On Consumption

We use this word of consumption to talk about what we do, that we are consumers. This is the perfect word. Of course, the imagery is of someone or something voracious, eating everything in its path, wasteful, even malicious. We are some rough beast taking the fat of the land and leaving the lean. I don’t feel like this, until I know the ease with which I can buy a new shirt or coffee grinder with the click of a mouse, and upon receiving it, find that I hardly every wear or use it. What if everything we bought became part of us and shaped us in some way?

But it does. This is where the other connotations of “consume” find their mark. Why are holidays — formerly holy days — signified with a meal? Why do we put so much significance in the Christian tradition on eating a little bread and drinking a little wine? Why do other religions signify what is kosher or halal? It’s as if eating, or consuming, has some deep spiritual significance, marking us as a certain type of people. 

Naturally, this stretches into what sort of clothing to wear, such as head coverings or tassels on your jacket or avoiding pearls. Again, this is less about the inherent danger of pearls than how to live and act in this world, and what people and God you claim. 

Of course, if consuming, including both what we eat and what we buy, marks what sort of people we are and what sort of God we claim, we see how consumption of anything is alignment with that thing: a movie, a steak, a shirt. Our religions claim to us that each of these decisions has spiritual implications in ways obvious (a diet of booze and parties) and in ways not so obvious, as each item we consume shifts our gravity with permutations unseen.

So the phrase, “you are what you eat,” or you are what you consume, takes on new weight. In the shimmering light of the New Testament, how we consume seems to make even more difference than what, though there remain some things we can’t seem to eat even if we do it very carefully, because of the stomachache we’ll get in the end.

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