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In Defense of Food: The Case Against Inedible Credibles: And a Much-Belated Response to His Prominence Screwtape's Toast: By the Disreputable Gnawknuckle, given at the Autumn Feast of the Tempters' College

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Principal-in-Perpetuity Slubgob, Disgraces and Gentledevils,

It is an honor to address you upon this solemn occasion, and I commend the Board for inviting me, as my writings have without doubt stirred the coals of controversy throughout our great Realm. We all clamber on the shoulders of giants, blunting our claws as best we may: giants who have brought us ever closer to dominance over the world of men, the great Tempter Emeritus Screwtape among them. No true tempter ever retires, though many fade away; Screwtape will glow as an unbanked fire, a hurtling meteor bent on destruction, for all eternity, and we should all be so lucky as to emulate him.

As a young devil finishing Tempters' College, I heard the Prominence's toast to my class, and found much to admire in it. At the time, I agreed with Screwtape that the quantity of our dinner fare was to be valued over its quality; that insipid but filling souls by the hundreds would satisfy where a sparse plate of great sinners failed to. I had adolescent appetites; I yearned for fast food, for souls processed in the world's factories -- television was a splendid bonus to us here, and the Internet has been an even greater one -- and served neatly packaged for my easy consumption, with my only effort a quick microwave blast of temptation to petty sin. I excelled in college, and as I entered my professional life I ate many souls: breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I confess, many a snack in between. I was young and active, so I did not grow fat -- some of you, I note, have not remembered that this alters with age -- and my palate was not educated enough to recognize how poor the banquet was, poorer even than Screwtape complained in his Toast. Not a soul with the courage to sin largely: insider trading was about the worst of it. Junk food, in a word, or rather two.

Screwtape had it that this feast of fools and peculators was to our benefit; that the dearth of great sinners meant that Our Enemy was reaping no great saints, and that our plentiful harvests would do us no harm. He was wrong.

You may gasp; you may, in fact, be preparing to fling at me the portion of your dinner you least care for, knowing that there will be souls in plenty remaining for you to stuff yourself with. Please, if you are so inclined, heave away. I can dodge an adulterer or three, especially flabby adulterers thrown by flabbier devils. Ask yourself whence came that flab. That your plates are full is much to Screwtape's account. We do not honor him at this, the sad echo of our once glorious Harvest Festival, for nothing. His painstaking research, his innovative techniques, have increased our yield tenfold. But at what cost? The humans may line up in rows to be cut down and added to our brimming cellars, our bursting ovens, but when was the last time you tasted an original sin at any of your meals? Ninety percent of the souls we eat contain gluttony; did you know that? We are what we eat; we eat gluttons and we are gluttons, and dull ones to boot. Your meat is fat, pre-chewed pabulum; when did you last feel the crunch of a tyrant between your teeth, the smooth custard of real lust, the sweet and sour rush of a daring thief? And what would you do if you did? Spit it out in alarm? Reject it because it was rough, and raw, and alive? Or might you rediscover in yourself the gourmand, the true devil who knows that good food is not easy, or cheap, or doused with the fertilizer of processed iniquity that makes damnation a mechanical task for mindless demons, not a craft for the clever, the resourceful... the Screwtape among us.

Yes, he was a great tempter, but his own cleverness has condemed those who follow him never to taste a soul cultured to damnation from scratch. Never to know the planting of seeds, their nurture, never to watch them grow and blossom, to feed them with the rank compost of other decaying souls, with the manure of hellish beasts (I have a preference for kobold droppings or pixie frass, but to each his own). All that, and finally plucking the finished sinner at the moment of ripeness and popping it fresh into one's salivating mouth. Did you know that your ample platefuls are made up of souls picked unripe, to facilitate shipping, and artificially finished with the canned breath of members of Parliament and talk show hosts, many of them too boring for true evil? You must realize that ease of packing and transportation trump good taste in the development of new varieties of transgression. If you want delicious mouthfuls, disdain the modern; find the old-fashioned sin, the heirloom cultivar, and water it, feed it, train its branches along supports of sharpened sticks and the skeletons of torture victims, prune the unfruitful limbs and let the unrighteous tendrils unfurl, welcome the buzzing imps to pollinate the opening flowers of wickedness. You will eat less, in the end, than if you shop from Screwtape's stores, but you will eat better. I can show you our researchers' reports that prove the nutritional bounty of hand-nurtured produce. But do not take their word for the taste. I have brought a basket of artisan-grown, heritage sinners... let me pass them out to you, there should be one for everyone... see, they are still wriggling. Not like the lardy lumps on your platters. Eat them whole; work them with your teeth and tongue. Do you believe me now?

Those of you responsible for the care of young devils: should they eat the junk swept from the streets of who knows what distant city by low-ranking demons, or raised by the few of us still possessing the remnants of the art, even if dependent on the chemical romance of mass-produced, monocultured sin? Are we raising devils who have no idea where their food comes from? Imagine the charming evil grin on a youngster's face when she first bites into the soul for whose culture she was responsible. Imagine the fiery glow of pride in your own eyes. Pride, yes: that is an heirloom sin indeed. Studies have shown that pride is entirely missing from the fattened cattle we call souls nowadays, and no wonder. To be grown like corn on a vast hill of your fellows, to be plucked and shucked in mechanical indifference: how could pride survive that? Give me a hand-fed, locally-sourced sinner: he knows he has been cared for, cherished; he is brimming over with pride. He tastes... may I say ambrosial? I think I may.

Great sinners and great saints. Screwtape was thus far right: one breeds the other. But may I also say that great saints breed great tempters? We have grown lazy, eating factory food; we need exercise, and what better way to get it than to head out into the field and begin turning the soil? Nurture the sinners, and indeed the saints will come to seize your incipient harvest. But why did Our Father Below give us ingenuity and quick reflexes, if not to set traps, build fences, and leave alluring poisons for those who wish to steal our harvest? And we are not alone: if the Enemy sends in his troops, we have demonic creatures in plenty to defend us. Simply provide them with the nectar they cherish and they will bite, sting, and parasitize any angel who comes within striking distance of your meal. For he is yours, to devour or to share; you will know him root and flower, stem and fruit. You will eat him with pride, the crunch of your teeth echoing the length and breadth of Hell. Can you say that of the tasteless, nutritionally bankrupt slop on the plates in front of you? I thought not.

Real food for real devils, my fellow Tempters. Claws out, as we climb onto the shoulders of the mighty Screwtape, and watch him fall to his knees.