Is eating on the run is as big a sin as gluttony?

Fast food means eating quickly so you can rush off and do other (presumably more sinful) things
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The Independent Online

Two superpowers clashed last week and the resulting war of words is as vitriolic as anything emanating from the beleaguered presidential candidates. In one corner, the Roman Catholic church, with its army of theologians, and in the other, the world's biggest caterer, McDonald's. In a newspaper published by Italy's Catholic bishops, an article declares that fast food is anti-Catholic and that the act of eating it undermines fundamental Christian values. Its author rounds on the humble hamburger as "lacking the community spirit of sharing". It seems that eating on the run is as big a sin as gluttony. It didn't stop there; Protestants were knocked for eating badly, Muslims were condemned for an unbalanced diet and Catholics didn't escape - their crime is eating too much. Fast food means eating quickly so you can rush off and do other (presumably more sinful) things.

Two superpowers clashed last week and the resulting war of words is as vitriolic as anything emanating from the beleaguered presidential candidates. In one corner, the Roman Catholic church, with its army of theologians, and in the other, the world's biggest caterer, McDonald's. In a newspaper published by Italy's Catholic bishops, an article declares that fast food is anti-Catholic and that the act of eating it undermines fundamental Christian values. Its author rounds on the humble hamburger as "lacking the community spirit of sharing". It seems that eating on the run is as big a sin as gluttony. It didn't stop there; Protestants were knocked for eating badly, Muslims were condemned for an unbalanced diet and Catholics didn't escape - their crime is eating too much. Fast food means eating quickly so you can rush off and do other (presumably more sinful) things.

The response from McDonald's was predictably pedantic, claiming that the term "fast food" applied to the speed at which is was cooked, rather than that at which it was consumed. It claims to serve hamburgers to customers of every race, creed and culture, although perhaps not vegetarians of the Chrissie Hynde variety. If what the company claims is correct, can someone explain to me why no one ever spends more than 15 minutes in McDonald's? And if McDonald's was really interested in creating a customer-friendly place to linger and meet people, why is its seating so hard and basic, its lighting so intense and its only decorations large colour photos of its wares, and huge price lists? It is disingenuous to pretend that a paper carton containing a bun, some chopped-up meat and fried potatoes is something that consumers will spend hours marvelling over, chewing slowly, and relishing the subtle mélange of flavours.

I wish neither to defend the Catholic church nor attack McDonald's. As far as I am concerned a Big Mac is something that will never pass my lips, along with Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken. When it comes to boycotting international logos, I've been carrying out my protest unremarked and unrewarded for decades. All three products have spawned a troubling amount of litter, wrecked taste buds and stunted our will to cook. Their contribution to global culture is an entirely negative one. But I accept I speak as one of a tiny minority.

Let us not confuse the consumption of fast food with the experience of eating a meal together with friends or family. One of the paradoxes of our age is that while chefs and cooking programmes dominate television schedules, our cooking skills atrophy and sales of ready-cooked meals soar. The time when the family shared a meal at the end of each day has ended. It is regrettable, but it has happened. So it seems to me that the church has missed an opportunity on this occasion. If we acknowledge that McDonald's is a magnet for young people, then surely instead of whingeing about hamburgers being unholy, the church could make use of all those venues. Drive-ins all over the world could be places for priests to chat to their flocks, hear confessions and help with social problems in the five minutes or so they have their captive customers in the queue.

Of course this is a joke, but there are so many links between food and religion already, from the miracle of the loaves and fishes, to Christ's body taking the form of bread and wine for the sacrament of Holy Communion. Fasting, the denying of food, is seen as an act of mental, physical and spiritual cleansing. Yet can we really argue that families lack spiritual values because they no longer sit down to eat together regularly?

When so many in the world have so little to eat, perhaps the Catholic church should concern itself more with encouraging population control rather than the humble hamburger, which might be tasteless, but is at least affordable to those who have little choice.

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