A Holiday Message For Another Political Year

We have a holiday message for you this year. It’s not quite Christmas yet, but we’re getting into the spirit of things. For many of us, this is the time of year when our better angels prevail. Hopefully by now our hearts have softened a bit in anticipation, and open hearts sometimes lead to open ears.

The message was first brought to us by Buckminster Fuller who said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 

We’ll need this message again very soon. Next year the political circus will reach the heights of frenzy and the depths of depravity. Some of us may need to repeat this wisdom like a mantra.

If you spend any time at all on social media platforms, or if you scan the headlines of the most popular “news” sources, you’ll see the opposite of building. Instead you’ll see attacks, insults, derision, propaganda and spin.

Some of the memes we post and share are undoubtedly funny. The friends who agree with us, laugh with us. The ones who don’t may not comment, but eventually they stop following us. They no longer hear what we have to say, even when we speak the truth.

Meanwhile, outside our bubble of awareness the people who have stopped listening to us are posting their own jokes and insults. We don’t know because we’ve stopped listening to them.

Let’s say, for example, that the people who laugh with us get a lot of their “news” from the Pepsi network. The people who laugh at us get their information from Coke. Those of us who laugh at both Coke and Pepsi see two separate “realities” being described. “Did you see the Pepsi article on the impeachment hearings today? Things are looking bad for Trump!” “Did you see the Coke article today? Trumps lawyer made a fool of that witness!”

Lets take a moment and list the innovative and consensus building ideas that the Democrats have produced in their campaigns this year. That didn’t take long. Now let’s list the new solutions the Republicans have offered. We’ll wait.

You get the point. It’s not that both sides don’t have any solutions, but betcha most of us couldn’t name one to save our lives.

There is nothing mysterious about this lack of understanding and communication. Let’s think back over our own lives for a moment. Now make a list of the lessons, the breakthroughs and the epiphanies we’ve experienced from being insulted, disparaged, mocked and ridiculed.

We’re all quite capable of recognizing truth, but we recoil from accepting it as an injection or in suppository form.

While we’re busy laughing with the people who agree with us and insulting the ones who don’t, a lot of bad things can happen outside our bubble of awareness. The government is $23 trillion in debt and adding another trillion every year. Did you see the excellent and well documented report recently released by the Washington Post about the war in Afghanistan?

For 18 years now the government has deceived, obscured and blatantly lied about the situation there. Everyone’s favorite president was complicit. Bush, Obama, and so far, Trump, all complicit in the deception. Secretaries of State and cabinets, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, all complicit. And the cost… 2,372 American military deaths; 1,720 contractor deaths; 20,320 wounded. $1 trillion spent, and at least 100 thousand enemy combatants and 40 thousand civilians, dead.

Who is responsible? It’s not our neighbor. It’s not the Democrat or the Republican voter we like to insult. There has been so much outrage among our people. Much of it has been engineered outrage, but we have been complicit in perpetuating that anger. Stop and look at what has happened while we were busy insulting and attacking each other.

Now let the outrage and the responsibility rest where it belongs: On the “military industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned us about; on the permanent political class that survives every election; on the ever growing and increasingly coercive bureaucracy, and on the corporate media which encourages anger and drama because it is profitable.

When we begin to think in terms of accountability, it makes the process of choosing candidates next year much easier: Not one vote for anyone who was complicit in the crimes of the last 18 years, and that includes a large percentage of the incumbents now living in Washington. Doesn’t that save a lot of wasted time and effort? You’re welcome.

‘Tis the Season, Again…

We gather often this time of year. We visit our friends and families. We go to office parties. We attend more church services. We go to stores and shopping malls and we make twice as many trips to the grocery store as usual. We eat out more as our instinct to gather is at its highest.

Little passengers ride along with us on our travels. Viruses and bacteria, which are always present, begin to find purchase on our unwashed handshaking, buggy pushing, door opening hands. They float into our nasal passages, which are more vulnerable when they are dry and cracked open because the humidity is so low, as it is in many of our homes now since we turned on the heat.

