Is Good Food Excessively Indulgent?

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(Cross-posted at The Jew and the Carrot)
I wrote about this once before, but wanted to return to the topic of the of the Jewish businesses and advertisements in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn that were recently defaced:

The motivation behind the incidents is spiritual. Ads featuring highly detailed images of tantalizing food—and businesses hawking an unnecessarily wide variety of food, such a the now-shuttered Sub on Wheels once parked along a Williamsburg street—are seen as excessive and indulgent by austerity-minded activists, who are alarmed by what they see as an intrusion of secular, pleasure-oriented values into their community. In two recent incidents, an enormous building-side banner advertising Grill on Lee, a new gourmet restaurant in the neighborhood’s heart, was sliced halfway, and a Satmar butcher shop with large photographs of dish-laden tables in its windows had those photos cut out.

The issue here is that some businesses are “hawking an unnecessarily wide variety of food” which is apparently a symptom of a larger problem: the “intrusion of secular, pleasure-oriented values into [the Williamsburg] community.”
Initially I wanted to write all of this off as completely ridiculous and move on.  In fact, I’m already on the record with what accounts to a snort and an eye roll.

But I’d like to give this issue a little more attention.  Part of me honestly wonders if there is there anything to all of this? Are we focusing too much on the gourmet? Are we getting carried away with indulgence and variety, and forgetting something about the essence of food and eating?  What do traditional Jewish texts have to say about these kinds of things?

I want to preface this discussion with a blanket condemnation of the means these protestors used to disseminate their message.  Even if their anger or frustration regarding indulgence and immodesty was warranted, their method of demonstrating this anger and frustration was irresponsible, illegal, and completely non-menschlich.

Posted on November 4, 2008

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