Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Natural Self

(With regards to Walker Percy.)

Why the Self feels Synthetic and finds Food Erotic

Thought Experiment: The Sexy Chef and the Organic Store

Imagine you have chosen to visit a popular organic supermarket.  You are trying to avoid chemical processes, refinements, and additives for their unhealthy and overall negative influence on your nutrition.  This particular location is the only one in town which carries corn chips for your all-natural Southwestern salsa accentuated with homegrown black beans and pico de gallo (confident as you are that each ingredient has been shipped directly from their respective soils with no preservatives).  You have brought your reusable burlap grocery bag, stylishly embroidered with verdant leaves on a khaki background.  Looking at it reminds you of the quaint, simple days on a farm you wish you'd grown up on.  You wander the aisles with an intentional aimlessness, drifting through each as you snatch a head of all-natural lettuce and a cut of grass-fed beef.

Somewhere between the Fair Trade coffee beans and the sugarcane soft drinks, you spot a popular Youtube chef.  This particular man's channel is less about guiding the audience through follow-along steps and more about the audacity of the dishes.  On one episode, you watched him and his Canadian cohorts buy dozens of cheeseburgers from local fastfood restaurants and layer them as a giant dish of lasagna, separated by a sheet of bacon strips woven together.  A calorie, fat, and sodium counter ran on the bottom of the video; at the end of two minutes detailing the preparation, the calorie counter was over 16,000.  Each video concludes with the Canadians drizzling the concoction in Jack Daniels whiskey and tearing into each dish as hedonistic gluttons.  As they cook each dish (with names like "Bacon Fortress" or "Meat Salad"), triumphant orchestral music swells from the first slab of bacon-wrapped steak to the last sloppy bite oozing down the sides of the Canadians' mouths.  It is shameless in its recklessness to the point of absurdity.  Each episode you have watched has evoked laughter, disgust, and excitement with such mastery that you cannot rightly express your fascination with these epic meals.  You are riveted by each and every episode.

You are understandably surprised to see the Canadian chef in a socially- and health-conscious market like this one.  The Canadian politely asks a stock boy which are the strongest coffee beans.  The stock boy--his name tag reads "Scott"--answers, "Probably the Ethiopian dark roast.  It has rich body flavor and is guaranteed grown without pesticides."

The Canadian takes one look at the price and balks.  "I think I'll just go for Folgers.  Where's that?"

"Sir," Scott replies too pleasantly, "you won't find Folgers here.  Their product has not been guaranteed chemical-free or Fair Trade."

"Does that explain the pricetag?  I need four pounds."

"Four pounds?"

"Yes.  I need four pounds of coffee beans."

"Buying for the office, huh?"

"No.  We're making Atomic Slam Breakfast."

"Atomic Slam Breakfast?"

"That's right, sissy-pants!"  The Canadian suddenly adopts the swaggering intensity of a Pentecostal minister or a drill sergeant.  "First, we take three dozen eggs.  Throw those chicken fetuses in a bowl!  Then we beat them eggs... spatula's too small... better use the shovel!  Next we brew that coffee double-strong!  We gonna drink it?  No way, granola-munch.  We pour that **** in a pot for marination!  Next we add bacon strips.  And bacon strips.  And bacon strips!  Strippin dat bacon... for dat coffee meat we makin'!!!

"Next level: sausage drizzled in bacon grease!  Two pounds enough?  Better make it three.  Pancakes with bacon bits?  Smart!  Glaze it with whiskey, bread it all over!"  At this point, you can almost see the calorie counter running higher and higher.  "Deep-fry them pancakes.  Coat it with syrup and Mountain Dew!  Marinated pig is done... fry up that coffee-bacon!  Throw some scrambled eggs on that plate... add habanero peppers for complete morning energy!  Finish it off with a tall glass of orange-flavored energy drink!  Combat that scurvy!"

Scott's face is glistening with Canadian spittle as the chef concludes.  His shouts ring out like a Mongol warlord down a Serbian valley.  "Now we got all that coffee and Irish cream, we got them habanero eggs, we got that caffeine-bacon and those Mountain Dew, deep-fried pancakes!  We gonna eat that ******!  And then we stay awake for a three weeks."

The Canadian's eyes are wide with fire, his beard dripping sweat and saliva.  His face is flush with blood as he leers the stock boy in anticipation, waiting for Scott to respond to the apocalyptic meal the chef has prophesied.  Scott's face is twisted in equal parts bewilderment and indignation.  He finally stammers, "How can you be like this?!!"

"Like what?" asks the Canadian, his demeanor abruptly calm.

"How can you eat like that?  How can you be so indifferent to your health?  That kind of eating will kill you!"

"We're professional chefs.  We only eat like this once a week.  We exercise regularly.  Most of the time we eat normal meals.  We do this for our webshow, Epic M-"

"I know who you are now.  That doesn't excuse what you do!  You blow hundreds of dollars on a single meal while people the world over starve and you fuel the unjust systems which perpetrate the oppression of foreign workers by shopping at discount supermarkets!  You glorify unhealthy eating in an age where obesity in this country is epidemic!  You bring in attractive women and exploit their sexuality to increase your viewership!  Your only appeal is your oafishness, a caricature of a barbaric relic!"

