I know that the expression “Hippie Puritanism” will stirke many readers as peculiar, but I employ it in a light-hearted way to introduce a potentially serious subject, namely, the manner in which many Americans simultaneously maintain an allegiance to two quite distinct and even adversarial value systems. By “Hippie,” I mean that part of our national character that is almost reflexively antinomian and deeply distrustful of established authority, attributes that might generally be termed countercultural; hippies have a sensuous engagement with life, and they take beauty and pleasure seriously.
By “Puritianism,” I do not mean the world-hating theology that so damaged the sensibilities of the earliest settlers in Massachusetts and which can still regrettably be heard in the blathering of many of their televangelist heirs. Rather, I mean the unconscious habit of seeing – and evaluating – the world in a melodramatic way, by which I mean dividing it into rigidly dualistic moral categories, such as good vs. evil, white hat vs. black hat, and decent people vs. neoconservative Republicans. This cultural Puritanism is something that we absorb with the Saturday morning cartoons of our childhood and continue to experience – and at least unconsciously expect – in many of our popular entertainments. Finally, Puritans distrust pleasure and seem, at least at times, to dislike beauty, as well.
Now it should be obvious to everyone that our pleasure-loving Inner Hippie (henceforth, IH) is rarely going to agree on anything with our equally strident and world-denying Inner Puritan (henceforth, IP), and finding a successful means to satisfy them both takes constant effort. Hollywood has found a very profitable way to do this in its seemingly endless cycle of teenage slasher/horror movies. In all of them, IH will get to see a suitable amount of scantily-clad (or less-than-scantily-clad) young flesh on the screen, much to the outrage of IP, but then IP has the satisfaction of seeing these youthful sinners (the ones who dared to have fun, by which I mean those who had forbidden, non-marital sex) killed in suitably gruesome ways, much to the distress of IH, who at least gets to watch the virtuous (by which I mean celibate and generally more fully-clothed ) young man or woman survive. Thus we have our cake and eat it too; IP finishes his popcorn (no salt or butter, of course), IH finishes his soda (sugar-free, naturally), and then they leave the theatre together, in a mutually-happy state of temporary truce.
There are many less-sanguine ways of simultaneously pleasing IH and IP, but in this posting I am going to share a very modest one with readers – my choice of breakfast cereals. I purchase these three products in a local health food store, which delights IH, since the visits allow him to take stock of all the latest advances in New Age nostrums, and which pleases IP, because despite his having serious reservations about the moral rectitude of the hippies who both run and frequent this store and their regrettable allegiance to the (fallen) natural world, he recognizes with smug satisfaction that much of the preoccupation with wholesomeness in the place (non-allergenic products, organic ingredients, holistic medicine, etc.) is actually displaced Puritanism. At any rate, I have found a way to please both my fun-hating IP and unabashedly hedonistic IH in the three breakfast cereals that I will describe for readers as a potential model for their own inner reconciliations. I am not claiming to be the Cotton Mather of the Woodstock Nation in this enterprise, but if I were, my middle name would be “Cotton” and my first name would be “Sustainably-Farmed.”
NATURE’S PATH ORGANIC HERITAGE O’S. IH is quite naturally ravished by both “Nature’s” and “Organic,” while IP likes “Heritage,” since he interprets it as a tribute to the morally upright customs of a now sadly bygone era, customs like dressing in black and white, stealing land from native Americans, and burning witches. This cereal is made from three “heritage grains” – kamut, spelt, and quinoa – and one expert in the science of grains claims that kamut “takes an hour of simmering in order to soften,” a view with which I concur, since Heritage O’s can sit in a bowl of milk overnight and still remain “crisp,” to say the least. IP approves of any food the eating of which involves a contest, and that is also why he likes the “Eco-Pac” which contains this cereal, since the material from which it is made is stronger than titanium, and not even my oldest son, who can bench press a compact car, is able to tear it open. Thus, anyone who wants to eat this wonderful and highly-nutritious cereal must first indirectly affirm his allegiance to the Puritan work ethic in his attempt to open the container in which it is packaged.
