Curse of the Millenials

  • Posted: January 28, 2019
  • Category: Blog
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The family joke is my seemingly perverse affection for Whole Foods. Me, a lifelong fan of diner food, the veteran of hundreds of breakfast meetings at Denny’s, and here I am an aficionado of the Whole Foods buffet. Last but not least by any means, Whole Foods has a bleu cheese that can only be described as a creation of the gods, a sublime gift to mortal men, perhaps a glimpse into the feast that awaits in Valhalla. The range of their breakfast and lunch buffet is a playlist including everything from Mozart to Do-Wop. The food is good and mirable dictu, it’s reasonable. No question – McDonalds, Denny’s or Chick-Fil-A is cheaper, but Whole Foods is in the cost ballpark.

But the joke is, I always refer to our time at Whole Foods as “going to church”. Sometimes my family hears it with a smile, and sometimes with barely suppressed irritation. It is my belief that their irritation simply proves my point. At some level, they know they feel the same way. But despite explanations, I don’t think they really get my point. But then, let’s be honest, who does? I do seem to live in my own little world, emerging at odd times to utter obscure comments. In addition, I suspect my well known skeptical (read that cynical) questioning of the Earth Mother thing biases my family’s understanding of my point.

Well, you can worship at the altar of the Earth Mother, or simply grin and nod your head when you walk by the temple. What do you do when you are walking down the street in Istanbul and the call of the muezzin sounds? You can be respectful or you can be a jerk and argue with the guy putting down his prayer rug. Make no mistake, civil behavior in 21st Century America requires a respectful if not worshipful attitude towards humanity’s latest iteration of Ashtoreth poles, the Earth Mother.

Whatever! Obviously Whole Foods is inextricably entwined with the idea of the Earth Mother, but that really isn’t the point of my comment. Time spent in Whole Foods is a worship experience because the values on display in the store speak of faith, certainly not food, economics or convenience. While other grocery stores have a value proposition, i.e. low price or high quality or good produce, etc. Whole Foods is not about a value proposition. Whole Foods is about faith, faith in the Earth Mother.

Is Whole Foods a church or not? It appears to me that everything Whole Foods says about themselves, their employees and their products is a statement of faith. Value or any other objective metric is not included. If not a church or place of worship, then what is it? It is certainly not King Soopers or Safeway.

While a Christian church signals its faith by displaying the cross, the faith of Whole Foods is apparent in catch phrases on the ubiquitous signs posted throughout the store. The signs are nothing less than a catechism of the faith. We are assured that everything sold by Whole Foods is natural, non-GMO, organic, antioxidant, gluten-free, no fructose, etc. Not only that, but they strive to be artisanal, certified transitional, BPA free, pro-biotic, grass fed, free range, whole and multi-grain. And then in an incantation reminiscent of the Apostle’s Creed touching on the deep mysteries of the faith, we are assured that the goods on display are locally sourced by environmentally responsible farmers, ethically produced with sustainable practices and fairly compensated.

Of course, the faithful, the brethren in the aisles, will say that some particular element of the Whole Foods faith made their health or life much better. I believe them. But then I also believe that prayer changes people’s lives for the better. In either case, objective proof or testable hypothesis is thin on the ground. Perhaps both prayer and Whole Foods stand as proof, although to different believers, that there is definitely more to this creation we live in than accounted for by the Three Laws of Thermodynamics.

While those like myself might view the Whole Food’s worship experience with ironic detachment, the fact is – I like their buffets and their blue cheese. Other than that, my taste buds having been permanently rendered dysfunctional by decades of diner food, I am left with an opinion of little value or merit. As to their claims regarding the faith, I must confess to atheism.

When I make my little quip about going to church at Whole Foods, I often get the response that I shouldn’t go there if I’m going to make fun. There is truth in that, after all it is impolite to argue with the man putting down his prayer rug in Istanbul. Or I could be pedantic. After all it is not my intention make fun of Whole Foods, but simply call it as I see it. Simplest of all, I could stay away, but then there is that amazing buffet – and that amazing bleu cheese.

