This seems to be a day for appreciating the power of words. On my way to a lunch appointment I spotted an ad campaign in the subway. Sponsored by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, it is meant to educate people about how much sugar is hidden in so much of our food and drink. They were quite clever in asking people if they're "pouring on the pounds":  Four sweetened (most are) drinks a day means you've consumed a whopping 85 packets of sugar. Two sodas gives you 27 packets of sugar. Naturally I didn't have my camera, so I offer instead a picture of my sugar bowl--containing far less than 27 packets' worth of sugar.  Switch to unsweetened? The equivalent in chemicals.

I had no idea. This is admirable public health education, packaging information in such a striking context. Just thinking about tearing open 85 packets of sugar and eating them is sickens me. No wonder there is an epidemic of obesity.

After lunch, on the subway home, I had a slow love moment, reading a series of advertisements for a church. One of the posters, displaying a quote from St. Augustine, hit home:

"People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering."

Beautiful and true. And yet, there is such value in travel. In wondering at the mountains and stars, we are reminded how inconsequential we are. But then again, are we really? Look at our power to destroy--to distort nature. In wondering at the beauty of our world, we nurture the spark of attachment we're born with; we learn to cherish the sand and seas. But we need not travel far to find amazing things to wonder at. Too much wondering at oneself inflates the ego and is bad for the soul. And yet, how many times have people said or done cruel things because they lack a sense of wonderment at the miracle that is humankind--they don't examine themselves, their motives....and so on...all the way home, I thought about this quote from St. Augustine. I plan to pull his Confessions off the shelf and find more food for thought.


VL said...

It seems that small children are naturally connected to the intrinsic beauty and wonder of nature and even man-made things. I can remember feeling strongly when I was very young that each tree, each stuffed animal, each book had feelings and should be treated with gentleness and respect. I guess I still do feel that way....I seem naturally inclined toward shintoism. :)

But somewhere along the line, the dominant values of our society persuade us that everything can be reduced to a price, that everything can be valued instrumentally. Soon, everything—animals, relationships, resources, work—becomes only a means to an end. Surely this is one of the roots of cruelty...

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

I've written this on this blog (in response & reciprocal thanks to some other reader's helpful quotation) before....but here it is again...

"Un homme qui n'est plus capable de s'emerveiller a pratiquement cesse de vivre"

I first read this in French, perhaps seven years ago,on a postcard sent to me by my intimidatingly accomplished, WAY-smart, 110-pounds-at-most French mother-in-law (she's the former superintendant of education for about six departments in France, and obviously-to-anyone no slouch). She wrote to me that I should frame it and keep it on my desk. I've done that.

The translation is (more or less):

"The person who is no longer capable of wonder has practically ceased to live"

It's by frowsy old Albert Einstein, by the way...a man who could have conveniently started sitting on his previous laurels and observations at least thirty years before he died in 1955.

Someday, Ms. Browning, you might consider establishing (on this website) a category of "wise sayings" (call it what you will).

Obviously, you've attracted a surprising lot of very experienced readers. Since I began reading your blog,I've regularly come across someone's posting of a quotation, thought "I never heard that one before", immediately copied it down, etcetera....

And "VL" is quite right, I think, about the "roots of cruelty".

thanks as ever for the evocative posting.


David Terry

Dizzythecat said...

My Theory:
Most Americans are unhealthfully heavy not only because they eat unhealthy things but because they are also terribly unhappy.
Which leads them to self-medicate with unhealthy foods.
Thirty minutes of bliss (a couple of burritos here, a quart of ice-cream there...) raises their serotonins in the short-term, but dashes their chances of long-term well-being.
I do not know the answer.
But when you and I are miserable, thirty minutes of bliss looks pretty good.

Warren said...

Well, for non-chemical sugar substitute consider "Stevia" a natually occurring sugar in liquid form. Two drops. Ummmm.

For a regime of love consider a rather French zen-practice of seeing -- from La Rouchfoucauld "Love is the art of seeing something new in a person each day." That's about all I remember from college French but hey? We could a NYT best selling How-to on that. Should I?

Maybe with all these days of rage, natural and man-made disasters occurring this week, a couple of drops of both would help.

And just remember, if St. Augustine could change (his ephiphany was almost as good a read as Saul's), your humble servant can too. Forever a work of progress .... Warren

A Life Unhurried said...

I wholeheartedly share Peter Buffet's sentiment: "Pausing to look into one's own heart is never a waste of time; it's an investment of time, and in my view it's one of the most rewarding investments a person can make."

And with time, people don't make any of it to be active participants in their health. They see adverts such as this one from, IMHO, irresponsible Target and make the choice to turn to the drug industry for all their ailments while they continue to eat unconsciously.


