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Perishable Thoughts

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 19, 2008

We decided to take the Jr. Pundits to Williamsburg, in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia, to expose them to the early roots of the American nation. They have a program where the children can be “apprentices” in many of the trades. So they tried being silversmiths, cabinet-makers and, their favorite, brick-makers. Brick making is actually pretty simple — if arduous — work, but the part where they get to take off their shoes and socks and stomp around in the clay makes it a favorite with five- and six-year-old boys.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that three men and a child could, together, produce 2,000 bricks a day, and the demand was brisk for new foundations and chimneys — only the gentry could actually afford brick houses.

The Pundit family is staying at the Williamsburg Inn, which is just outside the historic area but was built as a result of the decision to restore the colonial city. In 1926 the Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin convinced John D. Rockefeller (commonly referred to as Jr. to distinguish him from his father, the founder of Standard Oil) that there was a unique opportunity to buy and restore an entire city. Mr. Rockefeller agreed and the purchase and restoration commenced.

People began to arrive but there were few local accommodations, so Mr. Rockefeller funded the construction of a hotel. Both Mr. Rockefeller and his wife, Abby, were intricately involved in the design, construction and furnishing of the hotel, and it opened to worldwide acclaim on April 3, 1937.

Though not as historic as the buildings nearby, the hotel has created its own history. Queen Elizabeth II stayed here, as did Winston Churchill. It is easy to teach your children history when you can explain that Emperor Hirohito of Japan slept here.

It is a modern hotel, but in its practices the hotel stays true to a time when people thought about things differently. Teaching children about America hundreds of years ago is important, but there is also a value in them learning that rules they have here — men must wear jackets at dinner, you don’t walk through the lobby in bathing suits and flip flops, etc. — harkens back to a not-so-ancient time when one’s personal comfort was not considered the most important thing.

There is a chance to learn something everywhere you go if you are open to such learning. Each night on your pillow, the staff places a little card with a saying from one of the founders, and we always find these missives from long gone men thought-provoking and relevant.

Last night this is what our pillow card said:

“The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain.”

Letter to John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
1785
Included in The Adams Jefferson Letters the Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams.

We read this and realized that the argument Jefferson is making — which is that superiority in health will drive consumption — is pretty close to the argument for our own Produce for Better Health Foundation and its 5-a-Day and, now, Fruits and Veggies More Matters! branding efforts.

Of course, the disconcerting news is that it is now two hundred plus years later and Thomas Jefferson’s prediction did not prove accurate. Coffee and tea are far more commonly consumed than is chocolate, hot or cold.

It is possible Jefferson got the science wrong, although the current craze for dark chocolate is health-based, so his perceptions on chocolate are pretty current. Chocolate does have calories, of course, and drinking many cups a day could add on the pounds, so perhaps that is what has prevented it from achieving Jefferson’s prediction.

This is just to say that culturally speaking, coffee is consumed not so much for nutrition as a stimulant. The fact that food and drink play many roles in our culture means that any pitch devoted solely to nutrition is going to be incomplete and thus less likely to succeed in changing behavior.

We’ve been spending a lot of industry money every year on PBH — plus the program has received funding from other sources. It is a worthy cause, but are we moving toward achieving our goals?

Our sense is that we need to add a program that promotes fresh produce solely and on grounds of taste, flavor and indulgence. We need to do tie-ins with ice cream and whipped cream on fruit, and butter and cheese on vegetables. Not because health is unimportant — it is crucial. Health is just one facet, though, of the human experience, and you just can’t produce a symphony if you only play one note.

The produce industry efforts to increase consumption go back long before 5-a-Day, so we would hope action can be taken to complete the PBH efforts with other types of promotion. Otherwise, we fear we will be discussing this issue two hundred years from now.

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