The three grains of which this cereal is made provide narrative sub-texts that please both my inner characters. IP knows that spelt comes from the Transcaucasia region, which is the location of Mount Ararat, the purported location of Noah’s ark, and it pleases him to think that while eating his breakfast he is in some gently self-righteous way validating scripture. IH regards the ark story as mythic, though IP insists that it is as firmly grounded in historical truth as the fact that the earth is just six thousand years old. Because quinoa originated in the Andes, IH automatically associates it with Peru’s Nazca lines, which, as everyone who believes that crystals possess magic powers knows, were actually built as landing fields for flying saucers. Further, Kamut originally came from Egypt, and as anyone who believes that they can recite spells that will allow them to call down mystical energy from the moon will be happy to inform you, E.T. built the pyramids. The Chariots of the Gods, man – it’s all true!
Given its multiple satisfactions, I am tempted to adore Nature’s Path Organic Heritage O’s, but I do not, since IP is always reminding me that adoration is merely one more form of idolatry.
BARBARA’S BAKERY SHREDDED WHEAT. The box this cereal comes in advertises “Same Great Taste,” but though I have enjoyed it for many years, this shredded wheat is nearly lacking in anything that could meaningfully be called flavor, which impresses IP; he is also secretly pleased that, after cracking his bicuspids on Heritage O’s, Barbara’s Shredded Wheat turns pleasantly soggy at the first touch of milk. IH especially admires the fact that this cereal is uncommonly nutritious and is low in sodium and sugar, since he, like so many seekers in the spiritual marketplace, is almost morbidly obsessed with his health.
I eat many bowls of Barbara’s Shredded Wheat every month, and I would call it my favorite cereal, if I had not learned so painfully that choosing favorites can lead to some of life’s greatest disasters, including, but hardly limited to, partisan politics, fantasy football leagues, and marriage.
KASHI 7 WHOLE GRAIN NUGGESTS. In some ways, this cereal is best described as Post Grape Nuts on steroids. IP is delighted by the fact that it has the texture of driveway gravel; IH loves its flavor and is pleased that one bowl provides him with a day’s worth of whole grains. However, it is the number of grains in these delectable nuggets that intrigues both sides of my inner nature. For IP, seven is a reminder of the Seven Deadly Sins, and so he girds his loins with righteousness while munching his morning repast. For IH, seven is reminiscent of the seven chakras, which are part of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual practice, and so he imaginatively visits the Mystic East at breakfast. Further, IP likes to recall that the Seven Deadly Sins are a sure and certain path to Hell, while IH regards them as either a summary of an attractive executive-level job description or, in his baser moments, as a list of interesting hobbies. This fundamental disagreement over the meaning of a number explains why IP and IH rarely converse during breakfast.
I close with two confessions, which for IP are necessary to cleanse myself of the burden of guilt that attends my being an inherently sinful creature, but which for IH are simply an additional means to broadcast his narcissism, as he does when discussing vitamins or aromatherapy with his New Age acquaintances or as is the case of many of the insecure whiners who appear on Dr. Phil’s silly show to revel in their nonexistent “issues” and thereby make pathetic spectacles of themselves. First, I do sometimes give in to temptation and permit myself to wander down the cereal aisle of my local, inorganic grocery store. I will linger for a moment, allowing myself to cast a few salacious glances Frosted Fripperies, Concupiscent Corn Flakes, and Honey Nut Harlotries, all of them laden with sugar, salt, and artificial ingredients, but after a brief ogle I recover my virtue and pass them by. Naturally, I never make eye contact with the degenerate individuals who place these slatternly cereals in their shopping carts.
Second and finally, I admit that sometimes I succumb to worldly folly and put yoghurt on my Heritage O’s, but only the plain, fat-free variety. However, when I lack sufficent moral restraint, I will place some sliced banana on my Barbara’s Shredded Wheat, and when no longer constrained by decency, I will add some walnuts. In fact, when I am completely in thrall to gastronomic lust, I will set a strawberry atop my Kashi Nuggets, or, on those occasions when my gluttony is boundless, two strawberries. However, on such wanton occasions, in order to prevent people walking past my house from seeing me in the throes of illicit pleasures and thereby be tempted by my example to surrender themselves to unbridled self-indugence, I quite naturally close the curtains of my dining room window, curtains which are, of course, tie-dyed.