It makes me sick. While I'm on a rant, someone please explain to me in layman's terms the purpose of Del Monte's plastic-packaged bananas!?


david terry said...

Dear "Grace"....

Come shopping with me someday soon at the local Food Lion, where I recently saw an attractively arranged bin of individually-plastic-shrinkwrapped & prettily labelled, PLAIN OLD BAKING POTATOES.

They were "MICROWAVE READY!" potatoes. Apparently, all one has to do is to spend time chipping a few carefully manicured fingernails while laboriously removing the plastic. then?... toss the plastic where ever you choose, prick the potato several times with a fork, set it in a saucer slightly filled with water, and microwave the thing (or however many one would need to feed an "on the go!" family with an "active lifestyle".

One aisle away (and towards the center of the store, of course) is what's hereabouts referred to as the "Hispanic Section". There, I was finally able to find a bin of....plain old, dismayingly NOT-individually-plasti-shrinkwrapped baking potatoes that I could take home and cook without instructions?????

Apparently, all of our recent Mexican ladies (the Hispanic population hereabouts has doubled in ten years) are too unsophisticated to realize how much more fun and exciting it is to spend time unwrapping each potato before you cook it.

Environmental concerns quite aside?...I saw those potatoes and thought "That really is just so... DUMB."

Bemusedly as ever,

David Terry

Cristina said...

I like the pretty (wooden?!) sugar bowl!

quintessence said...

I have not seen this campaign but will certainly be on the lookout now. Sugar can actually contribute to so many ills - not just obesity but all sorts of other ailments from depression to more obviously diabetes. I generally try to avoid sugar (some days more successfully than others) and like Warren, generally use stevia if I want a sweetener (I use real sugar in baking however). Life is a constant balancing act between absolutely everything from what we eat to what we think and wonder at and about. As for St. Augustine, I am embarrassed to admit that I have never read his Confessions - oh dear one more for the never ending list!

karensandburg said...

VL - lovely post. you are absoluted right. piece by piece we are losing our humanity - "your call is very important to us", eating factory farmed animals who are essentially tortured their entire life, scripted conversations with people trained to manipulate us.

on a recent visit to the bank, my husband was met with the usual chorus of over-the-top friendliness by employees who know him by name, plastic smiles blazing. tired of accomodating their plastic friendliness (an assault every time he goes to the bank, which is often) he spoke to one and all and said he did NOT want them to say hello to him anymore! of course the bank honchos had instructed them to "perform" this "friendliness" to keep customers money in their banks -- as you say, a relationship reduced to a price, lacking any genuine feeling or warmth...

William said...

It's a fantastic ad campaign - just one more excellent initiative by our great mayor, Mike Bloomberg. Keeping the city alive after 9/11 by making deals to keep businesses here. Saving budget surpluses during the fat years to help us through the lean years. Bike lanes. Pedestrian plazas. No smoking in the parks. The list is endless. Can we just anoint him 'Mayor for Life' and be done with it?

SweetRetreat said...

What a pleasure to read this blog today. Such beautiful writing and amazing knowledge.

I wonder, is anybody out there listening about plastic? Hard to avoid the sight and smell of it now.

On our peaceful little northern lake we see ducks and geese with the plastic drink wrap from soft drinks. Heartbreaking.

VL said...

Dear David, Your anecdote about shrink-wrapped potatoes is incredible - -it fits in with a post I did recently attempting to question how convenient all our conveniences actually are. I wonder if you would let me quote you, with due credit, of course, in a future post?


Here's an Albert Einstein quote that fits right in with several comments: A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.

Very smart man, that Albert.

david terry said...

Dear "VL"

Thanks, and feel free to use that appalling anecdote.

Not entirely incidentally?....

The plasti-wrap potatoes were something over a dollar apiece.

----david terry

Jim said...

I'm with you on St. Augustine. I love his Confessions. And I think it is very much misunderstood.

When I was in my master of divinity program at Union Theological Seminary a few years back, I took a course on St. Augustine and the one thing that sticks with me is the professor saying one day: "For St. Augustine, the search for self and the search for God are one and the same damned thing."

His reason? Augustine writes that God has a memory of each of us and the more remember God's memory of us the more become who we were born to be and the more we know God.

I have never forgotten that moment.

Dominique said...

Jim. Thank you. What a profound remark from your professor. That will give me a great deal to think about.
David Terry: Oy, those potatoes...Love your idea, I'm going to dream something up in response...to harvest all the great quotes and suggestions that have been shared over the last....nearly a year? already? VL: yes, so many of these conveniences are absurd. I cannot even imagine the thinking that goes on...or doesn't. Warren, great remark of La R (who we will probably learn is related to David Terry's partner); another writer whose musings I have to look up...but that is so close to my feeling about what slow love is about....just finding that thing to appreciate....and thanks. I had heard of stevia, but never tried it.... VL on my way to your post now...

