August 4, 2012
The foundation of American culture and government is the inalienable rights of the individual. Isn’t it the greatest twist of irony, then, that rampant individualism seems these days to be bringing about the downfall of our economy and society?
It’s a crisis of individualism.
The most obvious example of this is the current economic situation. Despite disagreement among economists over what caused the recession, we can all agree there is one common thread: greed. The Wall Street crisis, the subprime mortgage crisis, the debt crisis—all brought about because of people wanting to make and spend money using money they don’t have and didn’t earn. Americans seem to have bought into (no pun intended) this irrational idea that they have a right to purchase whatever they want, eat whatever they want, and use as much energy as they want without consequences for themselves or others.
Of course, it’s the recent horrific tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, that has me thinking about this. How important is it, in this day and age, to protect our right to own an assault rifle? Humanity invented the social contract for a reason: In order to protect the most basic rights of every person—such as the right to live and the right to education, shelter, food, and other basic needs—everyone needs to give up some less important rights. Of course, not every gun enthusiast is a total nutcase who wants to shoot up an entire movie theater (some just have a somewhat disturbing fascination with semiautomatic weapons). But if the sane ones get to have the right to own a weapon designed for the sole purpose of killing people more efficiently, then so does that seemingly sane guy down the street with no criminal record who is about to have a psychotic break.
But we Americans, indignant as ever over the idea of giving up our rights as individuals, can’t even acknowledge something as obvious as the need for regulation of assault rifles. The issue of whether or not an individual has the right to purchase an assault rifle becomes irrelevant in the face of all the innocent people who died on July 20, and all those who will die in the future. It’s more important that kids go to school and the movies without being massacred than that a gun collector adds another weapon to his collection.
But it seems personal sacrifice has become un-American.
Of course a great irony of American society is that the individual rights of so many of us are attacked every day. A gay man in Florida can’t marry his partner. An Hispanic woman in Arizona can’t necessarily drive to work without being forced to show her immigration papers. A black teenager in New York City can’t ride the subway without fear of being searched for drugs. An Arab American suspected of terrorism can’t count on the right to a timely trial. Women are constantly threatened by proposed legislation that would take away their rights to decide what to do with their own bodies.
Where are all the defenders of individualism during these violations of individual rights? Why do the same Americans who care so much about upholding the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) ignore violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments (the right to be safe from illegal searches and seizures, and the right to a speedy and public trial)?
John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country,” and, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” He must be rolling in his grave.
Since this is a food blog, let’s tie this in to food. Contemplate (generally) the obesity epidemic. The fast food industry takes advantage of its right to make huge profits by creating calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food filled with weird chemicals and antibiotics and marketing it to low-income people. What are our politicians doing to regulate this? Nothing much, either because they’re in the pockets of the fast food industry and pharmaceutical companies or because they fear taking action would have a negative impact on their careers. (Or, like Mayor Bloomberg who proposed a ban on oversized soft drinks, they’re compared to the Nazis.) And add to this the rights of individuals to eat whatever they want. Too many people refuse to give up their poor eating habits even though they’re facing a future compromised by diabetes, heart problems, etc., which, in turn, makes them a drain on our healthcare system and economy.
So what can we as individuals do to solve this crisis of individualism? Let’s start by replacing some of the most grievous offenders in our Standard American Diet with healthier versions. Instead of a traditional grilled cheese, try this Avocado & Arugula Grilled Cheese, which is more nutritious and has fewer animal products (less cheese, no butter), making it more environmentally friendly. It’s also delicious proof that cutting back on unhealthful foods isn’t such a terrible sacrifice!
Avocado & Arugula Grilled Cheese
Sprinkle a small amount of shredded cheese (or lay one slice) on one slice of bread. Spread the mashed avocado over the cheese and top with a small handful of baby arugula and a few twists of black pepper. Sprinkle a little more cheese over the arugula and close the sandwich with the other piece of bread. Grill in a oiled panini press or, if like me you don't have a panini press, in a heavy frying pan over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil. I use a cast iron pan and cover it with a loose fitting lid so the cheese melts faster.
*Note: I am obsessed with Trader Joe's California Style Complete Protein Bread (Alvarado Street Bakery also makes this but it's more expensive).