or theater project if to say that she is a "normal" person too. Public displays of eating, particularly of comfort food and fast food, has become a type of countercultural way for people to prove that they aren't obsessing about their weight like everyone else is. And in some circles it's become downright obnoxious, with Facebook photos of gluttonous meals that instill envy (intentionally or not) in friends who watch what they eat or struggle with their weight. Last week a friend of mine was particularly peeved at the implication of a friend's gratuitous photo of a meal that could only be called pornographic (see CSPI's food porn column for more on this). She was offended by the Facebook post because to her it screamed,"I'm so lucky the rules don't apply to me."

Thinking back to my sociological theory days, Veblen's term "conspicuous consumption" was meant to point to the ways wealth is often displayed to demonstrate social status. Similarly I think that in a post trans-fat world the conspicuous consumption of excessive saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars can sometimes be used to convey a level of luxury, a transcendence of health concerns, a liberated and carefree approach. Maybe that's what is so infuriating to some. But then I wonder, oh why take everything so seriously? Whatever happened to the phrase "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die"? What are your thoughts?

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