When are foods sinful? Analogies from the Sexual Faculties and Lust/Gluttony


Recently I was struggling with sexual fantasies, trying to realize why the scenario was wrong, why God didn’t make them reality. It seemed to me ultimately that God didn’t design such fantasies for the reason the Catechism states:

[quote=“http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a6.htm"]"The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved."

In other words, the end is communion (true love); pleasure is a byproduct of seeking that end, and it is disordered to seek pleasure as the end rather than this relationship. Right?

But it appears this parallels the digestive faculties: Food is for nutrition, and pleasure is a byproduct of seeking nutrition, right? Then, by the same token, eating for the sake of pleasure rather than for nutrition is sinful, right? We call it ‘gluttony’. Unfortunately, many today seem to think gluttony is only “eating a ridiculously excessive amount of food”, but this seems to be the same misunderstanding that masturbation is only wrong “when you do it too much”, as likewise some in the Church have told me. The proper understanding, I think, is still contained in the Catholic Encyclopedia from 1917:

[quote=“http://oce.catholic.com/index.php?title=Gluttony”]This deordination, according to the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, may happen in five ways …] It is incontrovertible that to eat or drink for the mere pleasure of the experience, and for that exclusively, is likewise to commit the sin of gluttony.

Doesn’t it follow then that chewing gum is sinful, because it is seeking pleasure without nutrition? Certainly, if you have the choice between soda and fruit juice, choosing the soda is sinful? Likewise, fruit or vegetables versus a bag of Doritos, choosing the bag of Doritos is sinful?

Clearly junk food has calories and can keep someone from starving – i.e. it does contain some scarce amount of nutrition, so that if there is nothing better, then eating it is not sinful. However, in American society, when one has the choice of healthy food and instead buys such radically unhealthy food (soda for example contains essentially no nutritional value – just sugar and carbohydrates; it can even interfere with digestion, when consumed with food, because water is needed to digest both the food and the soda) – Isn’t choosing to buy unhealthy food, seeking pleasure as the end of eating, just as sinful as seeking pleasure as the end of one’s sexual faculties? Why don’t more Americans realize this? Why won’t more Americans accept this?


The text you quoted does not say that enjoying food is gluttony, or that preferring one food to another because of taste is gluttony. It is referring to eating exclusively for pleasure and nothing else. There are all kinds of reasons for chewing gum, from freshening your breath, to cleaning your teeth, to staying awake. Likewise, if you pick one food or drink over another at lunch because you like it, that’s perfectly fine too, even if it’s not always the best nutritional choice.

Gluttony only enters into the equation when eating to excess when you’re no longer hungry and have no nutritional need for it simply because it’s good.


Correct, and neither did I. You’ve misunderstood me if you think I did.

A fair point, but it doesn’t really respond to the heart of my argument. The question to be answered is, “Am I drinking this because I want the pleasurable taste, or because I want the nutrients (including to sate thirst)?” Then, the question I pose here: If one is simply seeking pleasure – “I want that Mountain Dew” (rather than, say, water or juice) “because it tastes good,” is that not gluttony, which is defined to be eating solely for pleasure? It appears to me most people choose soda rather than water or tea solely for pleasure. Is that not true? Is that not sinful? (If not, why not?)

That’s fine, sure. I thought it was clear that I was talking about sugary chewing gum when one didn’t need it for some other purpose, though. So this response again somewhat misses the main point.

This analysis is not careful enough. It’s not just “one food or drink over another” any more than masturbation is just “one sex activity rather than another”. Put another way, if health care is care which corrects health, then we can define food as that which provides nutrients. We have “food” today that hurts the body rather than helps it, the example here again being soda rather than tea.

Ultimately, yes, we can derive some nutritional value (even if it’s only pure energy like sugar) from anything that is edible, or else we wouldn’t eat it in the first place. But the context here is both unnecessary consumption (most of us don’t need to drink soda for hydration) and choosing it instead of a more nutritious option, indicating the goal is solely pleasure – pleasure isolated from the end of food, just as for masturbation pleasure is isolated from the end of sex.

(Mentioning lunch raises another point: “Finishing your plate” rather than getting a to go box. Often we reach a point where we are no longer hungry, yet we keep eating because it tastes good, do we not? This seems the classical example of gluttony. Yet in some cases it seems the stomach can hold the food so that one may skip dinner, so it seems to depend on one’s overall daily intake to determine whether such “overeating” is in fact gluttony. This is a side issue, though.)


I think your topic is very insightful. I think chewing gum is like wearing a condom or taking some form of contraception. Of course it is, because it has no nutritional value. Further, we all know of that fabulous looking cake called the ‘mortal sin’. Its not called that for no reason.:stuck_out_tongue:


So in your opinion, chewing gum is not just a sin, but a MORTAL sin?


Bless me father for I have chewed gum :wink: :stuck_out_tongue:


Maybe “Juicy Fruit” was the original “forbidden fruit!”