Dominique said...

VL: Your recent post is powerful and thought-provoking, as is the flag with a tear. I cannot figure out how to comment, except for the small checks--so I did that, but they don't convey my excitement at discovering another wonderful blog to dive into. Thank you so much. d

VL said...

Dominique: Oh, dear! I'm so sorry about the commenting function being messed up --I just tested it and it seems to be working now; perhaps a temporary glitch? Most of all, thank you for taking the time to read (and put in a checkmark :)... I'm truly honored.

David: I was going to ask you how much more the wrapped potatoes were, because of course the whole point of wrapping them was to be able to charge more. Argh. I don't know which is more infuriating: the wastefulness, the deceptiveness, the assumption that we're that stupid, or the fact that some people probably _are_ that stupid.

LynneB said...

Oh, don't get me started on the ills of sugar!
I will say that I have taken charge of my own life in relation to sugar & what it took was a visit to the doctor who told me that I was very near to being pre-diabetic. And she wasn't happy with my thyroid either!
I cut out all refined sugar - no junk food ie: cookies, pies, cakes, chocolate, no sugar added to anything etc. - you get the idea. No juices, & I don't drink alcohol anyway. I really, really think about what goes into my body.
I use a bit of honey when I bake bread - that's it - & I eat fruit or a handful of nuts for dessert or a snack.
I did fast walking 1/2 hr daily for 9 mos. until my right knee gave out! In spite of this setback, I lost 23 lbs. & reversed both of the above conditions.
I'm happy & healthier at 69 than I've been for a long time.
Maybe this is too drastic a regime for some, but it works for me.
Love reading your blog - lots to think about.

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

In regard to La Rochefoucauld? I just read your comment, went out into the hallway, and hollered up towards the kitchen (remember what being married is like?), where Herve is sitting at his lap top, "Are your folks related to La Rochefoucauld?..."

He yelled back (once again, recall what married-"domesticity" is like?) "WHAT?....NO!!!....."

And then added (Once I'd bothered to go into the kitchen) "NO!....he's one of those flip-flopping aristocrats who turned-coat during the revolution, then was with The Empire, and then just opened a SOAP-BUSINESS, and that's what he's most famous for. Dominique probably knows he is from the Tourraine....but he was from the NORTH and DEFINITELY is NOT related."

I gather that your question just hit a nerve, Ms. Browning.

So, just in case you think you've lost your mojo?.....it seems you still got it.

Amusedly yours as ever,

David Terry

P.S (excitement, cheers, and screams of delight!).... here is your first (albeit typed) posting from Dr. Herve Mommeja-Marin (who just came into the room):


c said...

oh, where to begin ... Dominique's post or all other comments?

Sugar. I cannot understand american's obsession with substitute sugar. In my own warped sense of what I should or should not ingest is the notion of - if it's a poison, I will take the one with less chemicals, ergo, regular, old fashioned, refined sugar cane. In my coffee, that is. ( and no, I'm not overweight at all).

Cookies, pies, et al are really not my thing. But sugar in my cups of coffee or tea - give me the real thing. With no after-taste.

As for St Agustine's quote (Jim's) - it is my interpretation that we are all godlike. If one searches for God, one finds oneself. Heretical statement to some, no doubt. But I truly believe it to be true.

It is in each and every human being to be as good as the god we pray to. In each and every one of us is the goodness and compassion we seek from above. Practice it, you will be god-like, because you are!

Warren said...

Re STEVIA - it really is worth it. Even consider getting the liquid and carrying it in your murse/purse. But oh-yeah when you gotta cook, substitutes suck. I tried making a lo-cal/fat creme brule made with half and half and sweetner. I'd rather just use smaller portions.

karensandburg said...

thanks for putting this message out there dominique. the last few days, i've put a brake on the most obvious offenders in my diet. yogurt -- down from 3 to 1 serving. fruit and juices -- cut way back. sugar is such an energy drain and terrible on our aging bodies and skin, in addition to being very dehydrating.

one of the things i so enjoy about this blog is remembering to remember the things i know...

Anonymous said...

In response to VL's comment on stupid people; I am forever calculating cost per ounce as I shop, trying to save a penny here and there. My grocer (a national chain) had toilet cleanser in plastic bottles shrink-wrapped two together with a big red sale sign on them. Immediately beside them was the same single bottle priced at less than half the 'sale' price. And I saw people picking up the shrink wrapped packages without even looking. I wanted to stand in the aisle and scream at people "Don't buy this, damn it. They're charging MORE money and ADDING plastic. And you're not only letting them get away with it, you're encouraging it!" Argh.