Sausage, ham, bacon – all of this has now been declared a danger. The consumption of meat is not about statistical risks, but about pleasure and transience

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One must commit sin in spirit if one is to arm oneself against it. That’s the beauty of her. Without sin there would be no art. To paint a godly life is pretty boring. The various forms and objects of the lust of the flesh, the voluptas carnis, can be depicted in a completely different way. In the middle of the picture.

The Dutchman Pieter Aertsen was a master at it. In 1552 he obediently painted the biblical scene of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary. But he hid it in the background. The picture is dominated by one of the most beautiful and mightiest legs of mutton in European art history. In depicting this piece of flesh, the artist soars to extreme anatomical precision. Fat, bones, cartilage, tendons, the parchment-dried skin of the carcass, you think you can feel it all. Next to it the leather money cat. So people like to be warned against the sin of gluttony and admonished to live a godly life.

Aertsen’s godly art of meat caught on. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Netherlands did not flood Europe with tomatoes, but with sensual and colorful market and kitchen items, which were always about one thing, namely the meat in its various manifestations, as a whole animal in fur and feathers, as Bird, fish or Cattle, with and without eyes, as game or as grazing animals, as leg, rib or tongue, as sausage and ham . The people who handle all the dead animals in these pictures, the market women, butchers, cooks and fishmongers, are made of the same fleshy stuff as their goods, often turned to life and surrounded by death, beautiful and ephemeral. At that time, very few would have reached the age at which Colon cancer< /span> dies.


Which brings us to the occasion for these considerations would be, but only to leave him right away. The World Health Organization’s Cancer Agency has assigned processed “red meat,” meaning sausage, ham, bacon, corned beef and other products, to the highest of five possible cancer risk levels. There, these foods now stand alongside asbestos, tobacco and alcohol. The red meat itself is classified as “probably carcinogenic”. This judgment is based on the evaluation of 800 clinical studies. Understandably, meat and sausage manufacturers do not find this attractive at all. The Minister of Agriculture warns against unsettling the consumer. And in the most favorable case, this consumer knows that the statistics and his very personal fate have almost nothing to do with one another. Worst-case scenario, his already neurotic relationship with food becomes even more neurotic.

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There are no clinical studies on how carcinogenic diet debates are in glutted societies. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you read Cancer or < span class="o-link" name="inlineLink_" title="You can find information and tips on the causes and treatment options for scabies on our topic page.">Scabies gets. In the age of colon cancer statistics, nobody can be healthy anyway. The longer we live, the more life expectancy we are supposedly entitled to, the more risks we accumulate within ourselves, because life is a metabolism that is never without risks and side effects. The tragedy is that we find it so difficult that it seems almost impossible to turn the undeniable increase in life span and quality of life that secure nutrition, optimized hygiene and medical progress generate into happiness. As consumers with the statistical colon cancer probe in our ass, we have become the illiterate of happiness. Why is that? We have lost sin. We only know diet mistakes.

One hundred years after Aertsen, Rembrandt hung the Oxen crucified, skinned, gutted, screen-filling. A scurrying maid in the background is the only human person in this crucifixion scene. The Ox awaits cutting up and eventual consumption as well as worship. He represents the sin of the flesh and redemption. He died a sacrificial death in the slaughterhouse. Arguably, the Christian cross represents an ultimate sacrifice that ends forever the barter economy of sin and forgiveness with their currency of blood. For Christians, however, this only applies to the religious sphere, to the cult itself. That does not mean that the streams of blood that flow in the slaughterhouses have become irrelevant and have been reduced to their mere materiality. Like veins of fat, conjunctiva and tendons, the meat is still pervaded by moral discourses today. A bad cook can completely deprive him of the juice, but not the sin. Enjoying meat without guilt and without remorse is nothing but a lie and consumerist self-deception.


Art helps us never to forget that. The stream of images that Rembrandt’s ox set in motion is still flowing today. The Jewish-Russian painter Chaim Soutine was obsessed with this motif. Lovis Corinth painted slaughterhouse scenes as if he were swinging the knife himself, as if he were wading in blood himself. Francis Bacon placed hollow-eyed figures in front of halves of pork and beef. And Damien Hirst preserves lambs, pigs or Calves at different stages of processing in formaldehyde. The list could be extended indefinitely. You can’t get away from the flesh if you want to understand people.

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Because the flesh not only stands for our desires, for voluptas, but also for vanitas, our transience. Where there is flesh, there is decay. “Vanitas” was the title that Pieter Aertsen gave to his leg of mutton painting. Nowadays in Central Europe there is little opportunity to experience vanitas sensually, with nose and eyes. Up until the 19th and early 20th century, decomposition and the fight against it were still part of everyday life. One only had to visit a market where meat buzzed by flies was offered on open benches. Today, all meat in refrigerated shelves is enraptured and trivialized at the same time. The flavors of decay don’t stand a chance anymore. Everything is done to ensure that nobody has to think about dying, death and decay when eating meat.

We are geared towards freshness from head to toe. And now the World Health Organization also tells us that the arts of preservation, this cunning and hopeless struggle against the dominance of bacteria that has been going on for thousands of years, cause cancer. But where would we be today without salting, curing and smoking? The stabilization of living conditions, exchange and trade, seafaring, discovery of the world – without cured meat, smoked ham and sausages it would have been difficult.


Homo habilis, our distant ancestor, who made the transition from vegetarianism to scavengery and thereby increased his brain size enormously, did not yet know anything about vanitas. But he already knew that the carcass he snatched from the hyenas would not last long. But it didn’t help him. Homo erectus was already further along. He hunted and he controlled fire. And lo and behold: the smoke that bit his eyes turned the meat he had captured black, durable, at least a bit, and in a wondrous way aromatic. Just as it apparently also prevented the skins that Homo erectus used to cover the entrance to a cave or hut from rotting away. And when hunger drove early humans to nibble the last scraps of flesh from the old skins, they noticed that the skins, which were as hard as boards, became softer under this salivating treatment. The primal fight against decay brought us huge steps forward in our cultural development.

It would be shabby and historically forgotten to simply leave the sausage on suspicion of cancer. It really comes as no surprise to anyone that the chemical processes of preservation in the human organism find an answer that can be presented as a theoretical risk of disease using modern statistical methods. The answer of the human spirit, which can be formulated as wisdom with the proven methods of practical philosophy, can only be called moderation, in the spirit of the old masters. The precious meat should be used sparingly and carefully, of which the sausage itself is a good example. Everything from a slaughtered animal should be used. Nothing should be left over and thrown away. The intestines, the stomach, the bladder serve as a shell and container for everything that is chopped up, less attractive, for snippets, ends and scrapings. Properly understood, the good spirit of responsible meat consumption is contained in the sausage.

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Until a few decades ago, the broth in which the sausages were cooked during home slaughter was carried in cans to neighbors and relatives. This is how the sausage created a community. Sud settled many a dispute.

Tempi passati! We are in the process of unlearning how to handle the flesh in abundance. We let our cravings spoil us again and again and more and more sustainably. It wasn’t long ago that a children’s yoghurt was advertised with the slogan “As valuable as a small steak”. And yet it seems like an eternity ago. Only when we find our way back to sin, i.e. to faith, will the flesh taste good again.

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