Beware the Literary Glutton!

This month the theme of gluttony has been quite tricky as I have already stated in my Film blog. For the book blog this month I tried to stick more closely to the theme and have come up with some examples from children’s literature as they tend to have the most clear cut cautionary tales against eating too much.The first two examples I am going to refer to are quite timely as one of them is celebrating their 150 years of publication and that title is ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (First Stories) has so many themes that have been analysed and reinterpreted and re-expressed throughout popular culture. Right at the beginning of the story Alice learns her fate can be decided on what she eats or drinks when she discovers the ‘Eat Me’ ‘Drink Me’ labels in the rabbit hole which change her size either shrinking her or making her grow. In Wonderland she also takes part in a Mad Hatters Tea Party with the March hare, the aforesaid Hatter and a sleepy Dormouse. The Hatter tells Alice that they have to have tea all day because Time has punished them by standing still at 6pm (tea time). This constant tea time seems to have driven these characters mad or were they already so? Whatever the reason, it certainly seems to suggest that a constant continuation of eating and drinking is not good for anyone.

Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking-Glass (First Stories)is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In this story the tale of ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ as told by the peculiar twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee most represents the sin of gluttony. In this story we see the Walrus and the Carpenter’s deceiving behaviour as they manage to befriend and trick the oysters into following them whereby they devour the lot of them. Alice does not think very highly of this, indeed she thinks that they are dreadful for doing so, thereby bringing a judgement on their actions that can influence young children as they will naturally look up to Alice being the heroine of the story.

Hansel and Gretel

Another classic tale from children’s literature Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm concerns itself with the dangers of being gluttonous. It also paints the behaviour of the adults particularly the mother figure in a bad light as in Hansel and Gretel, the mother or stepmother thinks there is not enough food to feed the children so gets her husband to banish the children to the forest where they are lured to the cottage of a witch that dwells in a house made of gingerbread and sweets. By eating pieces of the house they are then captured and she traps Hansel into a cage to fatten him up to eat. To see if they manage to escape read the book! This story does seem to contain a lot of different meanings and some of them certainly relate into the controlling of appetites, e.g. even though the children were hungry maybe should they have waited and thought before they started to eat from the house as this ended up putting their lives at risk? It seems to emphasise caution before acting.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

The final example I am going to use is also from Children’s Literature, this time a Twentieth Century classic. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. The titular character of Charlie is seen to be the most virtuous character that the other children are compared to and found wanting. Charlie Bucket is a considerate, selfless, honest and brave child who lives with his parents and grandparents. He wins a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and is the only child you really warm to during the whole book. The Tale of Augustus Gloop is the tale in this story that warns against the perils of gluttony. Augustus Gloop, a large child who devours lots of chocolate bars, is the first child to win a golden ticket to tour the factory. His mother seems to encourage his eating habits, but these will prove to be his downfall. During the tour of the factory, he cannot resist drinking from the chocolate river and falls in only to enter the Fudge room through a pipe into the mixing machine where his parents go to retrieve him. He then has to leave the factory after losing most of his weight and covered in chocolate.

All in all there seem to be several cautionary tales throughout children’s literature, (both classic and modern) that try to serve as cautionary tales against being gluttonous. Can you think of any more? Get in touch at Facebook, Twitter, leave a comment or email us.

Gluttony in Film

Finding examples of films for this month’s theme of ‘Gluttony’ has been difficult if we follow the Oxford English Dictionary definition of Gluttony as ”the vice of excessive eating.” However, if we look for broader definitions gluttony is also described as being “…derived from the Latin ‘gluttire’ meaning to gulp down or swallow, means over indulgence and over consumption of food, drink or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste.” It is in this latter definition that we can find more examples in culture to use for this theme. The three films that I have chosen this month each represent one aspect of gluttony in its broader definition.

Super Size Me – Morgan Spurlock (2004).

The first film that follows closely the traditional definition of ‘gluttony’ I have chosen is Super Size Me [DVD] [2004].

If anyone is looking to eat more healthily or at least cut down on junk food then watch Super Size Me for motivation!

This documentary film follows the journey of Morgan Spurlock who vows to live off McDonalds food entirely for a month. This means having McDonalds food three times a day and if the staff offer to “Super Size” his meal he must accept! He also has to sample every item on the menu at least once! He consumes an average of 5,000 (kcal) calories a day during the experiment and predictably his health declines rapidly. This film was an obvious critique of the fast food industry and its effect on the health of society. At times there are grotesque moments and you really do wonder just how he managed to maintain this crazy diet for a whole month!

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Mike Nichols (1966)

For gluttony by drink or drunken gluttony, there are a myriad number of films that I could have chosen but I decided to choose Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? [DVD] [1966].

Adapted from the play by Edward Albee, this is sometimes a difficult film to watch due to the emotionally involved, believable scenes, which demonstrate the superb acting. The film concerns itself with one night in the company of a highly dysfunctional married couple Martha and George who play host to their unwitting, younger guests, Nick and Honey. The relationship between all four is complicated from the start as they share the same campus of a New England College and Martha is the daughter of the Head of the College with George being a lowly historian. Nick is a newly hired biologist and Martha’s father has instructed them to welcome these new people. The relationship between George and Martha is incredibly toxic as they can’t seem to help but attack each other both physically and verbally throughout the evening and are incapable or rational discussion with each other.

Things go from bad to worse as the night progresses and the alcohol is poured as freely as if it is water right from the beginning of the evening and escalates throughout.

This film serves as a warning against alcoholism and its destructive path, showing how much it can destroy people’s lives and those closest to them.