Rather than split hairs risking further irritation, I remain silent, hoping to model a winsome meekness rather than the confrontational arrogance rooted in my heart. To quell my own doubts as to the righteousness of my actions, I remember St. Paul’s thoughts on meat sacrificed to idols expressed in the eighth chapter of I Corinthians.

Whole Foods is an example of a successful enterprise built and given life by people motivated by a mission of faith. It is successful, with a purity in its corporate actions rarely seen. Whole Foods was recently bought by Amazon in the latest expression of Jeff Bezos’ vision for world domination. One wonders if Jeff Bezos will have the same effect on Whole Foods as the Borgia family did on the Catholic Church. But more likely Mr. Bezos is the Earth Mother’s Urban II rather than Roderigo Borgia.

But to refrain from such a delicious rabbit trail, Whole Foods recently opened a store in one of Washington D.C.’s up and coming neighborhoods, the Navy Yard. Since I have family there, I have been fated to become familiar with the area. The Navy Yard is a massive re-development of an old area once home to a long since gone industrial section. Our nation’s capitol was once home to people who worked for a living, who knew? To set the stage, until quite recently, the Navy Yard was the area where Washington D.C.s sewers flowed unchecked into the Anacostia River – so much for the grandeur of our Nation’s Capitol and the priorities of our Adorable leadership.

But today, the Navy Yard is under reconstruction. The irony of the word Reconstruction is poignant when walking through the neighborhoods of the Navy Yard not yet reconstructed. The Navy Yard is now home to the Washington National’s new baseball stadium, D.C. United’s new soccer stadium and – wait for it – condominium towers at millions a pop fronting the Washington Channel of the Potomac River. It is also the home, for a time, to a large population of Millenials, populating the blocks of newly constructed apartments in the Navy Yard.

Browsing through the Whole Foods aisles, one is shoulder to shoulder with the best and brightest of America’s Millenial generation in their natural environment. These youngsters briefly excused from their cube farms are apprentice Masters of the Universe, the future leadership of America.

Twenty or thirty-somethings, almost without exception single and childless, walking the aisles picking up the necessaries to carry back to their claustrophobic apartment. One suspects, most are recently graduated lawyers or poly-sci majors, here in the Capitol to make their bones. Three or four years here and then back to some state capital, university town or corporate headquarters where they can parlay their contacts and government experience into a career. Is our nation lucky or what?

Back in the day, I suffered from severe and recurrent anxiety attacks in the small hours of the night. As I longed for the relief of needed sleep, rather than pace the floor I found a calm in the Word of God. Perhaps it is all of those sleepless hours spent in the Gospels, but it sometimes seems to me that all of life is the stuff of parable, or perhaps metaphor. To be honest, I am a bit unsure of the differences between them, if any. These often lonely seeming young people walking the aisles of Whole Foods become for me a metaphor, or a parable, of my own generation’s fecklessness.

The newly opened Whole Foods is only three blocks from a Teeter Harris supermarket. I very much like the buffet at Teeter Harris as well, very close in variety and quality to the one at Whole Foods. I must admit ignorance as to the taste of Teeter Harris bleu cheese. One does have standards after all. But the Teeter Harris experience comes at substantially less pain in the pocketbook, yet in my experience the Millenial customer seems a rare bird in the aisles of Teeter Harris.

On the face of it this is strange, as one would suspect that these twenty and thirty something folks in the apartment towers surrounding Whole Foods and Teeter Harris would be quite price sensitive. After all, the median rent for those apartments is between $3,000 – $4,000 per month. That foundation of wisdom, the internet factoid, offers up that graduating lawyers average well over $ 100,000 in student loans coupled with median starting salaries for government jobs at $ 53,000/year.

One advantage of being old, and believe me they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, is that I have experienced youth. Despite the image put forth by the popular culture, I found the wisdom of youth to be a mirage peculiar to the Adorable media. Young people have book knowledge and they have ideals, but their knowledge is untainted by practice and their ideals are not their own. Despite our pretense to rebellion when young, we are the captives of our teachers, our entertainment and our parents. Experience has yet to leave its scars, and with those scars, wisdom.

