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I Scream: When the going gets tough, perhaps the tough should give in to a craving.

Prosperity Consciousness

Let's be candid about the need to find comfort during stressful times ... like right now

By Christina Waters

IT DOESN'T TAKE psychic abilities to know that we're collectively experiencing some technical difficulties right now. We feel alone, depressed, like tiny blobs of meaningless goo on the back alley of the life Walt Disney promised us.

We've all had times during our lives when we felt that way. And we all know where we headed: to our favorite bakery, where the simple, surefire magic of a bear claw, a slab of chocolate or even a lowly doughnut always worked wonders on our attitude. One bite and life was worth living again. Two bites and we were back in control of our lives. And that's really what it's about, isn't it?

Perhaps it's true that when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. But when the going gets ridiculous, most of us head for the refrigerator. I am not advocating bingeing on butter, or chowing down on carbohydrates, so don't start sending me your off-the-wall emails complaining that my secret agenda includes making America fat. America is fat all by itself in case you haven't noticed.

I'm just meditating here about the joys of succumbing to some oral craving (the other oral craving) and feeling a hell of a lot better afterward. Nobody gets hurt and those elevated seratonin levels will carry you through the entire afternoon. Maybe longer.

No less a pundit than Joan Rivers observed only last week that bakeries around the country were currently enjoying record sales. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with what brain chemistry can do to one's psychological well-being. There are two schools of thought operating in response to sudden changes in the environment. Terrorist activities head the list of "sudden changes," by the way. The whole name of the game with the terrorism concept is to throw business as usual--life as we know it--out of control. That's the cause of the queasy feeling we've all been experiencing for the past six weeks. We are no longer in control. Someone else has grabbed the remote and is switching the channels to shows we don't want to watch.

ONE OF THE QUICKEST ways to regain that sense of control--that "my life is my own, dammit" feeling--is to take some sort of action. Yes, that would include shopping, going out to dinner, deciding that now would be an excellent time to hang out on a secluded Mexican beach, that sort of thing. Another school of thought is devoted to regaining control by tightening the reins, streamlining needs, trimming back the indulgence. These are the people who have decided to work out more often, to go running every morning (not just twice a week like they used to), or to (heaven forfend) become vegetarians.

Let's stop right there for a minute. Becoming a vegetarian is a political act. It announces a personal agenda, chosen by the individual and for which they wish to be seen as 100 percent responsible. Narrowing focus, tightening up boundaries--as in deciding not to eat pork, beef or lamb, for example--is a way of getting a grip on things. I can too control my world, the vegetarian choice claims. It stands defiant, if not exactly tall in the saddle, in the face of the millennial mayhem seeping through our landscape.

The Spartan choice, the one in which we pare down needs and reduce our consumption to basics, would not be my personal choice. But I can understand its impulse, and its astuteness as a weapon of control against a volatile global background. I decide what I want to eat and I've decided not to cave in, this attitude insists.

While everyone around me falls apart (falling apart = losing control), I remain on duty. I remain lean and tough, refusing to pamper myself, to coddle myself or to lose myself in self-medication by butter.

These people are surely entitled to feel morally superior--and you can bet they do. While the rest of us are getting grease stains on the upholstery of the BMW we can no longer afford, they're carefully weighing the 2 ounces of skinless chicken breast and 1/4 cup of lowfat cottage cheese they've allowed themselves for dinner. Hey, wouldn't one of those digital kitchen scales be a perfect holiday gift for the New Spartan? For the rest of us, there's always that Italian gelato maker.

Okay, so if you've been diagnosed with diabetes, or if the walls of your ventricles look like the inside of Mrs. Butterworth's boudoir, then naturally, obviously, you shouldn't be knocking back the brie. But the operative term here is "knocking back." It's highly unlikely that you will drop dead within moments of consuming a slice of your favorite bread topped with a creamy bit of cheese, chased with a glass of red wine. But you will feel amazingly satisfied, happy and somehow more optimistic about everything.

THINK BACK ABOUT some nurturing food experience, maybe when you were a kid, that has remained a beloved memory. Your grandma's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That slice of homemade lemon meringue pie that you can still taste. A soft pork taco packed with melted cheese. A hot fudge sundae.

These indulgences flood us with all the innocent joy of those kinder, gentler times; when we felt safe and secure. The flavors, like Proust's madeleine, open the web of memory and allow us brief communion with our own youth. Alas, we have been admonished, nay browbeaten, into doing anything but giving in to our cravings.

Perhaps this health fascism is understandable. We're told we must suppress these desires--act like adults. To which I have a modest proposal. Crave no more! Surrender to those urges. Be good to yourself. Go ahead and have the exact flavor you've been dying for: butter on sourdough bread comes to mind.

Nobody ever enhanced their sense of well-being by eating celery stalks. Nobody. Just say no to those lowfat, decaf lattes and go all the way with a double cappuccino made with regular milk. (Can you even say the words, "regular milk"?)

Let me confess something. Last week, depressed to the max about this global bummer we're embroiled in, I did something I hadn't done in 15 years. I ate a candy bar. Not a designer chocolate truffle, but an old-fashioned Baby Ruth bar like I used to love during Saturday matinees when I was 10. And would you believe it? Nothing bad happened to me. The caramel, nuts and chocolate tasted wonderful. The whole experience felt good.

Do we control our world by practicing self-denial? Or can it be exercised by letting yourself have what you really want? Will the world fall apart if you sleep until noon? Would it be so bad to order a bottle of really good champagne even if there's no special occasion to justify it?

No, it won't bring about world peace if you indulge in your favorite childhood dessert of chocolate pudding--the homemade kind best eaten while it's still warm. But it will bring about prosperity consciousness--which can go a long way toward bolstering our spirits during the worst of times.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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