Influenza is already making headlines in the Southeast, and here at home we’re being visited by the two week demon cold with the cough that never goes away. Unfortunately the things we enjoy most about the season are also the things that contribute to the spread of colds and flu.

Uncle Bert wasn’t feeling very good when he got on the plane to visit the relatives for Thanksgiving. Mid flight he wasn’t feeling good at all, and didn’t quite get that sneeze covered in time. A few days later the young mother who was sitting next to Bert noticed a sore throat when she dropped her kids off at the daycare, and a week later half the kids in daycare and several of their parents were sick.

The spread of cold and flu viruses is a natural consequence of the season. But there are two factors which contribute heavily to the spread of disease, and both of them are avoidable. The two things we’re going to talk about this week are: Stupidity and selfishness.

Here’s a flu season vignette for your consideration. Let’s see how it compares with your own experience. We were eating in a restaurant in “another town.” (No one would ever do something like this in Hiawassee or Young Harris, right?) The waiter approached the table with a complexion which evoked an image of the skin on a bowl of cold gravy. We exchanged greetings, and in response to “How are you?” he said, “I was really sick yesterday but I feel a little better today. I should probably still be at home.”

At that exact moment we noticed his thumbs in the plates he was bringing to our table. One thumb was cozied right up to my pancake. My appetite evaporated like a drop of water on a hot skillet. I noticed that unconsciously my wife and I had both retreated to the far side of the booth we were sitting in, and I was holding my breath.

My first instinct was to say nothing, get up and leave the restaurant. What would you do? With an airborne virus, the damage was already done, and while we live in an age where making a scene is, sadly, growing more commonplace, it would have accomplished nothing. We opted to have a quiet word with the owner instead (and I discarded the part of my pancake with the thumbprint).

“But you have to understand, some people can’t afford to miss work, and they might not get paid for being home sick!”

I understand. I also understand that for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems, getting the flu is far more than an inconvenience. I understand that some people who do get paid sick days at work use them for paid mini vacations, and when they really do get sick, they show up for work.

I understand that when an employee does not demonstrate enough responsibility to stay home when they’re sick, it’s up to the manager or owner of the business to be accountable and send that person home. It would behoove them also to avoid punishing an employee for being out sick, and to allow that person to make up lost time.

We all understand that economics is a big factor in this equation. The sick employee is trying to make a dollar and the business is trying to save one. But as a business owner, consider this. Which would you prefer? Would you rather lose a few dollars having to pay someone overtime to cover the shift of a sick employee, or would you rather lose my business for the entirety of the flu season while I tell all my friends and associates why I’m not eating at your restaurant?

Here’s a conversation I overheard at the grocery store when a woman ran into someone she knew: “I can’t seem to shake this cold. I’ve been so miserable at home, I just had to get out of there.” She said this while picking up tomatoes and examining them before putting them back in the bin. She paused to sneeze into her hand before resuming her tomato inspection.

Exposure to cold and flu viruses is unavoidable. Being selfish and stupid is entirely avoidable. If you’re sick, STAY HOME. It doesn’t matter how bored you get or how bad your cabin fever becomes. That is no justification for exposing people to your germs. If you simply must go out, wear a mask and gloves. I will be forever grateful to the sick woman I saw last week who wore a mask to the drugstore to pick up her medication.

Staying home is also an option for people with weak or compromised immune systems, and a mask and gloves is a good idea for you as well on those occasions when you just have to go out. It doesn’t matter how it looks, and if people recoil or give you extra space because they think you’re sick, so much the better.

Perhaps we should also learn to politely confront situations where we are needlessly exposed to germs. God knows we’re becoming adept at confronting people about things that don’t matter, like political opinions. The guy holding the damp Kleenex in one hand, stocking the grapes at the grocery store with the other, nose dripping into the bin, should be ashamed. Should we confront him, or talk to the manager? Every situation is different.

Probably the best we can hope for, however, is to better manage our own behavior during flu season, and common sense is a good guide. We can shop during hours when there are fewer people in the stores (and most of us could shop less this time of year). We can treat every surface that can be touched by human hands as contaminated.