To watch these Millenials walking the aisles of Whole Foods is to see what we, the Baby Boomers, have created.  It is cruel to speak of cannon fodder, but it is cruel because it is true. The Victorians saw their children slaughtered on the fields of Flanders because their leaders believed in Empire. We Baby Boomers see our lonely children wandering the aisles of Whole Foods with pampered dogs waiting outside because our leaders didn’t believe in anything but the therapeutic values of self realization and social order.

Perhaps the young do not have wisdom, but they have idealism. Blaise Pascal gave expression to the idea that in the human heart is a hole, a vacuum if you will, that must be filled. We begin adulthood with the purity of our ideals as the sole occupant of this space, but as we age we fill this hole, just as we fill our garages and basements. The distillations of our lives fill this hole, God, children, spouse, the Broncos, all that we hold dear. But for youth, the passage of time has not yet been given the opportunity to dim or encumber their original purity. It is the young who charge across No Man’s Land into the fire of the machine guns, not the older and wiser, or perhaps simply more jaundiced, generation.

But that purity driving them on is not their own. These Millenials believe what we, the Baby Boomers, told them to believe. The problem is we told them so many lies. We told them they had to get a college degree. Life would be hard unless they got an “education, a good education at the best (i.e. most expensive) school”. We told them to “do what you love”, “change the world”, “don’t just settle for a job”. They listened. They got degrees in Gender Studies, Fashion Design, Art History, Music, Psychology, Culinary Arts, etc.

We told them to enjoy themselves when they were young, perhaps regretting our own lost youth. They did. They enjoyed all of the extracurricular life that college offered. If we didn’t pay their way, we made it easy for them to get student loans. After all, those great careers built around a Masters degree in Fine Arts would make the loans easy to repay. And now the Millenials have graduated from college, often with advanced degrees. And they have those student loans. And they have to be repaid. And now those Millenials less fortunate than the future Masters serving their apprenticeship in the Navy Yard wander around in the “gig” economy, baristas, servers, Uber drivers, etc.

We told them that sex was a basic human right, all about personal fulfillment, no need for commitment or any other patriarchal encumbrance. Reproductive freedom was a basic human right that no one dare encroach upon. Abortion on demand was something worth dying for, the ultimate expression of the modern woman’s freedom. Now many of these young people wake up at night and wonder why they are alone. Now many of these young people wake up at night and ache with guilt at what they have done, what they have lost.

We told them that all cultures and religions were equal. The Millenials may be young and naïve but they aren’t stupid. If all cultures and religions are equally good, then why is it that our own is so rich and comfortable in the midst of almost universal chaos, poverty and brutal repression? It is soul crushing to suddenly realize you and your ancestors are the bad guys, oppressors, living in luxury because others are held down by you and yours. The Millenials are like all human beings. They want to feel good about themselves. They are left to wallow in despair at the evil of their culture or seek to find atonement for the sin into which they were born.

We told them a lot of things about paying your bills, being a good citizen, yadda yadda. Some of us even meant it. But as most of us know, kids watch what you do. To be sure, they hear what you say, but they also watch what you do. Perhaps we fooled the kids in the Gender Studies program, but there are a lot of smart Millenials able to do math. They know we never paid our bills, we just took out loans. It might be said that the Baby Boomers came of age in 1970 when the Federal debt was $398 Billion with consumer debt so low as to be laughable. Last year the Federal debt was $21,658 Billion while consumer debt was north of $ 13 Trillion (with a “T”). One can argue whether hypocrisy or euphemism is the defining characteristic of the Baby Boom Generation, but we certainly have made an art form out of “kicking the can down the road”. Even the kids in the Gender Studies program know they are on the hook for some heavy coin.

