Pastor’s Perspective – September 2019
The New American Revolution
Few people will remember the name of John Montagu. He was a man of great passions and compulsive desires. He was a man whose boorish behaviors would help to shape the future. Montagu, otherwise known as the 4th Earl of Sandwich, had a substantial gambling problem, but that was not the vice for which he is eternally remembered. Instead it was what his gambling problem caused him to create that has etched his name in our collective memories. Montagu’s compulsive gambling addiction would cause him to lose track of time as he pursued his habit at the tables. Instead of breaking away for a meal he began to give instructions to the cook to simply put some meat between two pieces of bread so that he could eat without leaving the room. In doing so he invented multitasking… and the favorite food of the multi-tasker… the sandwich.
The simple mixture of meat and bread provided the template for hamburgers, hot dogs, and the fast food mentality that has changed our patterns of interaction associated with eating. The sandwich was not just a new way to eat food, it allowed us a new way in which to live our lives. Eating used to be ritualized and communal. It caused us to gather with family, friends, and community in order to maintain the strength and energy to accomplish our daily tasks. It slowed the pace of life and demanded that we separate what we do from who we are.
The sandwich changed all of that. It has transformed our diets and our lives. We now eat as a part of a multi-tasking lifestyle. We no longer stop our toil in order to refuel. We no longer need to eat or connect with other people to sustain our bodies. Eating is now what we do in between cross-town appointments. A meal used to be a time of leisure and relaxation, a blessing given by God and a reward for our toil. Now we eat as if we are under attack. We eat with one hand on our sandwich, the other on the steering wheel, and our foot on the gas.
It was not always as it is today, and there are still many parts of the world that have resisted the urge to eat while doing something else. Many cultures take a long break in the middle of the day and have a large meal, followed by some down time, before returning to work until the early evening. Many peoples still gather around the dinner table and talk and commune and share as they eat their food. You have to put down your kindle in order to eat a bowl of rice with chop sticks. Americans have rejected the old ways and the old rhythms of life in order to pursue our modern distractions without interruption. In many ways the sandwich is the food of the addict. It allows us to eat while never losing focus on what truly rules our lives.
The sandwich has become the most popular food delivery system in the western world and has brought to us our own unique constellation of dietary dysfunctions and food related illnesses. Why is the sandwich so dangerous? The danger resides in it’s lethal combination of carbohydrates and fats. Alone these two staples of the food pyramid are benign and beneficial, but together they can become toxic. Americans experience more digestive orders that any other nation or people. Americans suffer from esophageal reflux and diverticulitis at extraordinary rates, especially when compared to the rest of the world.
This is not because the food that we consume is significantly different from what people in other nations eat. The French and the Italians eat a diet that is much higher in fats than the Korean or Japanese people, yet neither nation has the problems that Americans have with our diet. Other cultures fry foods. Other cultures eat bread. Other cultures have to deal with sanitary conditions that would cause an American health inspector to quit their job and go back to the family farm. Yet it is Americans who are dying from the food we eat. What separates us is the volume and mixture of our diets. We want it all and we want it fast.
This is one of the reasons why most people who are dealing with the deleterious effects of the North American diet are instructed to cut “one” of these dangers from our diet. Doctors and dieticians might have different opinions on what you should remove from your diet; with one school of thought advocating for a low-fat diet, while the other seeks to have their patients restrict their intake of carbs. You can cut your carbs and reclaim your health. You can cut your proteins and fats and grow healthier. Or you can cut down on your caloric intake and renew your body. The crazy thing is that each of these options will work, but you have to do something. You can eat all the bacon you want as long as you don’t sprinkle it on a baked potato. The problem isn’t the bacon. Nor is the problem the potato. The problem is that we want it all.
Americans are not particularly good at moderation, but we are world class reactionaries, always willing to over react and over reach when faced with a dilemma. When people hit the bottle too heavily in the late 19th Century we decided that demon alcohol was the problem and we banned it. The rest of the world looked at us as if we had lost our collective minds. And while Prohibition was doomed to failure, we never seemed to learn the underlying lessons of its failure. Prohibition failed because the alcohol was only one part of a much broader and more complex problem involving sin, anger, loneliness, and violence.
We continue to bring this mentality to our culture by ignoring the complexity of the problem in order to discover a simple solution that doesn’t personally slow our roll. And so we attack the problem based on our appetites for change. Those who love their freedom to own guns, are laying the blame at the feet of violent imagery in media (including movies, television, music lyrics, and video games). Those who love their media content are laying the blame at the feet of those who own guns (and often times at the gun itself). It’s a choice between fats and carbs that our political class is seeking to unilaterally impose on the entire nation.
All people, however, do not react to food, drugs, alcohol, guns or the media in the same manner. There are some people who eat without gaining weight, and others who are toxically ill due to the food that they ingest. For some people the peanut is a dietary miracle; for others it can mean certain death. We are all different from each other. We react to what we consume, and what we own, and what we do, in our own unique manner.
Not everyone will take a drink and become a drunk. Not everyone will sit down at the black jack table never again to rise. Not everyone will surf the internet and join an Al-Queda sleeper cell. Each of us has a different Kryptonite. Each of us has a different vice or sin that will take us down. In a free society it is up to us to patrol our own lives and through essential social connections learn about the vices and danger zones that impact the lives of our friends and neighbors. Then, together, as a community, we can seek to navigate our individual and collective land mines.
The Earl of Sandwich decided that consumption was more important than communion. His was a revolution of the self that is typified in the sandwich that bears his name. Sadly the American people rejected his title but embodied his egocentric sinfulness. It is time for another American Revolution. A shift in the way we think and live. It will call upon us to ignore the destructive impulse to impose our own cures upon our friends and neighbors. It will ask us to reject the simple cure that leaves the alienation caused by our individual addictions to continue unchallenged. It will bring us back to the table that can create commonality and hope.
We don’t need laws which can easily be broken, or new diets that faddishly change over time. We need God and we need each other. We need a new focus on the Kingdom that calls us to serve a greater purpose than our own appetites and indulgences. This change will demand our time and our full attention, because our modern crisis is one of loneliness, alienation, and individualism. Put down your tablet, turn off the tv, and stop doing life alone. Sit across the table from someone, anyone, look them in the eyes while they talk, and let’s start fixing this world one dining room table at a time.