Friday, 29 June 2007

‘Americans like plates the size of their laps…’

A view of the PYO strawberry fields from my garden. They also grow asparagas.

With the title of today's post's generalisation, AA Gill* has reported his first impression of Whole Foods Market’s debut to the UK. It is yet another food chain to transport itself from the vast American continent to the tiny spot of an island known as the British Isles. Krispy Kreme Donuts and Starbucks are both fairly new. We still do not have a Starbucks in our part of England. But my husband believes I could begin the façade of one, thanks to the Starbucks mug fetish I developed in the US years ago. As usual, I digress…

My husband and I were excited and enthralled when we visited the Whole Foods Market in Austin last November with a dear friend. What a fantastic place! We enjoyed our luncheon at the fish bar. Nothing like what AA Gill experienced. Well, perhaps a little. Our eyes popped out at the gargantuan displays of everything in sight, including the trolley cart escalator thingy that deposited shoppers directly to the large multi-storied car park. We just thought it was all so enormous because we were in Texas, and the capitol at that!

But Whole Foods is also known by some as Whole Paycheck, because it is yet another example of how consumerism can tell us to eat things that are healthy and good for us and then guilt us into overpaying for disciplining our eating habits. Supposedly. And it has set a fine example of that philosophy by opening its very first store in London’s High Street Kensington.

The Americans marketing Whole Foods to the UK have just made their product even more expensive, and ridiculously inaccessible:

  1. We in the UK will now have to pay twice as much as shoppers in America, because of the pound/dollar conversion. American companies (e.g., Magellan, Cuisinart, Yankee Candles, just a few of my favourites), never convert their product pricing via the exchange rates, continually overcharging those of us who live outside the US.
  2. Whole Foods in High Street Ken has provided absolutely no place for shoppers to park. For a ginormous market, it has sealed the fate of most shoppers who, even if they use a car, must park far, far away to cart their groceries by hand.
  3. Because of its inaccessibility to the majority of shoppers who use public transport, said shoppers will be limited to what they can physically carry out of the store. On second thought, just two bags of healthful goodies could stretch one's financial limit anyway.
  4. 'Good nutrition' seeks out an elitist niche market. Most people who can shop regularly in High Street Ken are highly paid consumers to begin with. So with Whole Foods Market’s sincere spin that we should all have healthier foods for a correct lifestyle, they really only care about those consumers who can afford to pay their ridiculously priced food to begin with.

I doubt Whole Foods will ever move to any other parts of the UK. London has its urban sprawl as do most major cities around the world but it does not make up the entire land mass of England, Wales, and Scotland. (The folks in Northern Ireland are completely out of luck on this one.) It is certainly not worth the price of petrol here to venture into London and Kensington High Street. (We pay the equivalent of $100 to fill up a tank of gas in cars that, unlike most of those driven in Texas, are engineered for good gas mileage.)

My usual weekly jaunts to Waitrose and our local farmer's markets will do us just fine.


For my American friends, I am including links to some of The Times/Sunday Times articles about the opening of Whole Foods Market here in the UK. Along with some of the readers’ comments, they are a fascinating look at the differences both Americans and Brits/Welsh/Scots/Irish have over food and eating.

Keep in mind that British Baby Boomers experienced a much different upbringing with food and nutrition than we American Baby Boomers did. The devastation and affect of both World Wars and The Troubles to Great Britain – from the major loss of its work force to the struggles of government restructuring to a nation rebuilding after each of these events – lends a different perspective to life than what most of us growing up in America during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s knew. (It was only at the end of 2006 that the UK finally paid off its wartime debt to the United States government – 60 years and a couple of generations after WWII. My prayer is our country will never have to know what it is like to pay a war debt off to a 'friendly allied nation' as insistent upon being repaid as our's. In God we trust?)

*I begin with an excerpt from the piece in today’s Times by AA Gill, one of my favourite journalists here in the UK.

Whole Foods Market AA Gill: Table Talk (The Times)

This week’s restaurant is the grazing floor of Whole Foods Market, the organic department store you’ve been hearing so much about recently. The largesse of this born-again, healthy, feel-my-freshness emporium exposes one of those great rifts between Americans and us. Americans like quantity. The sight of towering displays of fresh food, a carnage of meat, oceans of fish, a sugary cornucopia of buns and breads, and vast wheels of cheeses, fills them with a sense of wellbeing and comfort. The land of unending plenty is what their ancestors went to. That’s why Americans like plates the size of their laps and portions bigger than a neocon’s hubris. Extravagance is their birthright.

We, on the other hand, when confronted with an unfeasible pile of skinned chicken breasts or a decomposing Babel of pilchards, immediately want to know who’s going to eat it all, and what are they going to do with the leftovers? Every one of the dozen people I’ve spoken to who’ve been to this shop worried about the waste. It can’t be given to tramps. Our history of food is scarred by shortages and rationing. We still feel guilty about not finishing our plates. Walking round this perishable glut, I had the distinct, uncomfortable sense that a voice would come over the Tannoy telling me I couldn’t leave until I’d finished all the greens.

Wholefood heaven? More like a (Medjoul) date from hell… Lisa Armstrong (The Times)

Is this the future of food? Lydia Slater (The Sunday Times)

Monday, 25 June 2007

Isaiah and the Matzo Solution

Down with a nasty cold, the worst of it striking me out from attending church. With the constant rhythm of the rain, sleeping was my greatest activity for peace and healing – rest for tonight will hopefully not be so elusive.