In our pursuit of a Christianity without the dead weight of Christ, the Baby Boomers developed the idea that any standards of conduct were cultural imperialism, a “white man’s burden” that must be rooted out wherever and whenever it appeared. Many things can be said about the Baby Boom Generation, but one thing we are not is “deep thinkers”. We may be shallow, but we make up for it by being “broad minded”.

We became proud of our tolerance, our open mindedness. Baby Boomers snickering at the outmoded rectitude of earlier generations could not in good conscience deny their children access to the pervasive freedom dawning in the Arts, the shattering of barriers.

And now our entertainment, our culture, is an open sewer burning the throat of our sensibilities. We, Baby Boomers and Millenials both, want to escape, but there is nowhere to go. We have found to our dismay that it is far easier to fall into the sewer than to climb out of it. Innocence, once lost, is difficult to regain.

There is that hole in the human heart spoken of by Blaise Pascal. Young people have it filled with pure ideals, but what ideals? Young people are drawn to purity of purpose, a faith that draws them to itself. Once that faith was Christianity, but the lukewarm faith of their parents could not survive the Educational Establishment’s commitment to Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite. Why on Earth would they take on ideals that their parents had abandoned?

It wasn’t that hard for the Millenials to find another, better, faith. Wandering in the wilderness ourselves, we had subjected them to endless museum and zoo visits, nature shows and nature camps. The message was there, the faith openly on display. Human beings were a scourge on the land, ruining and despoiling everything. Like raindrops in a cloudburst, appeals to “Save the ****” fell on their ears ceaselessly. We guilelessly heaped praise on the Millenials for childish ideas in their Science Fairs aimed at “Saving the *****”. We so easily discount the example set for our children by their “educational” entertainment. The sympathetic characters in children’s entertainment are all involved in “Saving the *****”.

Even a glancing read of the Bible, look at ancient history or other cultures tells us that human beings have a need to worship something greater than they. It goes back to that Blaise Pascal observation about holes in the human heart. Again that reading of the Bible, ancient history or the religions of other cultures points out that human beings, left to themselves, have a strong tendency to worship creation rather than the Creator.

Of course in 21st Century America we are very uncomfortable with the idea that we would worship anything. In our hubris we imagine ourselves to be the savior rather than in need of salvation. But then, it has always been in humanity’s nature to bargain with god. The idea that we will do good things for you (god) if you will do good things for us is older than the pyramids.

And so the Millenials are walking down the road trod by countless generations who came before them. Humanity has a long acquaintance with fertility goddesses, Ashtoreth poles, Gaia, etc. Now the Millenials will Save the Earth, or the Oceans, or Shelter Pets, or “Fill in the Blank”.

I spoke earlier of the need in 21st Century America to have at least a respectful, if not worshipful, attitude toward the Earth Mother. Teeter Harris certainly tries, using the right words on their signs, but their efforts lack the deep belief, the majesty, the ethereal quality, of the Whole Foods experience. How can these apprentice Masters of the Universe shop at Teeter Harris when Whole Foods is only a few blocks away? Is it proper for the nobility to worship at a ramshackle country church, with its “me too” shabbiness, when the pomp and grandeur of Notre Dame is only three blocks away?

Back when I just was beginning my career an older engineer told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “You are always setting an example, even if it’s a bad one.” Life experience has taught me the truth of his words. Perhaps the curse of the Millenials is to have had the Baby Boomers as an example.

2 Responses to “Curse of the Millenials”

  1. Russ Kyncl says:

    Thoughtful read. I am reminded of my Presbyterian minister father’s alternate translation of the wonderfully multi-tasking Hebrew of Proverbs 22:6: “Raise a child up according to her God-given bent and when she is old, she will still be expressing it.”

    I shop Whole Foods for the Food Bar and for the best price of Clif Bars: the exception to the Whole Paycheck aspect of the rest of the store. As a former produce clerk, I love the visual perfection of the produce department, a daily work of art.

  2. Judy Hoxworth says:

    Other than being very sad as I finish this…you have convinced me I must find and try the experience of a Whole Foods! My oldest son and his family go to one in Ft Collins…he loves the fresh Parmesan cheese!

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