You are uncomfortable in the silence which follows.  The Canadian has a confused expression on his face.  He finally manages, "Last year we cooked for a homeless shelter.  A whole episode devoted to feeding the poor."

"You fed them one of your characteristic dishes?"

"Well, yeah.  The guys at the homeless shelter loved it."

"I'm sure they did," Scott snaps.  "They had a month's worth of calories in a few minutes.  That's to say nothing of the preservatives and growth hormone in the beef you stuffed them with!"

"There's no growth hormone approved for beef cows."

"Don't pretend like you're a part of the solution!  You're a part of the problem."

"Is obesity really that big of a deal?  It seems like a problem most people throughout history would have liked to have."

"You mean in the Dark Ages?  When people didn't wash their hands or bathe?"

"Life expectancy has never been higher."

"So people live longer, more miserable, obesity-laden lives before they become bedridden and die from complications from that obesity!  Huge improvement there, buddy.  Heart disease is the top killer in this country and your meals revel in it."

"Healthy eaters die in bus crashes."

Scott is befuddled.  "Excuse me?"

"Yeah.  You can eat healthy or gross and still get hit by a bus or shot or stabbed or fall off a bridge..."

"Don't be ridiculous!  Heart disease is preventable..."

"Everybody dies sometime.  Something has to kill you," says the chef calmly.

Scott sighs as the teacher defeated by a defiant child.  He resignedly returns to stocking the shelf.  "You do so much to keep these big food companies afloat that you may as well be their spokesman.  You're a champion of regression.  Wal-Mart may have some discount coffee.  Good luck with your show."

Other shoppers have been casually eavesdropping on this rather heated exchange.  As the Canadian strides out of the supermarket, you cannot help but notice their reactions.  Some look back after him in shock and shake their heads in disapproval.  Some of the women seem drawn to his swagger and reckless allure.  Some of the men nod subtly to acknowledge his manly superiority.  All shoppers are awestruck and some stride proudly behind him like the disciples of an Old Testament prophet.  You too find that you cannot take your eyes off him until the automatic doors slide shut behind him.

Question I: Why do you have such a strong reaction to the Youtube chef?

(a)  The Youtube chef is a dangerous radical who encourages people to continue in uncritical and unhealthy eating at the expense of human suffering in America (in the form of obesity) and abroad (in the form of supporting unjustly-low wages.  His cavalier attitude toward the health and safety of his audience is indicative of the apathy endemic to the greatest accomplices of injustice.  "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

(b)  The Youtube chef is an entertainer.  While he eats poorly, he is fundamentally a businessman.  His livelihood comes from his show.  No one forces to anyone to watch his show, they do so by choice.  Just because someone watches his show about epically-sized meals does not mean they will eat that way.  The show is funny, well-edited, and the chefs are professionals.  No one in their right mind saw Evel Knievel jump the Grand Canyon and tried to replicated it.  People are free to get fat and die as they please.

(c)  The Youtube chef is a sinner under God's condemnation, glorying as he does in gluttony.  God's Word says, "(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)" (Phil. 3:18-19, KJV).  Other passages condemn this man (Prov. 23:2, 20-21; 1 Cor. 3:16-17; Deut. 21:20; Jug. 3:19) as indulgent in the lusts of the flesh.

(d)  The Youtube chef is a man you can follow.  Men and women flock to his channel because he stares certain death in the face and does not blink.  His eating is edgy--sexy even--and the babes who attend reinforce this.  I mean, if he was just good with the ladies that would mean nothing (since he must practice safe sex).  But there are no condoms for the tummy and this man don't give a four-letter word! Given the chance, you would join his team and chow down along with them... provided you could quit your job, relocate to Canada, toss caution to the wind, exercise to keep the weight off...

Question II: Why are you at this organic supermarket anyway?

(a)  I have done extensive research into the health benefits of organic supermarkets.  I studied nutrition in college, designed several experiments, and gathered numerous data to indicate that the additives and preservatives endemic to the mainstream food industry are the direct causes of obesity, cancer, birth defects, and diminished quality of life in the West (especially America).

(b)  I have it on good authority that mainstream supermarkets are untrustworthy.  My friend passed me this article from a nutrition magazine that said that people who eat processed food are consistently fatter.  I read one facebook post which said that brominated vegetable oil is used in Mountain Dew and is also a flame retardant chemical used in plastic toys. Pesticides on fruits are specifically designed to kill bugs. How could they possibly be good for my baby?

(c)  I am here ironically.  This is so the opposite of who I am.  I usually stuff bacon down my gullet like the Jewish Devil.  Bumping into a fellow organic-hater slamming knowledge on that hippie twerp was the highlight of my week.

(d)  I came for the same reason I have a farm-themed tote.  I would never admit it, but I live rootless in a hyper-connected world.  I have lived in six different cities, never been back to my roots because I have none, never run in large enough social circles to be truly known by anyone.  I have a synthetic community through social media, synthetic friendships through workplace networking, synthetic identity through my ironic wardrobe and 90s pop culture references.  Even my love life is synthetic since the love and lovemaking in movies or pornography somehow seems so much more real and tangible than the mere pleasantries I get in real life.  So is it so much to ask that even the food on my plate--the one thing left that reminds me that I am more than just a disembodied consciousness--be something rooted and real and dirty from the ground and coated in the sweat of a real farmer with dirty hands and a place in the world?

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