I hate it when I miss out on the fellowship of corporate worship, as I had to this past Sunday morning. But my dear love went, making apologies for me, and came home with some bits and bobs about what I missed. Of course, the day would be one of the Sundays our vicar was here to administer communion.

Usually, he tears off small bites of probably-not-too-freshly-baked white bread rolls from Sainsbury’s. One Sunday, he dropped a bite on the altar carpet, but with ecclesiastical speed applied the 5-second rule, and placed the morsel in my cupped hands before my eyes could protest.

‘The body of Christ, pinched off, wadded up, and dropped for your sins’.

And today, for the first time in months, wouldn’t you know he actually used wafers?!? Exciting stuff always happens when I can’t be at church.

The sacramental element representing Christ’s body used to be much blander where I came from. The church tradition of my childhood strictly forbade anything but Matzo Crackers – the very plain white crackly kind. Absolutely no salt, totally unleavened -- one large cracker, passed down the pew on a silver platter to be shared amongst at least 20 congregants (all those germs, and they complained about One Cuppers?). Our silent sacred hopes for Eucharistic reflection rudely interrupted by the sound of small high-pitched explosions of dried Matzos being cracked up into tiny fragments all over the sanctuary before being ingested and washed down with a thimbleful of the next element passed down the pews, Welch’s grape juice. Strewth! Religious teetotallers don’t do alcohol for church.

I'd like to know: Did Jesus go desperately hunting for Manischewitz just prior to the Last Supper? How many times did I wish he could be with us to turn that 6-month old vile Welch’s into some mighty fine wine?

When I got liberal I made my own communion bread. But after so many moves in my life, I’ve lost the recipe!! (Robyn, if you’re reading this and still have that recipe – you know the one that uses wheat flour, honey, and real butter – could you kindly post it in the comments section?)

This reminds me of all the flap and nonsensical debates about the spiritual use of women in worship and leadership, and the a cappella VS singing-with-instruments issues. But I won’t go there tonight. My head is still fully congested and can barely get around my pillow.

I will mention the blurb that caught my eye in our Weekly Benefice Leaflet that my dear one brought home after church. Our Old Testament Reading in worship was from Isaiah 65.1-9, and the blurb reads:

Isaiah tells his people that they have overlaid the true worship of God with many worthless and corrupt practices and rituals. This will make their healing all the more painful and costly.

The things I have let get in my way, and the obstacles I have set up for others, keeps healing at a great distance. The lesson I learned in last week’s sermon on forgiveness also adds into this one. In my spiritual quest to grow in relationship to God, I discover that holiness and wholeness are directly related. To become more Christ-like and explore and adapt to the holy space of his presence within me: that's the way to complete wholeness. My flaws, my sins, go through a healing process as I forgive those who have caused me pain, and as forgiveness is graciously extended to me (or even as I forgive myself).

Which brings me back to today’s blurb and thoughts from Isaiah 65.1-9. Allowing issues to seep into the sacred space of my relationship with Christ – or practices and rituals which might make me feel better and more comfortable – only serves to corrupt the healing process.

So, if the vicar doesn’t have time to make his own fresh communion bread, that’s okay. I’ll share my recipe with him. If I can find it...

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Thursday, 14 June 2007

There's too much Deb...

I just read in the Washington Post that Ruth Graham is in a coma. Now 87, she has suffered greatly for several years with degenerative osteoarthritis in her neck and back. To me, her life has always embodied such a spirit of grace and ultimate beauty in her love and service to the Lord. I was diagnosed with osteonecrosis in my knees in 2001, and have been learning about that kind of pain since. So Mrs Graham has been quite an inspiration and tremendous example to me of how one can endure and carry on.

Her husband, Billy, also today announced that both he and Ruth will be buried in the prayer garden at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. In this garden – which I someday hope to visit – there is a pathway in the shape of the Cross, and it is at the foot of this path they have chosen to be buried. Larry Ross, their spokesman, explained that this was ‘a symbolic decision to demonstrate both their reverence to God and their ongoing witness of their faith in Christ’.

For my entire life, this devoted Christian couple have managed to demonstrate such extraordinary faith and humbleness in the service of the ministry with which God endowed them – whether to the poorest of heart or amidst the rich and powerful in our world. At the recent dedication of the Billy Graham Library – attended by former presidents Carter, George HW Bush, and Clinton – Mr Graham commented how embarrassed he was about all the fuss.

The Washington Post article reminded me today that this great evangelist of our time felt like there was ‘too much Billy Graham’ in the exhibits.

"This building behind me is just a building," he said then. "It's an instrument, a tool for the Gospel. The primary thing is the Gospel of Christ."

How often have I told myself: ‘There’s too much Deb’ in the exhibits of my own ministry endeavours? How many times have I allowed my own passion and ‘creativity’ to get in the way of the genuine Gospel and knocked God over in the process to demonstrate my own spiritual museum to other’s whose paths somehow converge with mine?

As I pray for peace and God's abiding presence to cover the Graham family during this time, I lift my gratitude of thanks for God's gift of Ruth and Billy Graham. For how they both remind me still that my witness is just a tool for the Gospel. In this rather lame musical metaphor, my instrument’s not the thing – Christ’s Gospel is the main melody. My harmonies are only secondary at best.


On this date of posting, my Blog's TNIV Daily Scripture from Isaiah 55.10-12 appropriately reminds me of Ruth Graham and her graceful waltz with God:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it
without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields
seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and
achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth
in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the
trees of the field will clap their hands.

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