The Century Rule
The search for meaning lies at the heart our life journey. One may err along the way, but we usually deal with it and chalk it up to experience. Hence the saying, “Live and learn.” In the church setting, this is called repentance. Learning is easiest when effects appear quickly—like the proverbial hand on hot stove. It’s more complicated for slow-to-appear consequences. But how about when an entire society makes a mistake? Learning from societal errors when consequences are slow to take effect is a complex process. For such mistakes, it can take a century, or three generations. May I illustrate with a food example?
In 1911, a new product was launched as an alternative to lard, the once widely used animal fat. The innovation, Crisco—white, odor-free, cheap, with a long shelf life—was an overnight success. Originally produced by pressing the fat out of cotton seeds, the oil was thickened by a new process called hydrogenation, in which hydrogen gas was bubbled through heated oil in the presence of nickel catalyst. Hydrogenation was applied to other foods, including margarine as a butter substitute, and cleverly-named “salad oil” for traditional olive oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oils were then added to a growing number of processed foods until they accounted for 2-3 percent of total dietary calories. It was a food revolution featuring convenience, affordability, modernity, and possible health claims.
It was also a change with slow-to-appear consequences. Hydrogenation introduced a fat molecule called trans-fat. Trailing this revolution, coronary heart disease (CHD) soared in the mid-20th century to become our number one cause of death. In search of possible causes, a biochemist named Fred Kummerow found a high concentration of trans-fats in the clogged coronary arteries of heart attack victims and published his findings in 1957. In 1993, the Nurses’ Health Study confirmed a link between trans-fats and heart disease in women. (CHD has other risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, family history, and sedentary life style.)
Evidence for the harm of trans-fats continued to accumulate, and in 2009, Dr. Kummerow first petitioned, then successfully sued, the slow-to-act FDA to ban trans-fats from food. The ban took effect this year. Though you may not have noticed the quiet disappearance of margarine from the grocery store, you’re likely aware of package labels making the negative claim of “no trans fats.” Kummerow didn’t live to see it. He died last year at the age of 102, after a long life enjoying natural fats like butter, cream, and eggs.
You could write a book or get angry about how poorly this three-generation process worked, but it’s just how things happen. One generation adopts an innovation, the second experiences the consequences, and the third learns to live without it. A similar story could be told about the 20th century rise and decline of cigarette smoking. Once fashionable, later linked to heart disease and cancer, the public use of cigarettes is now banned in Laguna. (Smile if you remember the famous Bette Davis cigarette-lighting scene in “Now, Voyager,” filmed on the Victor Hugo patio, today’s Las Brisas.)
There’s an important message here of how a restless society experiments, learns, forgets, then begins anew. You could make a list of unhealthy trends now underway. This process also has a moral component. The current rise of casual sex (and associated STDs) and the decline of marriage and family threaten our society. Will we learn fast enough to survive as a nation? Our best protection is our churches and the stability offered by ancient scripture. Scripture provides a time-proven restraint on the restless experimentation of society. Religion plays a necessary, if imperfect, role as keeper of moral wisdom. There’s meaning, as well as safety for the soul, to be found in our Laguna churches.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.