Thursday 2 September 1926 – The Catholic Press

A Modern Fetish


It is distressing to find Mr. Bernard Shaw accusing his fellow-human-beings of gluttony. The letter in which he refused to attend a dinner at the Lyceum Club on the ground that he was obliged to refuse all invitations to public dinners, and that “the Lyceum Club in particular was frightfully gluttonous,” is to my mind one of the most melancholy and misleading documents of modern times.

Mr. Shaw ought to know that we are living an age in which gluttony has become so rare that, if we knew a man capable of it, we should think of him as a man practising one of the primitive virtues.

Nearly every friend I have is notorious for eating too little. The doctors have, indeed, in recent years, so terrified the public with their persistent propaganda that it is almost impossible nowadays to find a genuine glutton above the age of a schoolboy. The result is that the chief modern disease—as will be discovered by our posterity in about 30 years—is fear of food.

Fear of Food.

One man is afraid of soup. Another leaves the salmon untasted. A third regards potatoes as a poison. A fourth has been warned against tomatoes. Others dare not eat sweet things for fear of growing fat, as though it were not a fine thing to be fat. I do not know of a single food or drink of which somebody or other is not frightened. Even bread, which used to be called the staff of life, is avoided by many as though it were steeped in rat poison, and I know a man who imputes all the worst epidemics that have devastated the human race to the disastrous habits of drinking water.

This seems to me to be a very undesirable state of affairs. Courage at the table is as necessary, if not as noble, a virtue as courage in battle. To see a man turning recreant at the sight of salted almonds makes one realise how greatly the world has degenerated since the days when everybody ate what he liked and as much as he liked, and took the consequences. They lived healthier lives than we do largely because they were more recklessly gluttonous than we.

The present, I should think, is the first age in the history of the world in which men have to be incited to eat by large-lettered slogans in the shops and on the hoardings. Everywhere we go we see the signs of this propaganda to an appetiteless world—“Eat more fruit,” “Eat more fish,” and, in ham-and-beef shops, “Eat still more ham.”

The Shopkeeper’s Slogan

If we were all eating enough already, it is obvious that the shopkeepers would not be under the necessity of issuing these hysterical appeals to us. The tobacconists do not need to publish advertisements advising us to “smoke more cigarettes,” or the bookmakers to beseech us to “back more horses.” It is only in the matter of eating that we have fallen away from our ancestors. I doubt if there was ever before a generation of English men and women that was as abstemious as the table as the present.

Even people who talk most about food and drink nowadays are usually themselves ascetics who love talking about the things their doctors have forbidden them to taste. The real glutton does not talk about food: he is too busy eating it. The epicure, on the other hand, has so timid an appetite that he has to eke out his starveling meals with a lively imagination.

If Mr. Shaw would only go to a public dinner now and then he would see evidences of this degeneracy all round him. He would see everywhere a traditional abundance of food and drink placed before the guests, and the guests pecking at it as if they were not human beings, but merely newly-hatched chickens. The dinner is a meal for gluttons, but, alas, there are no gluttons present. It is a scene of half-emptied plates and half-emptied glasses. The doctors for the moment have triumphed, and, apart from the waste, it is seldom that anything occurs at a public dinner to shock the sensibilities even of so passionate an enemy of good food as Mr. Shaw.



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