Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins

Color me still na├»ve, but when I first saw the headline for this piece (from which I have more or less stolen this post’s title), I assumed it was an entertaining spoof, dealing with the absurdity of the gourmet decorative pumpkin explosion.  Since it was something a tad more serious, I offer here my own assessment of our current state of emergency.  If anyone has further thoughts about how to saw through this gourdian knot, by all means leave them below.

It has come to my attention that in recent years, we have descended as a nation from our previous greatness, the greatness established by our foremothers in the kitchen—and our forefathers in the field—in their ceaseless efforts to perfect the perfect pumpkin for the hallway, the table, and the pie.  Having reached Peak Pumpkin sometime around 1950 or so, we now find ourselves in a strange, psychedelic world in which you have only to imagine any kind of pumpkin you like in order for it to appear.

Pumpkins are no longer orange; they are white; green; brown (brown?! the rainbow’s most boring color); even on occasion a hideous, sickly yellow.  No longer smooth, but bewarted.  No longer round, but distorted, tortured, even squashed—and they were already squash.  Once invariably large, they now come (like heroes) in all shapes and sizes.  The used to be respectable vegetables, and now their attitude can only be described as punkin’.

If you saw a produce product at any other time of the year that looked like this …

… would you ask it out? take it home?  I thought not.  You would shudder, avert your eyes, and wheel the grocery cart on.  If this turned up in the back of your fridge, you would shriek and call for your husband to remove it, stat, even though it was probably your fault that it got that way.  If teenagers left this in your driveway, you would call the police.  If its white cousin …

… apparated anywhere within a block of your house, you would dive for the holy water, in sure and certain fear of having seen a ghost.  Ghosts, respectable ghosts, anyway, used to buddy-buddy with pumpkins; they certainly did not impersonate them.  But to such depths we have fallen.

This, my friends, is what has gone wrong with our democracy.  Not education, not the lack of any virtue in particular, but our inability to distinguish proper vegetables from the escapees or a horror film has brought us to this pass.

It may already be too late to salvage your Halloween, but may I proffer an humble suggestion?  Find the nearest sledgehammer, walk outside to your front porch, and smash those pumpkins now. I promise, the kids on the block will be impressed.  Think of the example you will have set for future generations.

As for Thanksgiving: please keep those winter wonders in the appropriate sizes, shapes, and dimensions.  You don’t want to serendipitously poison the pie.

Don’t even get me started on Indian corn.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

We're All Going to Die

A large bowl (a sieve, actually) of leftover candy is sitting by the front door, taunting me.

For we, alas, did not encounter the expected hordes of Trick-of-Treaters.
There will be some happy college students this evening, though.

I’m fairly certain there is no diet in which Tootsie Rolls and Smarties are part of the suggested balance.  Then again, most of the diets that become popular enough to sift down to the level of my attention don’t seem to be especially “balanced”.  One either cuts out fats, or grains, or meats; one always cuts out sugar.

Sometimes I wonder what poor sugar did to anyone …
Aside from being saccharine, that is.

Supposedly one of the secrets to such diets is that a reduction of variety in the options available nearly always translates into a reduction in calories consumed overall, a notion which makes sense intuitively, though it never worked for me.  It is a far, far butter thing (or for me, at least an easier thing) to place butter on one’s white bread, and develop temperance with said item, than to eat ALL the gluten-free fiber-rich toast, or ALL the saturated fats.  Perhaps I am simply more tempted by the same sort of gluttony as the Patient’s Mother, than by the more recognizable kind?

At any rate, many people do seem to find Special Secret Food Groups diets helpful.  But an additional reason for their adoption is that such diets nearly always come armed with a fascinating theory about body chemistry, in which familiar words like “gut” partner with exotic foreigners like “lipid” or “alkaline”.  And I had always imagined that these explanations were mostly, well, bunk.  After all, it can’t be true that the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet are BOTH good for you …

Except that it seems that they are both good for you.  Also, they are both bad for you.  At least, that is the news from a recent (so you know it’s true) study.  We can eat Paleo, and lose weight and look amazing …

Emaciated, beautiful Frenchwoman who enjoys steak and bacon every day.

… or, we can eat Mediterranean, be sort of chubby, and live longer.

Happy old Italian lady who has been eating pasta her entire life.
Also, apparently, eggs.  (Oh, and she's probably Dutch.  But anyways ...)

As if eating healthily weren’t already hard enough, now we have choices, and choices to which there is no right answer.  It’s not the poison but the dose!  What makes you stronger kills you!  We’re all going to die!

Which is actually true, and a very useful consideration, on this feast of All Saints and this eve of All Souls.  We are, in fact, all going to die; and in the grand scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter much whether we go to heaven having satisfied our vanity or our carb cravings.  Neither will really be “satisfied” anyway, if heaven is the only real, the ultimate satisfaction.  And it would indeed be not simply a useful, but also an amusing consideration if the human search for The Perfect System to nurture the body should turn out, in the end (as this latest fallible study suggests) to have no solution.  Bodies, all bodies, and indeed all matter—as Aquinas warned us a several hundred ago—are doomed to wear out sooner or later; and any purportedly scientific system which tantalizes us as if we could avoid the fatal day is at best a distraction and at worst a temptation to Be Like Gods.

I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t be prudent and temperate and good stewards of our bodies.  But I do think that it is ironic and appropriate that an age absorbed with physical satisfaction and perfection might ultimately have to face up to the realization that these are unobtainable—not merely obtainable at an unacceptable price, as our nightmarish dystopian movies love to remind us, but unobtainable simply speaking.  The physical is not the sort of thing that is perfectable.  Glorifiable, someday, God willing.  But not perfectable.  And at some point everyone has to face up to the this reality that he not only isn’t a perfect specimen, but also he can’t be, and, in fact, no one can.

Now, to check up on that bowl of smarties …