We can wash our hands as many times as needed. We can program ourselves to keep our fingers away from our faces in between hand washings (and teach our kids to do the same). We can wash our produce with vinegar and/or peroxide. We can reschedule gatherings of family and friends for a time when everyone is healthy.

Science continues to battle sickness, but there is little we can do in the battle against stupidity and selfishness. Yet we continue to try, and if one person listens, if one sick person decides it’s probably not a good idea to go to the movies; if one manager decides to send home the waiter with the gravy complexion, then our effort has not been wasted.

Today the flu season is an inconvenience for most of us. It will be a death sentence for some. Some day the stakes may be higher when a pandemic stalks the public spaces.

Time For A Change

How are you feeling with just over a week of Eastern Standard Time under our belts? Are you still waking up an hour “early?” Having an extra cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon? Do the circles under your eyes remind you, in an unflattering way, of a grumpy raccoon?

Here at home when the time “changes” in the spring, we leave a clock or two alone in a largely futile, slightly confusing but grimly satisfying protest against “government time. Someone usually resurrects the old Ian Anderson song, “Living in the Past.”

Then on that first Monday in November, someone announces they are refusing to set their clocks back in order to live one hour in the future. We greet you, people of the past. Your ways are quaint.

We go through these motions every year in what has become a kind of ritual, and like many rituals, it accomplishes little of value. The whole thing reminds me of….a tomato plant I once knew. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Once upon a time I worked for a corporation, and like many human organizations, it had its own rituals. The company was housed in an old building. The building had grown up with the company, and wings had been added over time as the business expanded and room was needed for more employees.

The building had plumbing issues. No one alive knew exactly how the pipes were connected underground or where the storm water drained to. Sometimes when there was a heavy downpour, water would go places water shouldn’t go, like inside the lower offices and the lobby where customers waited. I remember one such occasion, as I trudged into work on a Monday after a time change thinking, “I know I’m not awake yet, but carpet is not supposed to splash.”

There was a lot of head scratching over the problem. Old blueprints were dusted off. Flashlights were shined into holes, followed by a plumber’s snake or two. The problem persisted, as did the smell of dank, moldy carpet.

Plumbing is a good metaphor for the type of things that indicate the overall health of a company (or a government). In a healthy situation, storm water goes where it’s supposed to go, and when a pipe breaks or stops up, you know how to fix it because you know how all your pipes are connected.

One rainy day our drainage mysteries got a lot more personal when raw sewage somehow combined with storm water and they started traveling together like a Dodge Ram pulling an Airstream trailer. If there’s anything less motivating than splashy carpet, it’s splashy carpet with sewage, and it’s a serious health hazard.

Yet our pipes remained blocked and our migrating bacteria, propelled by foot traffic, started learning to fly after the carpet dried. When a company’s (or a government’s) metaphorical pipes are stopped up, it can take a long time for actions to flow where they are needed. Eventually someone shocked a decision maker into action with an anonymously circulated Department of Health publication on airborne bacteria from wastewater. Our carpet was ripped up and a backhoe tore into the ground to find out just what needed to be done to our pipes.

It turned out that the offending sewer line passed right under the sidewalk leading to the customer lobby of our department. The sidewalk was torn up and pipes were replaced. There was mud everywhere, and sewage. The lobby was closed, and we all stepped very carefully coming into the office.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and our company, though it had a new sewer line, still had a metaphorical blockage. The sidewalk was still in pieces. The mud had dried, for the moment. Alongside the old sidewalk there appeared a familiar looking plant.

It’s a testament to the vitality of the life force that the seed of a cherry tomato could travel from a farm in Florida to a grocery store in North Georgia and survive the indignities of the checkout line, then resist the gnashing of teeth and the assault of stomach acid, negotiate some 29 feet of intestines and an unknown length of sewer pipe to be unearthed by a backhoe and spring to life in the red clay of the southern Appalachians.

