Purity

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Purity is probably the word of the day, or the summer, or the year. Panera promises us food that is clean and pure. (I keep picturing a raccoon at a stream washing its food.) I recently read Jonathan Franzen’s book Purity (you can see my review on Goodreads). Bernie Sanders is idolized for his political purity. Conservatives have been testing candidates for purity for ages. In fact Conservatives punish Republicans who don’t toe the Conservative line closely enough by putting up opponents against them in primaries and funding these bought candidates with millionaires’ money, thereby stripping the impure ones of power. It is sort of like being cashiered from the French Foreign Legion and having those buttons cut from your uniform with a sword. Eric Cantor knows all about this.

But Jonathan Franzen and I both have doubts about claims of purity by anyone, given our flawed natures. Our philosophical selves tell us that purity is something that is an ideal worth striving for as long as we realize that it is a goal that probably can only be attained in small matters for limited amounts of time. You may argue that Panera really is removing artificial (manmade) ingredients from its dishes. You may argue that they are trying to choose only the healthiest items from the most organic and natural sources for their offerings and I do not doubt that they giving diners some really trendy choices that attempt to taste good without resorting to the usual American options that are deep fried and generously salted or sugared. Does their ad make me want to eat at Panera? I’m sorry to say it does not but it may be motivating others. Cynically it may just be an advertising ploy to point out the recent difficulties that Chipotle has experienced and to try to tempt their customers to come eat at a place that has not had these kinds of problems.

I recall when my good friend had a young daughter that she wanted to protect from a germy world. We could never be sanitary enough to satisfy her in her campaign to rid her daughter’s world of all bacteria (except the ones in yogurt). We called her The Germinator. She grew up in a country family with 10 children. I’m sure that her family was just like my family with 8 children. My mom never knew that we made mud pies we actually tried to eat. We examined every bug we could find up close and personally. We played for hours on end in the sand pile which could well have been used as a toilet by any number of animals. We waded in ponds full of algae to catch tadpoles. Our exposure to germs actually may have made us healthier. It seems that purity is not always advantageous.

People learn to be compassionate and aware of the shortcomings and the needs of the other people around them by living lives that entail both good times and bad times, both easy times and hard times. Panera cannot protect us from all the impurities that might be in food in these times of corporate crops and too many people and food that travels from distant places and is grown in ways that cannot be completely controlled. Purity seems a bit too “precious” a thing to worry about; a thing that only a society that is a too affluent and too comfortable has time to think about. There are children who survive every day by picking through rubbish on dumps.

I am not saying that we should not applaud people who strive for purity, but I am saying we should be skeptical of people who claim to have captured that elusive thing called purity. I do not believe those Bernie Bros and millennials who worship the purity of Bernie Sanders. Bernie has too much compassion for the less fortunate to have lived a life without painful decisions and hard times. That he is basically a good guy, I believe. That he is pure, I do not. This is the kind of argument that makes Bernie’s followers sound like they are in danger of becoming a cult. Bernie cannot give us a “pure” America. If he did it would not be a society that lived and evolved. It would have to be static. I think I would be as adverse to a “clean and pure” America as I am to that ad that keeps saying how “clean and pure” the food is at Panera’s. Sorry Panera. Sorry Bernie Bros. My apologies millennials.

 

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