Thanks! Now I have the old nineties juicy fruit jingle in my head :rolleyes:

But on a more serious note, let’s not become scrupulous with this issue. It helps no one and can really seriously hurt those with scrupulosity.


The Catechism warns us against immoderate attachment to material things. I guess this is the problem with gum. It does, after all, attach itself to a wide variety of materials. :yup:

Okay. I’m convinced. I am eschewing gum for Lent! :dts:


I think this is needlessly over-scrupulous.

While there are many unhealthy choices, it’s perfectly okay to eat snack foods in moderation, and it’s perfectly okay to chew gum to freshen your breath or simply because you like the taste, when you’re in a casual context.

There is a time and a place for everything, and the key to moderation is to know when and where these appropriate times and places are. :slight_smile:


We had a sixth-grade nun who told all the boys that putting our hands in our pockets was a mortal sin. (We were walking outdoors in cold weather.) So then she lines us up the next Monday morning asking us why we hadn’t gone to communion. Well, duh!


Just don’t stick the chewed gum under the pew as you go to receive communion. :smiley:


I joked about it but for the record, I do believe chewing gum breaks the fast.


Hopefully, no one considers Holy Mass to be “a casual context.” :wink:


I agree with you. Technically, chewing gum is neither medication nor water, which are the only two things permitted to put into one’s mouth on purpose during the hour prior to receiving Holy Communion. :thumbsup:


This isn’t a new thought ethereality and Aquinas probably walks this path quite some way with you.

However as others are suggesting here I do not believe the Church in more recent times has fully accepted this view.

Maybe your view was mainstream in Aquinas’s time (ie enjoying sex is fine so long as procreation is intended). Actually this was a breakthrough on former times where Augustine held sway, opining that sex was in fact evil (always involving some degree of lust as he thought) and the necessity (and good) of procreation was the only mitigating factor.

However the Church has in more recent times opined that marital unity is a co-end of sex in addition to the procreative end. So that would suggest one can enjoy sex for reasons other than the procreative good.

And wouldn’t your view have issues with sexual activity by the barren or the elderly?
And if one’s partner was pregnant shouldn’t sex then be banned?

Can we transfer these principles directly to food?
I believe Aquinas prob did, but I don’t think the Church has ever been that scrupulous wrt food. There seems to be more leeway. Obviously general principles of moderation still apply.

Food is not just about nutrition, just as sex is not just about procreation.
Its also about communal sharing and at times of rejoicing (“feast” days) and conviviality and friendship.

These are valuable human goods in their own right that may well justify the occasional “excesses” or even “detriments” wrt the physical order/needs.


It seems most Americans are too attached to eating for pleasure to seriously consider what I’ve written.

That being said …

This was very funny.


Good reply! Thanks for posting.

It’s “food for thought”, and perhaps I’ll have to “chew” on it a bit: I don’t immediately see any additional end to food other than nutrition. It being part of festivities, e.g. marriage feasts, does not imply that eating excessively or for pleasure ceases to be gluttony. Rather, the abundance of food is to provide for numerous guests (perhaps even for more than one meal). That isolating pleasure from sex’s end is wrong for the same reason that isolating pleasure from food’s end is doesn’t imply that food must also have two ends like sex. But that being said, I think you’re right, as EWTN’s celebrated Fr. Patalinghug has made clear, food serves to bring people together, e.g. families around the dinner table, the meal being an occasion for conversation. But we see that this also doesn’t justify eating beyond one’s satiety.

So yes, sex is for both procreation and unity of spouses, and food is for both nutrition and communion. Yet again, in both cases, it seems the teaching remains clear that seeking the pleasure apart from either end is sinful, sinful precisely because of the disorder in disregarding the proper end of the created good.

Reconsidering what I’ve said previously, I think so far I haven’t successfully made a case that choosing Doritos instead of an apple is sinful, but perhaps adding this element does establish this: Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it our obligation, then, to care for them, and not pollute them? Would God be happy if we junk up His temple? To be frank, I think this fact alone demonstrates that smoking tobacco is sinful, but as for this topic, that deliberately choosing unhealthy foods instead of healthy foods is, too. I suppose it would be a venial sin, since regarding “grave matter” our bodies are decaying even during our best efforts for maintenance.


Well, taking a strict technical secularist approach to the topic; chewing gum is the same, cause you’re taking the pleasure of eating without the consequences of calories! And of course there’s no nutritional value etc etc. which is against the natural order for ingesting food and masticating. So in a way its like gluttony without consequences!


It’s actually a solid argument concluding sugary chewing gum is sinful if chewed for the sole purpose of pleasure. I’ve yet to see any flaws pointed out in it.

Moreover, looking at the fruit of it (see Matthew 7:15-20), there’s both pollution in creating the chewing gum, hurting the planet, and then the gum itself is likewise thrown away after a few moments of pleasure – more waste.

Finally, chewing gum can also hurt your body by wearing out your jaw (causing it to pop at the hinge, for example).

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