Jan 31, 2015 filed under Temperance.

I like one brand of cola better than the other. A lot better. They say if you don’t know which one you’re drinking, you can’t tell the difference. I can tell. So when a diner didn’t have my favorite, I’d always glumly tell the waitress, “Oh….I’ll just have water.”

Let’s rewind the tape — I’ve just made my preferences more important than enjoying the company of my lunch mate or considering the feelings of the waitress. If I had made my friend most important, I would not have been bothered by what soda to drink with my egg salad sandwich. I aimed my sights too low. I focused on myself rather than the big picture that includes other people and God. Friendship is one of the greatest gifts in life – and I’ve briefly thrown that gift overboard so I could gripe about a soft drink?

What I’m describing is gluttony, which includes more than eating too much. Gluttony makes us sad or angry when food isn’t just the way we like it. The gluttony alert also sounds when we habitually eat really fast, or demand only the finest food. Does this put gourmet chefs out of work? No – the art of cooking is a beautiful thing. The film Babette’s Feast shows a skillful meal making souls blossom; the love that goes into the cooking transfers to the diners.

But pleasure is all about balance and priorities. Let’s put it this way: a selfish attitude makes food less pleasurable because we’re locked into getting what we want rather than appreciating what’s in front of us. And in that game, nothing will ever be enough. The TV show Seinfeld is packed with examples of the inner and outer conflict this causes!

There’s a virtue to counteract that – abstinence. I know, abstinence sounds like we’ve sworn off fun. Instead, it comes to the rescue if we find we’re putting food above more important things, like friendship. Abstinence means that I don’t need to have a mood swing if the grocery is out of fresh basil, or if my hamburger weighs four ounces instead of eight. Or if the wrong, I mean different, cola is offered.

We can grow in abstinence by staying away from our favorite foods for a while or by eating slowly or less. We can practice being grateful for what we have. Step back a bit and realize that if we have to miss a meal because a restaurant doesn’t serve lunch late, there’s still lots to be grateful for in the big picture. Sometimes our hunger is greater than any pleasure we’re capable of absorbing because we’re really hungry for God, the infinite good who fills our infinite want.

I don’t ever have to like the other cola. I just don’t have to give a glass of fizz water the power to derail the peace and gratitude that are mine as a child of God. And by getting my priorities straight, I avoid putting a dent in the waitress’s day, too!


4 Responses to “The Cola Challenge”

  1. Willie

    Great food–or soda!–for thought, Rose, especially with Lent just around the corner! This is an area that’s been a challenge for me for many years, and I appreciate the great advice here. I think I’m going to print it out so I can “sip” at it some more during the coming week!

    • Rose Folsom

      Thanks, Willie. Reminds me of the adage that making the effort to love what I have leads to more contentment than needing to have what I love.
      All best,

      • joel

        Hey, wait a minute! First of all, I don’t think that any waitperson would allow your happiness or displeasure with the availability of one soda brand vs water bother them in the least. If their skin isn’t thicker than that, then they have no business in the restaurant industry . . or, for that matter, dealing with the general public at all.

        Secondly, gluttony may be one of the seven deadly sins, but it is my personal favorite. If you are going to sit down to have a pleasant dinner with a friend, why shouldn’t it meet a certain minimum standard? For the life of me, I cannot see anything wrong with wanting the entire experience of eating and conversing over a meal to be enhanced by it’s expected reasonably high quality. After all, we are exchanging our hard-earned money for that meal and as such it really should meet at least a minimum standard. Expecting something so trivial can hardly be called gluttony. And, if it be gluttony, then by golly, I will always be guilty of that particular sin. I believe that it is my not only my right, but my responsibility to be at least partially satisfied with not only the conversation, but the quality of the meal in that the quality of the meal assists in establishing a more pleasant mood and enhances the entire experience. No, I don’t need it, but in that I have paid for it (or ultimately will have), there is no reason that I should neither expect nor want or even, at a gentle level, demand it.

        Let’s hear it for gluttony if it means that we are deciding to set a higher standard than mediocre.

        In fact, by failing to set a standard and expect a reasonable level of performance from the folks whom you are paying for a service, you promote sloth. And by not telling the waitperson of your disappointment, you are, in fact, being less than truthful.

        I, for one, don’t believe for one minute that you were being gluttonous in either your expectation or your disappointment. I think that you were simply being truthful. What is worse, is that you probably would not go back to that restaurant . . thereby demonstrating a complete unwillingness to provide the business owner and the waitperson with a second chance to please you and earn your loyalty to their establishment . . .and all of that for such a small transgression as not having the right soda.

        Yes, by setting the bar so low, you could even be said to have given the business owner and the waitperson a sense of entitlement that they have the right to serve whatever they want however they want . . and you therefore encourage them to to go along with their sloth.

        If pride so bad? Though it is one of the seven “big ones.” I think not. Had the waitperson and the business owner taken just a bit more of it (in their establishment and it’s operation), then you would never have thought for a moment that you had been in any way gluttonous.

        It’s almost enough to make you an anti-semantic.

        I could go on, but you get the idea. {;-)

        • Rose Folsom

          I agree that giving constructive customer feedback helps a business owner know how to better serve the people who keep him in business. Agree also that enjoyment and excellence are what restaurant owners should be in business to provide . But I’ve found that unsolicited constructive feedback is usually not well received — maybe your comments will spur me to think twice next time about letting that stop me! Thanks for your insights.