Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Seven Deadly Gay Sins : Going Orange With Gluttony

In February I began this sinful series with the Deadly Red Sin of Anger, symbolically represented in Medieval folklore by the colour red, the top stripe of the Rainbow Pride flag. Today we move one stripe down to orange. In medieval Christian folklore Orange was assigned to the sin of gluttony. I find it amusing that the colour used for gluttony is named after food (the colour was named after the fruit, not the other way round), and with tomorrow being Easter Day when the long weeks of fasting during Lent come to an end what sin could be more appropriate? So what parts of lgbt heritage can we find that illustrate the Deadly Sin of Gluttony?

First of all, let’s define “gluttony” as it applies to sin. The most obvious definition is “over-eating”, as exemplified in the character of Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”. Mr Creosote eats so much that he explodes. Sinful gluttons would get their punishment in Hell, of course, and the particular punishment Medieval popular folklore believed gluttons received was, appropriately, to have lots of little horned demons force-feeding them with rats, toads and snakes (whether until they too exploded or not isn’t certain).

But over-eating is only one of several definitions that the Medieval church put forward. Here are 6 definitions of gluttony listed by Pope Gregory the Great (d.604) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):-
Eating before proper meal times,
Desiring luxury foods,
Adding seasoning and sauces to meat,
Having too much to eat,
Eating too eagerly and quickly,
Eating food that is too elaborately prepared.

Judging by that list, every food programme on television can be called sinful to the Medieval mind!

In later centuries gluttony came to be equated with any sort of over-indulgence, whether it was spending, gambling, playing, working, or just enjoying yourself too much. During Britain’s only period as a republic under Oliver Cromwell every activity except work and prayer was seen as sinful! But let’s get back to food.
Let’s get sinful and see who those evil lgbt agents of the devil are, who tempt good folk like us into sin with their elaborate, delicious, pleasing, yummy, and often too expensive, food. In other words, let’s look at some lgbt chefs and cooks.

I’ll begin with James Beard (1903-1985) who, as far as I have been able to tell, is the only lgbt chef who has a culinary award named after him. He was, according to Thomas McNamee in his 2012 book on Beard, a man who sums up everything the old sin of gluttony represented: “Beard, a man of stupendous appetites – for food, sex, money, you name it…” wrote McNamee.

James Beard was one of the first media personalities in the food world. He had one of the first regular cookery programmes on American television and championed good American food as well as French cuisine. Although he is not that well-known outside America his influence was enormous. After his death the James Beard Foundation was formed which offers scholarships in the culinary arts.

Every May the Foundation presents awards to chefs, venues and organisations who have been significant in the food industry in the past year. Some of these winners are openly lgbt, including 3-times winner Corby Kummer, Art Smith (writer and ex-chef to Oprah Winfrey), and restaurateurs such as Clark Fraser and Mark Gaier.

Cookery programmes are very popular on tv, otherwise there wouldn’t be whole channels dedicated to the subject. This means that many lgbt chefs have become familiar faces, due mainly to the increase in cookery contest shows and “reality” programmes. The most recent “celebrity” to come out is Rudy Tandoh, a contestant of 2013 series of “The Great British Bake Off” who came out 2 days ago.

In my youth I watched a lot of cookery programmes, and the lgbt chefs I remember watching regularly were Robert Carrier, Richard Cawley and Ross Burden. Even Rabbi Lionel Blue would occasionally don a cook’s apron and rustle up some food on breakfast tv. Later there was “Greg and Max”, the first openly gay partners to have their own cookery series on British tv in the 1990s.

One programme I’ve always enjoyed is “Ace of Cakes”. In recent years the increase in same-sex unions and weddings has seen many couples being turned down from cake makers because of their homophobia. Duff Goldman, the genius behind the fantastic “Ace of Cakes”, has recently teamed up with the afore-mentioned Art Smith to form the 101 Gay Weddings Campaign. The aim is to promote same-sex marriage by helping 101 lgbt couples to produce their dream wedding. 

Although I can never call myself a chef I have dabbled in the profession myself. While I was duty manager at a hotel for 4 yeas I prepared food and room service meals for the many guests, including (shamelss name-dropping) Lady Gaga, Colin Firth, Ian Thorpe, Sven Goran Erickson, Gok Wan, the entire South African, Indian and England cricket teams, and the Chinese Ambassador to the UK.

At the hotel’s restaurant there was (and still is, I believe) an openly gay colleague, a chef called Thomas Buhse. Because of the popularity of cookery programmes Nottingham hosts its own food and drink festival every year. Last year Thomas, as a chef from the leading restaurant in the city, was invited to co-present a demonstration with a local butcher Johnny Pusztai. And what were they billed as? “The Gay Chef and the Merry Butcher”. Here's a promotional video.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry, and there’s another 4 hours before lunch time!

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