Anabaptists and Aspartame

I’m going to switch things up a little for today’s post… a brief history lesson:

Menno Simons, Anabaptist and founder of the Mennonites

Back in the 16th century, during the Protestant Reformation incited by defectors like Martin Luther, there existed a lesser-known sect of unsatisfied Christians.  These were the Anabaptists.  Think of the Anabaptists as modern day Mennonites.  Basically, they read the Bible as a step-by-step guide to salvation – as long as they did exactly what the good book said, they were golden.  The problem was that a lot had changed in the millennium and a half since the stories of the New Testament, and living a 1st century lifestyle in a 16th century society proved pretty difficult.  To reach salvation, they’d have to forget about the luxuries of the life they knew and go back to the basics.

It must have been a hard sell for some, but that’s pretty much what they did.  Unable to reconcile their devotion and their surroundings, groups of Anabaptists moved out to form their own communities.  They denied themselves the comforts of modern advancement, removed themselves from society, and sought an existence based on simplicity and devotion.

On a much humbler scale, we as eaters face a very similar dilemma today. 

The tin calf

The food world has forever changed and left us with an unbelievable degree of freedom.  Seasons no longer control the produce we eat.  Neither does geography. Meat can be made meatless, milk can be made milkless, and sugar can be made sugar-free.  These feats of science and industry are no doubt impressive, but they’re not the path to culinary salvation.  In fact, they’re usually in direct opposition to the purity and simplicity of the eating experience.

Diet Coke was my own personal vice.  I had always loved soda (real soda, not the fake stuff) but decided to give it up after college.  I of course knew that diet existed, but having always hated the taste, I was never really tempted to make the switch.  But then I started working in the restaurant.  All of the sudden, I was in a position where I was constantly thirsty, constantly tired, and constantly surrounded by free, wonderful, caffeinated, guilt-free Diet Coke.  It took about a week and a half for my taste buds to adjust and I was hooked.

The stuff was addicting.  I started drinking way more soda than I ever did in college, and before long I’d graduated to Splenda.  Though I grew to tolerate the taste of Diet Coke, a lot of the other diet drinks I tried tasted pretty gross and at times even made me feel sick.  No matter: they were calorie-free and fine by me.

Pretty bizarre thought process, right?  Keep in mind I was doing this while still writing regular blog entries about respecting what you eat.  I had been lured by the temptress of innovation, and found myself lost in a sea of aspartame.  Luckily, help was on the way, and her name was beer.

Back to the basics.

Oddly enough, starting to respect beer was what finally woke me up to the craziness of aspartame.  It really stands in direct opposition to Diet Coke: it’s a drink that has remained relatively unchanged throughout the course of human existence, it’s experienced with its own reverential appreciation (rather than as an alternative to something better), and its properties are based on the miracles of nature – yeast makes those flavors what they are, not lab coats.  I found that I couldn’t be the servant of two masters – once I fell in love with the pure magic of beer, aspartame just seemed like a vulgar parlor trick.  I haven’t had it since.

One of the core beliefs of the Anabaptists comes from the book of James: “Faith without works is dead.”  If you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk too.  I’m not saying I’m turning my back completely on modern food.  A fountain soda – a real one, corn syrup and all – at the right time is absolutely unbeatable.  Still, beer knocked some serious sense into me and I’m glad to be able to follow my own path again.

The truly righteous are out there, eating the same way they did a thousand years ago.  But I’m still here, living in the heart of modern society, grateful to know from the bottom of my being that aspartame sucks.



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