Those of you who have read C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity are no doubt familiar with his illustration of the pork-chop strip tease. This is one of the more memorable images in the book, and I am sure that it has stuck with many of you. It occurs in the chapter on “Sexual Morality”, and its point is to illustrate that perversions of other human appetites are quite rare in comparison to perversions of the sexual appetite. It goes as follows:
The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined, and just as much as we want, it is quite true most of us will eat too much; but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. . . .
Or take it another way. You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act – that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? . . .
Here is the third point. You find very few people who want to eat things that really are not food or to do other things with food instead of eating it. In other words, perversions of the food appetite are rare.
Lewis wrote this back in the 1940s. Much has changed since then. It is still true that humanity’s sexual appetite has gone badly wrong, just as much so now as then, if not more so. But with regard to food, the culture has changed dramatically in the past half-century in ways that Lewis could never have conceived. Obesity has increased dramatically, especially among younger people. As obesity has increased, so have a whole host of unsavory health issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Portion sizes at restaurants, especially fast-food restaurants, have increased dramatically. It is now routine for people to carry large amounts of food or drink around with them during the day, something unheard of fifty years ago. Even the idea of a pork-chop strip tease is not as laughable nowadays here in America as it would have been back in Lewis’s day.