This film is said to be Elizabeth Taylor’s finest (she won an Oscar for it) and Richard Burton is incredible in it too. The acting displayed is very intense and you do wonder if the effect of acting in these roles had a huge influence on their real life relationship; as they are such toxic characters. Anyway, this film will want to make you teetotal (which incidentally I am) or at the very least cut down asap!

Requiem for a Dream – Darren Aronofsky (2000)

As above, there are many films that cover the issue of drug misuse and addiction as gluttony, an obvious one being ‘Trainspotting’.  I decided to choose Requiem for a Dream [DVD] [2001] as I feel it covers more bases; we get to see an aspect of drug addiction that is not normally shown.

This film tells the story of the Goldfarb family (son Harry and mother Sara) and their friends. Harry is a heroin addict and through his addiction we see the disintegration of his future hopes, his relationships and his body itself after he has to have an arm amputated due to an infection from a needle. Harry’s narrative arc (discounting the amputated arm) is perhaps the more familiar representation of drug addiction in film, the seedy underworld, the desperation and all that this contains including homelessness and prostitution that people are willing to endure just to get the next ‘fix’.

What is really interesting about this film though is Sara’s narrative and her respectable middle class life that unravels due to an addiction to prescribed diet pill amphetamines and sedatives (uppers and downers). Sara played exquisitely by Ellen Burstyn, is a sympathetic character who through loneliness and naivety becomes fixated on losing weight to fit into a red dress she wore at Harry’s graduation. Her aim is to appear on television. She goes on a crash diet then takes these pills as a means to speed up her weight loss. Over time, she starts to increase her consumption of the pills and experiences frightening hallucinations (believing she is in a gameshow). You’ll have to watch the film to see what happens to Sara.

Sara’s narrative is the most interesting as it critiques the American Dream.

If only Sara could lose weight she would be happier but by doing so she buys (over consumes) dangerous narcotics (marketed as being safe) and more respectable than ‘dirty street drugs’ such as heroin. Yet the effect is still the same, she ruins her body and her mind.

In many ways I feel Sara’s story refers to the fate of the tranquiliser addicted mothers of the 1950s and 60s.

Although, it may often not be taken as seriously as the other sins, on closer examination, the consequences of gluttony or over-consumption, as seen in these films, can be just as disastrous as many of the others. In short, don’t do it!!!

A Taste for Sugar: ‘Gluttony’ in History

Easter, being fresh in people’s minds at this time of year brings with it the usual assortment of rich indulgent foods, chocolate eggs and traditionally. being a feast time after the fast of Lent, a time of over-indulgence.  Many of these treats would be impossible to have if it were not for sugar. This desire for sugar was something that altered history.

Sugars place in history

Before the 18th Century, sugar was considered a luxury that only the very richest in society could afford. It was during the 1700s, when Britain and France started to develop their colonies in the Caribbean when sugarcane plantations and new techniques allowed for mass production, this allowed sugar to be sold for an affordable price, and gave a taste for it to the masses, that once introduced could not easily be taken away.

Sugar at this time was only extracted en-mass  from sugar cane found in the Caribbean, and could not be grown in the climates of the mother countries.

Harvested Sugar Cane

 France needs sugar

At the turn of the 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars, Britain blockaded Europe. France’s supply of sugar had been cut off. This caused France a great predicament; how were they to replenish their supply of sugar when it was strongly in demand? There had been a little research before that showed that sugar could be extracted from beetroot. Napoleon saw this as an opportunity. He ordered many scientists under him to develop and refine these techniques, and in 1811 Napoleon had invested lots of money into “sugar schools”, encouraging farmers to grow the new “sugar beet” crop.
Harvested Sugarbeet in foreground, with Sugarbeet field in the background

This new development would be revolutionary insomuch as there would be much less reliance on hotter climates to grow and produce sugar. The legacy of this means that a fifth of the worlds total sugar produced comes from the sugar-beet, an impressive amount, considering it was much more recently discovered.

Final thoughts…

It is interesting to see how people’s taste and demand for sweetness has been the driving force for change and discovery. In this case the desire for sugar, being of great importance to a country at war.

‘Gluttony’ in Gardening

As we tuck in and enjoy some Easter Eggs at this time of year, perhaps we should spare a thought from where all that cocoa actually comes from. The cocoa tree Theobroma cacao is native to the tropical rain-forests of Central and South America. However, the world’s top two producers today are the Ivory Coast and Ghana, both in west Africa. These two countries alone account for over half of the World’s total production of cocoa.

Pictured here are ripe bean pods filled with delightful cocoa beans.
Pictured here are ripe bean pods filled with delightful cocoa beans.

Cocoa has an extensive and ancient history first used by the pre-Colombian societies in Central America with evidence dating as far back as 1900 BC. Several ancient texts list recipes for cocoa drinks with recipes including maize, chilli, vanilla and honey.

Today, chocolate is enjoyed on a truly global scale. With every conceivable recipe and form and flavour combination to satisfy all appetites, cocoa has become a globally available commodity that is indulged in.

Here is a Easter Egg decorated with a floral design.
Here is a Easter Egg decorated with a floral design.

However, the world wide availability of chocolate faces an uncertain future. In 2012 the then head of Mars Chocolate UK stated “The global cocoa sector may suffer a one-million tonne shortage by 2020 because of the increasing economic and environmental pressures on cocoa farms; it’s just not sustainable.”

The surge in demand globally for chocolate in developing countries such as India and China; climate change; political issues in the west Africa, and the current Ebola crisis further compounds the issue.

The future of cocoa remains to be seen, but as demand increases and outstrips supply then chocolate may become a luxury food akin to caviar. So spare a thought this Easter time to fully appreciate the rich, indulgent and delicious yet affordable chocolate we all know and love.