Who’s the Puritan Now? – originally posted March 5, 2009

One delight of Pacific Northwest living is the sheer pleasure that a sunny day provides. Shortly after we moved here, a guest at our Shabbat meal told of a meeting that took place around his company’s conference table, overlooking Puget Sound. A representative of top management, flown in from the east coast for the occasion, was sitting with his back to the window informing those present that their office branch was being shut down. To his amazement, as he delivered this devastating news, those sitting opposite him broke out in huge smiles. When he expressed his bewilderment at their reaction, he found out that his news had been eclipsed by the appearance of sunshine breaking out over the Sound. 

And so it was a few week’s ago, on an unseasonably warm and sunny day, that my husband and I and our daughter, Tamara, celebrated by going out for ice cream. After all, a cheery day might not appear again for months. We had not patronized this ice cream parlor since the previous summer, and so it was a bit of a shock to find that renovations had taken place. The tables and chairs were the same, but alongside the name of each ice cream flavor was a new and unwelcome addition –the calorie count. 

Now I am perfectly aware that going out for ice cream is neither good for my budget nor my waistline. At the supermarket, I can get a half gallon container that will serve eight for less than it costs the three of us to get one scoop apiece at the ice cream parlor. And it comes as no revelation to me that despite the claims I made when I was pregnant that ice cream was vital for the calcium it supplies, I actually am cognizant that there are more efficient and less caloric ways to get the same amount of required minerals. 

When we go out for ice cream it isn’t to assuage hunger pangs or to check off a box on the food pyramid. We do it as a treat, and just as it would detract from our pleasure if the chain trumpeted how highly priced their ice cream is, it detracted from our delight to have the calorie count thrust at us. Instead of enjoying making a choice between flavors, Tamara and I found ourselves asking if the one we really wanted was worth 40 more calories than our second choice. Instead of taking pleasure in savoring the ice cream, I found myself figuring out how many minutes of exercise would be necessary to counteract the activity. All in all, Tamara and I had less fun than we anticipated (truthfully, I don’t think my husband even noticed that the calorie counts were posted). 

I frequently find that the media label as old-fashioned and reactionary those who hold views similar to mine about sexual matters, family issues, art and language. They metaphorically pat on the back those whose thoughts are opposite mine, calling them progressive and realistic. Yet, I am convinced that the Puritanical streak is universally thriving. The food police support my view. For each of us, certain things are simply beyond the pale. As for me, while I agree that good physical health is important, I can’t help thinking that most traditional sins pose an even greater threat to society than obesity.

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