This is the week for giving, receiving, eating and drinking, nearly always to excess. Some of us celebrate Chanukah and others Christmas, but we're united in the common purpose of gluttony. Even my Muslim friends, who fasted during the day during Ramadan, got up for big breakfasts before dawn and enjoyed gargantuan dinners after night fell.
We live in a country obsessed by weight - gaining it, losing it, suing those we imagine are responsible for it and paying doctors to rearrange the results of it. We count calories, units of fat, cholesterol and carbohydrates as we seek the magic numbers to live longer by. We celebrate success with extra helpings.
The Wall Street Journal, which religiously (no irony intended) follows the ups and downs of the stock market, describes how the liquor industry exploits the highs and lows of drinking on a diet: "In an effort to cash in on the popularity of trendy low-carb diets like Atkins, makers of vodka, whiskey, and other hard liquors are starting to pitch their products as low-carb and diet friendly, following the success of low-carbohydrate campaign this year by Michelob Ultra beer."
Rum and Diet Coke may be low on calories, but that doesn't include the calories in the cashews and peanuts you munch on to stay sober.
Never have the pleasures and politics of food been so intertwined, creating snobbish table manners that have nothing to do with which fork you use but everything to do with what bread and coffee you serve. Only yesterday, sliced spongy white bread (Wonder Bread became the generic) and instant coffee were staples of the dinner table.
Today we pursue happiness through dozens of different breads (sourdough, French baguettes, pecan loaf, Jewish rye) and a zillion coffees (French roast, Colombian Supremo, Jamaican Blue Mountain, double-dark Mexican) line the shelves at supermarkets and specialty stores.
Moms, liberated and not, must please vegetarians, vegans, low-carb, high-protein, or environmentally correct free-range chicken eaters. By comparison, the dietary rules of my kosher-keeping grandparents, which we thought complicated, were pure simplicity.
Coinciding with sophisticated palates in food is the dressing down of diners at expensive restaurants. In three-star establishments with tabs that can run into hundreds of dollars for dinner for two, men are no longer required to wear ties or jackets and women who once displayed elegant décolletage are more likely now to reveal a less appetizing décolletage of the backside, often in duds that look as if they were shunned at the Union Rescue Mission.