November 29, 2003 09:55 PM

Someone on one of the lists I belong to sent out a really beautiful post about the historical and cultural meaning of feasting yesterday. It touched on the heart of my personal ambivalence about consumption.

As an American and a fat person, I am presumably an over-consumer. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. I do buy a lot of stuff. I give stuff away. I keep stuff forever. I throw stuff away without really using it, or fully re-using it. I don't eat that much. I feel attacked by other progressives sometimes for having a job that pays well, for being fat.

It saddens me that this particular time of year, particularly for progressives, has come to be about American's gluttony. It's like we're not seeing the other meanings of the consumption, not feeling the love, when we get all het up about things like Buy Nothing Day.

Buying nothing for a day is a diet mentality. Refusing to buy things during the holiday season is the same. These things are all based on the presumption that consuming at all is bad, that we should be ashamed to be seen consuming more than what we absolutely need. [Except, of course, in terms of the expense of what we need, which can be as insane as we like - as long as the purchases we make are as moral as possible. But there I'm just lashing out at Adbusters, which is all about a sort of celebrity diet mentality for your whole life, not just your food.] This assumes that consuming is mindless, that we never think about what we put in our mouths or do with our money.

But there are times when consuming isn't just consuming. It's feasting. Consuming, ultimately, is thoughtless and alone. Feasting is shared, intentional. And the winter holiday season is all about feasting. At least - it should be.

Feasting is social. It's sharing pleasure. Holiday parties, Thanksgiving dinners, craft fairs, even the specter of mall shopping are all extensions of this.

There's a cultural history of winter feasting that predates modern consumerism, predates Christianity even. It makes biological sense (eating to fatten oneself for cold), economic sense (using up what can't be stored through winter), social sense (drawing in closer in the fallow season). Intentional excess can't be the heart of so many winter seasons in cyclical religions for nothing.

But the diet mentality of our culture leads us to treat this social exercise as an embarassment, something we must pay for later (with credit card debt, resolutions to diet, gym memberships).

I believe that's how we get to a sort of mindless consumerism - brand consciousness, eating without tasting, emphasis on the cost of gifts as signifiers of the thought involved. And if that's the case, the absolute worst thing we can do on the celebrated days of excess is to fast (economically speaking). It just readies our bulimic wallets for a day of bingeing to follow.

What we should do, on any day, but particularly during the excessive holidays, is keep the feasting in mind. Share. Be conscious. Buy things with meaning and intention.


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your wicked thoughts

I'm not going to defend Adbusters because, while I may link to them, I'm not affiliated with them. I agree that buying gifts or feasting is not always about gluttony, BUT, most people I know feel trapped by the feeling that they *have* to buy presents or participate in something. They are guilted into consumerism, when maybe, they truly only feel like buying a gift for mom. In a nutshell, I hope that people slow down and think about where they are buying from (wal-mart vs. mom & pop store) and why they are doing it. Is it the holiday spirit, or is it because if they don't buy gifts for 7 nieces, nephews, parents, grandparents, kids, and then acquaintances at work, they are made to feel like the grinch?

these are the thoughts of Kerri on November 30, 2003 02:31 PM

But does stopping one's buying (for a day or however long) actually empower people to think about what and how they buy? Or does it just apply another kind of pressure - this time the pressure to not buy, to be ashamed of consuming.

The rhetoric of Buy Nothing Day just sounds so much like Weight Watchers to me - more talk about how bad you are, or how bad we are as a society, and how we need to avoid the "bad for us" stuff. It's diet talk. People do better when they have the information to make balanced decisions about what they consume - even if that is, SOMETIMES, Walmart or cheesecake. The wrong kind of pressure (away from shopping at all, say, instead of pressure not to add to Walmarts absurd profits) can backfire into people making unbalanced choices. I think BND is the wrong kind of pressure.

Kerri, I think you and I agree (having read what you posted on BND on your own site). Better to choose our consumption thoughtfully and not be browbeaten about it.

these are the thoughts of april on December 1, 2003 02:47 PM

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