Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Coffee Yogurt Story: A Parable

I couldn't sleep last night, one of those tossing-and-turning nights! And I was thinking how to say something I want to say here. I'll tell it as a story.... the first part is true.

My mother had rigid likes and dislikes. It had never occurred to her that one can change one's likes; she seemed to regard them as a given, something dropped from on high. (Within very broad limits, you really can change your likes and this gives you a degree of freedom not enjoyed by those with rigid likes.) I could never convince her that it was possible to change her likes.

Coffee yogurt: Mother liked Dannon coffee yogurt. She
would not eat any other brand of coffee yogurt, she would
not eat any other flavor Dannon yogurt, she wouldn't eat
homemade yogurt. It had to be Dannon coffee yogurt or no
yogurt at all.

This was quite a nuisance; often the stores didn't have any.
When we did find it, she'd buy as many as 20 Dannon coffee
yogurts: then it was a hassle to find room in her refrigerator for them. Often she did without yogurt.

Mother was no fool, and she realized (I think) that this
made her dependent on many things all happening with no
mishaps: the package manufacturer manufacturing the
packaging and getting it safely shipped to Dannon, the
flavoring manufacturer making the flavoring and shipping the flavoring to the Dannon factory, Dannon making the yogurt (which meant that Dannon's machinery all had to function correctly), then the yogurt being shipped to a distributor, and the distributor shipping it to the Acme where we shopped. The supermarket had to order enough of it and on time. There were more links too which I haven't mentioned, and probably more I haven't thought of.

If just one link in that chain broke, Mother had no yogurt.
She was very vulnerable with respect to yogurt.

This is the true part. Now let's contrast my mother with a
few imaginary people.

Frances Flexible also liked yogurt, and she only liked
Dannon coffee yogurt too. But she had learned that she
could change her likes. Gradually, she learned to eat
several other Dannon flavors and to eat a few other brands
of coffee yogurt. She had to try each new yogurt flavor or
brand four or five times before really coming to like it.
She was still dependent on a lot of events not under her
control for her yogurt, but at least she had a much better
chance of finding yogurt than my mother did.

Sally Self-Reliant also started out only liking Dannon
coffee yogurt. Like Frances, she was flexible and learned
to like other yogurt. But unlike Frances, she really wanted
to be as self-reliant as possible; to break those chains.
She learned to make yogurt at home, and made it twice a week
(her family also liked the homemade yogurt). To flavor the
yogurt, she and her family planted rhubarb, gooseberries,
strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and learned to
grow them. She bought honey from a local beekeeper (for
sweetening the tart rhubarb and gooseberries). Since honey
keeps well, she buys a year's supply at once. She learned
to freeze and can the yogurt flavorings.

Sally has learned new skills. Her enjoyment of yogurt - and
that of her family - is now only dependent on two links
outside their control (instead of a whole long chain): that
she can buy milk and yogurt starter. The yogurt starter
lasts four to five months before she needs a new one; and
the milk can be bought locally. Sally can also ensure
against a temporary shortage of fresh milk by storing a
reasonable amount of non-instant dry milk from which to make
the yogurt. Sally doesn't have the facilities to have her
own cow or goat, and she's horrified at the idea of keeping
her own bees: but she has gone a considerable way towards
self-reliance. Her self-confidence has increased too.

Now we come to Fred Fearful: Fred is Sally's neighbor and
they are talking over the fence one day. The subject turns
to yogurt. Sally tells him that she makes her own yogurt
and that they grow the fruit to flavor it, etc. Fred likes
several yogurt flavors, but he won't try making his own: 'Oh
no,' he says 'I'm afraid I'd mess it up. I can never grow
anything anyway and I might let the yogurt incubate too long
or something like that.' Well, so much for Fred - he's not
going to be very self-reliant. Not when he is afraid to try

Next Sally encounters Pauline Perfectionist. The same
conversation ensues but Pauline's reaction is different.
Pauline listens carefully but she never tries it for
herself. Why not? She thinks it's no use because Sally
still has to rely on purchased milk. Pauline has let 'the
perfect become the enemy of the good'. She won't be very
self-reliant either. 'Letting the perfect become the enemy
of the good' is a very common trap and a lot of people fall
into it, by the way. Perfectionism is paralyzing; it stops
learning and doing. (Don't ask me how I know!)

All of these people, from my mother right through to Sally,
are dependent for their yogurt upon something happening that
is not under their control. But Sally depends the least upon
events not under her own control.

Sally also contributes the least to global warming and
pollution by cutting out lots of 'food miles'. There isn't
all that shipping hither and thither involved in her yogurt
(lots of gasoline or diesel fuel not used). Factories
aren't spouting smoke and particulates to produce her yogurt
and its flavoring and packaging.

The fruit that her family planted primarily to flavor their
yogurt is also enjoyed in other ways, and contributes to the
good health of the whole family. It also serves as 'edible
landscaping' and enhances their property.

And Sally saves a lot of money by making her own (I make our
yogurt and I reckon that it saves us about $450/year). Sally
uses some of the money she saves to buy a book on cheesemaking, a few gardening books, gardening tools, and
the 'More-with-Less Cookbook' (economical home cooking).

Sally donates the rest of the money she saves to her
favorite charity. The charity uses the money to buy a goat
for a family in West Africa. The goat supplies valuable
milk to the family, and the family gives the goat's first
kid to another family in their village. The second family,
in turn, will pass on their goat's first offspring - and so

Sally plants a vegetable garden next... and .. and ...I'm
sure you get the picture.

Sally makes mistakes too: all 'doers' make occasional
mistakes. Not everything works out as we have planned. But
for the most part, success builds upon success.

Would you rather be like my mother (rigid likes and
dislikes), like Frances (at least she likes several yogurts, but she is still heavily dependent upon a chain of events), like Fred (too fearful to try new things), like Pauline (paralyzed by perfectionism), or like Sally?

Which person do you think will face an uncertain future with the most confidence and grace? My money's on Sally.


At Sunday, 24 September, 2006, Anonymous Kandy said...

Thank you for this parable. It applies to many facets of life. It just takes a moment to open our hearts and spirit to learn.

At Wednesday, 01 November, 2006, Blogger Pat Meadows said...

Thanks, Kandy!

At Friday, 01 June, 2007, Anonymous lavonne said...

Great story, Pat -- thanks!

At Sunday, 28 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to disagree but I am like your mother and it has nothing to do with fear of change or anything else. I don't like fruits or sweets in general but every since I was a child I have loved Dannon coffee yogurt, no other brand. The rest are just too sweet and as you mentioned making your own - I simply do not have the time nor inclination since I hate fruit yogurts, I just want Dannon's coffee. Some things don't need to be turned into moral dilemnas, sometimes there is just something better than the rest. I will stand by Dannon's coffee yogurt to the end - which means many yogurtless weeks for me but during those times I eat cereal, toast, oatmeal - I will not settle for second rate yogurt that I don't like and your mom shouldn't either.

At Saturday, 29 December, 2007, Anonymous coffeeyogurt said...

i happen to love dannon coffee yogurt, been a devotee since my high school days (say, 30 yrs ago). so my sympathy's lie with your momma! : )


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home