Saturday, September 5, 2009

Religion, Politics and (of course) Food …what really matters is Speed

"Americans don't dine. They gobble, gulp, and go."—A 19th Century European traveler, quoted in The Good Old Days—They Were Terrible! by Dr. Otto L. Bettman

"I love most things from the US except McDonald's, your football and this fiasco of electing a president."
Graham J. Weeks

I'm sitting here reading a news story about ConAgra, the huge food conglomerate, recalling 1.45 million pounds of corn flour and other products because they may contain StarLink biotech corn. That corn, in turn, might possibly cause allergic reactions in some people. Now, while I certainly don't have any problem with such a display of concern about the public's welfare, as a vegetarian I do have to wonder why ConAgra doesn't also recall its "Big Mama" pickled sausage, or its "300% hotter" cousin, "Tijuana Mama". After all, those products, along with countless other ConAgra "foods," contain ingredients (animal fat, nitrates and nitrites, etc.) that, without a doubt, cause cancer and heart disease.

Hmmm…. A company recalls products that are possibly linked to allergies, but leaves products on the market that are certainly linked to much more serious diseases. Why?

Well, I could chalk it up to the craziness of meat-eaters, but I think the real answer is speed. Allergies manifest themselves right away, while heart disease and cancer take a lot longer. And in modern America if something isn't going to occur quickly, we really don't care. Call us when it happens.

Of course, nowhere in our culture is the "need for speed" more apparent than in our food industry. I stopped at a grocery store this morning in search of oatmeal, and was surprised to see that even the Quakers (not known to be the fastest group of Americans!) were promising me hot oats in only 5 minutes. If that wasn't fast enough, I could opt for "quick" oats that cook in only 1 minute, or "instant" oats that must cook even before a person can get the package open. Judging from the product selection at my store, it's pretty clear that most Americans want their oats instantaneously.

Even as they race to copy us, the rest of the world makes fun of this American preoccupation with speed. Sometimes their criticism even gets serious, like just last week when a prominent Catholic theologian criticized McDonald's in an Italian newspaper. In an article endorsed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference, Massimo Salani denounced the eat-and-run culture promoted by McDonald's, and warned that eating a Big Mac with fries was the antithesis of receiving communion. He said fast food "completely forgets the holiness of food," should be spurned by Catholics, and is appropriate only for atheists, or possibly Lutherans.

Wow, those are strong words! There's obviously a "whopper" of a gap between the laid-back, family-oriented Italian Catholics, and those crazy, mile-a-minute, American Quakers! As a Lutheran, I may only be one French fry away from eternal damnation, but I must admit that I share Mr. Salani's views about McDonald's being unholy. Their speed, though, would not be my #1 complaint.

In a culture known for doing things fast, it seems ironic that as I write this nearly two weeks have already passed since the enormously entertaining election of 2000, and we still don't know who the next President of these United States of America is going to be. (Yes, I know that as you read this you know how the election turned out—but that's just the advantage you have of living in the future!)

The election didn't represent a Constitutional crisis, but rather a technological crisis. (When the ballots cast for each candidate are closer than the inherent margin of error in counting those ballots, its pretty hard to identify the winner, no matter how many recounts you have!) In any event, it certainly was a turn of events that for once Americans were the ones keeping everybody waiting. Again the world criticized. (Do they secretly love our speed, or do they just hate whatever we do?)

However the 49 recounts eventually turn out (only you know for sure), the message for America seems clear: what we need in this country are faster elections and slower food. Now, you may think the solution to all this is to ship all the bigwigs at McDonald's to a monastery in Italy and let the Quakers run our next election. Sure it sounds silly, but I'm with you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Tragedy of the Commons