That tomato didn’t just sprout. It thrived. In a week it was a foot high, then two feet. Someone chopped it down (as we often do to deal with the appearance of a problem) but it didn’t die. It grew back even faster. When the tomato was approaching three feet in height, someone, anonymously of course, staked it to a pole. Four feet high and it started to bear fruit. Five feet high and you couldn’t miss it, a lush, verdant specimen covered in beautiful but somehow unappetizing tomatoes, standing in silent accusation, a testimony to the incredible inertia of large human organizations.

After several months the sidewalk was repaired and the unfortunate tomato plant was cut down in the prime of its life. I don’t think anyone was standing in line to sample its fruit. So, what does our well traveled tomato have to do with Eastern Standard Time? Hang in there. You would have gotten it already if you weren’t so sleepy.

Our system of government has grown as our country has expanded. New “wings” were added to house more employees needed to monitor us and tell us what to do. No one alive knows how all the pipes are connected, or where the waste water goes, other than downhill. Standing like an over-fertilized tomato plant in not so silent accusation of our government’s ability to respond to our needs , is our twice yearly ritual of “changing” the time.

That ritual is a problem. Science has debunked just about all of the alleged benefits of the practice. Changing the time disrupts sleep patterns, decreases productivity and for many people, it becomes a health hazard. The problem grows every year, and it’s a problem that bears fruit: The incidence of accidents and mistakes spike each time we alter our observance of time.

Our dislike of the practice is one of the few things we all agree on, and it is an issue that no one has managed to twist into a political advantage. Maybe that’s why Congress, with its phenomenal cosmic power to tell us what time it is, independent of the movement of the planet around the sun and the evidence of our own bodies, seems incapable of acting for our mutual benefit.

It’s time for a change, and not just in the way we observe the passage of time.

The Lonely Traveler

There are surely as many different kinds of people as there are human beings in the world, but today we’re considering just two: those who, whether from choice or circumstance leave the families of their birth behind to seek out their destiny, and those who keep family central to their journey through life. Some of us are planets revolving around the central sun of family ties, and some are comets.  

Travel is easier now than it has ever been, and we have abandoned our villages to seek our fortunes as far away from the places and peoples of our birth as the limits of a small planet will allow. The momentum of youth, the discovery of self and the lure of adventure pushes many of us outward. Love and affection and support draws us back. Our orbits are defined by the balance between these forces.  

We are a nation of immigrants on a planet of migrants. Our history is a story of explorers and pioneers, prospectors, adventurers, missionaries and rogues pushing out our boundaries until we now occupy almost every corner of the planet. For millions today, the only connection to the families of their birth is a phone call, a letter or the brief appearance of pixels on a screen.

 Only the traveler can judge which pathway, the orbit of a planet or the far flung journey of a comet, is the most rewarding. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several years visiting nursing homes, and I’ve heard regret near the end of both paths. Some who clung tightly to their family ties regretted the things they might have done but did not, and the places they never got to see. Some who chose a life of adventure regretted not spending more time with family and friends.  

In truth, however, I’ve heard more regret expressed over the latter when the terrible loneliness of a nursing home, family scattered around the globe, friends left in the wake of the journey, becomes palpable. The dull sameness of the endless days and the cold emptiness of the nights can be terrifying in the company of strangers “waiting for God.” Holidays can be cruel reminders of what was lost or abandoned, and a brief visit once or twice a year on Thanksgiving or Christmas does little to fill the emptiness.

But…we’re Facebook friends with mom, and dad has finally learned to Skype. Yes, and technology has allowed the touchscreen to replace human touch for so many, and the agony and unrest of the present day has grown proportionally as the support and stability of the extended family in our society yielded to the ascendancy of the self.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and we have our gratifications and distractions, our dramas and our pixel opinions, even our nanny state all expanding to fill the needs once satisfied by family and community. They are a poor replacement for morality and faith and maturity, for the wisdom of a grandmother, the compassion of a grandfather and the comradery of brothers and sisters and cousins. Technology can never equal the faces of family and friends sitting together around a table.

Only the Shadow Knows

We can’t see truth in politics, but we can see its shadow.

The formal definition of politics is the “art or science of government,” which seems like a worthy, almost noble pursuit. When we watch politics play out in the real world it comes across like the label on a sausage wrapper with the comforting voice of Jimmy Dean talking about “that good mornin’ feelin’.” But when we peek into the back door at the sausage factory, what we see is not very appetizing at all.

We’ve grown weary of being shocked and offended by daily revelations of shocking and offensive behavior in the political realm, but we just can’t seem to look away. That’s on us. However, we could choose to see the humor in the spectacle instead. There is plenty to laugh at.

Granted, some of our apparent mirth is bound to be nervous laughter. People get hurt in the political process. We forget sometimes that public figures are human beings with families. We forget that here at home more often than a good and kind community of people should.

The one unforgivable sin in Towns County is the sin of winning an election, and with some elected offices in particular, public service apparently includes subjecting your family to the worst kind of rumor and false witness. False witness, by the way, has been considered sin for a lot longer than social media and public forum websites have been around. If your ears are burning, good.

It’s easier to laugh at the actors on the national stage, much farther removed and unlikely to be seen at the local market, though some of those national actors are rumored to be human beings with families as well. But in order to enjoy the spectacle, we have to learn not to take things so personally, and to accomplish that we have to divest ourselves of the notion that politicians behaving badly is a new and unusual occurrence.

Campaigning for the office of president in 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson said that President Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams said that Vice President Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

And we thought Hillary calling Tulsi Gabbard a “Russian asset” was bad. Or funny. Did you see the interview that started the word war? While affecting a false modesty reminiscent of Uriah Heep (the fictional character, not the band) Hillary suggested that Representative Gabbard, a Major in the Army National Guard, was being groomed by the Russians.

Major Gabbard was quick to reply, saying, “You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.”

Incidentally, Gabbard is the only candidate, aside from the President himself, who has consistently talked about disengaging the American military industrial complex from forever war. Chances are she means it, which makes her the natural enemy of CNN and the New York Times, among others. But don’t hold your breath. The Representative is polling below 2% in most polls and recruits are training right now who were not born when our engagement in Afghanistan began.

Let’s take a step back and look at this exchange from a different angle. Did you see the shadow? Was that truth moving behind the scenes, casting a shadow that is the political process? Was Hillary attempting to clear the field for herself or for another candidate more supportive of business as usual? Who will the next “Russian asset” be? Bernie Sanders? Elizabeth Warren, perhaps?

Are you laughing yet, or were you offended that someone dared to criticize your favorite celebrity/candidate? Don’t take it so personally. If it helps, we’ll make a few observations about the president. We like to be equal opportunity offenders.

“Removing troops from Syria” apparently means moving them next door to Iraq, but leaving enough behind to protect “the oil.” President Trump, it has been observed, is one of the most honest presidents in history. Now you’re laughing. Or choking. We’ll wait while you get a drink of water.

Full disclosure, we laughed when wrote that. But seriously folks, if we disregard his almost habitual statements of untruth, exaggeration and hyperbole, Trump may be the most “honest” president since Eisenhower, if you listen to what he’s actually saying: We sent the troops. We paid for the bombs. We’re keeping the oil. Maybe we’ll send in one of our big oil companies to do it right. We don’t really need the oil ourselves, but we’re not going to let anyone else have it.

There are times when President Trump opens the doors to the sausage factory, turns up the lights and conducts guided tours. This makes him the natural enemy of several established interests that prefer to remain out of sight, though they do cast big shadows.

Some of you will vehemently disagree, but as we count down another year of bad actors auditioning for a poorly written soap opera, some relief may be found in the notion that it really doesn’t matter who gets to be president. Think about it. Look at the situation like a comptroller or an accountant instead of a social justice worrier or a disgruntled audience member who can’t get a refund for the ticket. We’ll argue about this later.

But for now, let’s agree that there are undoubtedly as many laudable motives behind the desire to be President of the United States as there are candidates. The same is true for every elected office right down to the local level. But the ultimate prize is the chance to play a role on the stage, maybe even do a bit of directing. And hardly anyone ever left public office poorer than when they entered it.

So the competition will continue to be fierce. The democrats started with over 20 candidates hoping to act on that stage, but like politicians everywhere and as far back in time as we care to look, they have acted more like crabs in a bucket than statesmen.

There is nothing unusual here. They are no different than republicans or any other party’s candidates in this respect. If you’ve ever caught crabs and put them in a bucket, you’ll know that it’s not necessary to put a lid on that bucket if you have more than one crab. One by itself might easily climb out of the bucket, but any more than that and they will pull down any individual that looks like it might make it to the top.

There are better things to do this time of year than worry about politics. The weather is changing. The days are crisp and the nights are cool. The leaves are taking on color, and the holidays are just around the corner. But if politics is your thing, do remember not to take it so personally, and enjoy the spectacle as much as you can. Halloween isalmost here, and who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

When Celebrities Attack

Back in the mid 90’s there was a brief but tacky series of television shows called “When Animals Attack.” It was produced by Fox, the network that serves up conservative values with a side order of scandal, and celebrities in bikinis. The series depicted graphic animal attacks on humans for an audience unlikely to ever be close enough to a wild animal to risk an attack, but there is no limit to the dangers we armchair warriors are willing to face in the virtual world.

Last week the virtual world erupted (steady, no need to duct tape the virtual windows just yet) when some images circulated of Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres watching a football game in the company of Celebrity, Former President George W. Bush. The two appeared to be quite comfortable with each other. In fact, they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Ellen later revealed that she even considers Mr. Bush to be a friend.

The virtual world is particularly dangerous when celebrities attack. A sampling of the headlines, the tweets and posts would have you shivering in your virtual shoes. There was outrage, firestorm, ripping, lash and backlash (presumably you can’t have one without the other). Celebrities were divided. Ellen was forced to push back.

The “push” that preceded the push back was the accusation that she, as an individual admired by the left, should not be seen to be “rehabilitating the image” of someone like the former president, accused of being responsible for much death and destruction during his administration. (Apparently champion weapons dealer, Mr. Obama, and Hillary “We Came, We saw, He Died” Clinton are in no need of rehabilitation, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

It’s likely that quite a large portion of the country was unaware that the former president’s image was in need of rehabilitation. That, too, is a discussion for another day. But putting politics and the history of warfare aside for a moment, Ms. DeGeneres in one of her backlash push backs spoke truth when she said, “”Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do.” Ellen went on to say, “We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”

Simple truth, and utterly devastating to the virtual world that profits from our addiction to drama.

Humanity has a long history of fawning over celebrities and allowing ourselves to be influenced, led, dominated by the famous and the infamous. We often remind ourselves of sheep in our blind allegiance, or cattle in our tendency to stampede.

But goats gather here, my friends. We are independent, cantankerous and often contrary. However, the times we live in now call upon us to be shepherds. This is the relative lull before the storm as desperate partisan parties ramp up their efforts to capture the White House, dragging us all into the conflict with no concern for the collateral damage to the country.

We will begin to see it again soon, as bad as it was in 2016 or worse. The celebrities will step up their attacks online and over the air, and our friends and neighbors will parrot their words and respond to their entreaties. At family and social gatherings, at work, or even at church, we will begin to see the stampeding of emotions. Did we lose any friends in the last election? It can happen again.

When the herd begins to get restless, like the singing cowboy out on the range, perhaps a word of calm might ward off the stampede. Keep in mind, however, that the herd does not listen to reason. You can argue until you are red or blue in the face. The herd no longer responds to the great minds, to scholars, philosophers and poets. The western herd does not even hearken to the divine.

Our ability to recognize truth has been degraded, lost in the virtual world of shiny waxed apples and artificial coloring, makeup artists and sound bytes and computer generated graphics. They’re not going to listen to truth unless it’s delivered on the narrow band that spans our collective attention.

But they might listen to their celebrities. “Be kind to one another.” “We’re all different, and that’s OK.” They’ve heard it a thousand times, from countless sources. They’ve even read it in the Bible and heard it in church. But if Ellen said it, they might actually listen.

Where’s the Beef?

Last weekend I tried the much talked about “Beyond Burger.” Here’s my unofficial and entirely subjective review.

It tastes OK. Let me explain. “OK” is a step above “fine.” “Fine” is what my wife and I say when the hard working server who has been friendly and courteous throughout our unremarkable meal asks how we liked the freezer burned entree and the cold mashed potatoes. We ate it because we were hungry and it wasn’t bad enough to send back, but we leave a good tip and say the meal was “fine.”

So yes, for my money the vegan burger is OK and I would buy it again to keep in the freezer for one of those quick lunches when nobody feels like cooking. The taste and texture are more reminiscent of meat than any of the soy or black bean based products I’ve tried, though its not going to fool even the most casual carnivore.

It’s expensive. Two small patties sized somewhere between small burger and large sausage patty cost about 6 bucks.

It has about the same calories and fat as beef, and a good dose of sodium. It’s not going to lower your cholesterol because it delivers a sizable amount of coconut oil in the ingredients. It does have a wee bit of fiber, whereas your typical hamburger has none.

Contrary to the marketing campaign promoting the burger, it’s not going to save the planet. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction. After all, an acre of peas (pea protein is the primary ingredient in the Beyond Burger) will feed a lot more people than a single cow on that acre (if that cow is living in Florida). In most of the beef producing parts of the world it takes multiple acres to sustain a cow.

The fledgling vegan burger industry claims to produce a much smaller carbon footprint than modern industrial beef production. There are studies which back up that claim. But the highly processed burgers are being marketed as the “best” thing you can do for the environment, which simply isn’t true. By the time you plant the peas, fertilize, harvest, transport and process the peas and then ship them to market, energy intensive activities which require fossil fuel to accomplish, the carbon footprint is going to be at least in the same zip code as beef. Add to that the energy required for the manufacture and transport of the 20 or so ingredients. Energy is also needed to recycle the paper used in the packaging, and the polypropylene used in the container derives from natural gas or the oil refining process. The amount of trash leftover from two small patties was notable.

Eating any form of processed food is certainly not the “best” thing we can do for the planet in our kitchens. Eating a plant dominant diet, as much as possible from local sources, or making black bean burgers at home, or buying locally produced grass fed beef, are all superior in terms of environmental impact and energy use to buying processed food.

For example, White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment study of their sustainable beef production, which incidentally uses techniques much closer to those practiced by our ancestors. The study indicated that their beef production was actually carbon negative, which challenges the current narrative about beef production.

As for the recent excitement over the vegan burger industry, as a die hard supporter of free enterprise, I’ll have to admit that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a clever product and a brilliant marketing campaign. If it’s a worthwhile product, the market will embrace it. If not, the market will move on to embrace something else. As always, buyer beware. Free enterprise is not guaranteed to be happy enterprise.

Now if you’re trying to be a vegetarian for health or spirit reasons and you’re still tempted by the food humans have consumed for 40,000 years, this could be your burger. It really does taste pretty good, and it is somewhat healthier than a lot of fast food. If you’re looking for a virtue burger to impress virtuous friends who aren’t really into numbers or thermodynamics, then this could be your burger too.

If you’re looking for a virtue burger and you would like to help pump up the stock of a virtue burger manufacturer, then this is definitely your burger.

My takeaway is that you can eat the Beyond Burger, if you can afford it, and feel some virtue, or you can eat locally produced grass fed beef, if you can afford it, and feel virtuous as well. Or you could eat what you want, keeping in mind that “virtue” is not a zero sum equation, and your virtue does not depend on someone else being less virtuous. Unfortunately that’s not how our culture is currently being programmed.

Alas, if only life could be that simple, but in the age of induced and aggravated partisanship, everything we do has to have some kind of political spin. Therefore, if you’re still determined to save the planet, I recommend waiting for the launch of the new “Soylent Solution.” It’s a great way to reduce carbon across the board. Soylent Red will be made from recycled Conservatives: Tastes great but tends to pack on the pounds and harden the arteries. Soylent Blue derives from recycled Liberals: Pretty tasty if you add enough hot sauce, but you’ll be starving by the next meal. My favorite is Soylent Gray, made from the recycled Boomer generation accused of destroying the planet. A word of warning, however. Soylent Gray contains a lot of preservatives.