by Emilio DeGrazia, columnist

 

As a kid I was always in a hurry to eat my food down so I could be rid of eating and move on. Now I prefer to eat my food up so my nose can get a sense of it. When I eat my food up its fragrances have a better chance of showing they represent good taste.

Fast food is a hot seller these days. Millions of Americans eat on the run — and in cars — as if eating is an unnatural act performed by displaced persons on their way to someplace else. Swallowing (chunks of news bits and beliefs too) seems to satisfy fast-food eaters in a way chewing the fat does not.

If we did an opinion poll I think we’d find that the vast majority of Americans rank speed over slowness as a basic value in life. We say “speed kills,” but we seem to be in love with it. And while we complain about speed bumps and how slow roundabouts are, car racing, even on city streets, is all the rage. We love faster internet speeds, speed boats and jet skis, and we crown the fastest runners, not the fifth-place finisher who limps across the line feeling like a big winner. We even televise hot-dog-eating contests to learn the forgettable name of the next hot-dog hero suddenly famous for breaking the latest world record for speed swallowing. 

And ads on TV and the internet come and go so fast I can’t keep up with them. We can’t possibly give them the attention we’d give to a newspaper ad. When ads on TV flash by I sometimes forget I’m in a fast-paced, expensive and unending space race to Mars, presumably because on Mars we’ll someday be so far away from human problems they’ll never catch up to us there. 

Maybe our love affair with speed is why we also seem to rush into our wars, mainly in faraway places some of us can’t find on a map. Then we’re in a hurry to bring the troops home. Diplomacy — all that talk — is boring, quiet and slow going.

I suspect that our love affair with speed doesn’t stand alone. Do we more deeply value The Big rather than The Small? Do we like the Loud over Quiet? Do we prefer to be in a Crowd rather than in Solitude? What type of scenes bore and deflate us? Do we imagine being someplace else, Away rather than Here?

Mars or Earth? Maybe Heaven instead, where we can finally get some rest from our speed runs, and tune our lives to harp tones?

In the good old days I thought that a modern, fast-paced society was the way to go. From that belief we got freeways speeding us away from downtowns and neighborhoods, and jet planes, and rocket ships, and hit-and-run foreign wars, and Star Wars tax increases.

Sometimes I find it easy to conclude the world’s a crazy and crazed place. Mood disorders can creep into me then, but so can a calm that slows me down enough to widen my views. Easy to overlook in those widened views is where I mainly live here and now — in a kitchen, bedroom and living room, with family members in a house, or on a front porch looking out at a neighborhood, or on a bridge looking at a town, within a widespread and diverse United States of America out there somewhere full of big shots, angry disunities, and kind generous people looking as spacy as Mars as they wonder why we can’t get along with each other.

I find it easier to be nasty, brutal and short with disagreeable people I’ve never dined with at home or in a quiet restaurant. I’m sure a scientific study would show that people who routinely dine at the same table, with kids too, have healthier hearts. Slow food leaves room for conversation, stories, and really good bad jokes. 

I feel just plain lucky to be able to spend time with a cat and good book on my lap. My cat Milo is old and can’t fly, but he may be as wise as an owl or tree, like a good book. Books, one of my slow foods, inspire sightseeing. They fill in huge blanks in my mind. What do I know, for example, about Ukraine and Russia? 

Imagine, for example, learning about crime and punishment, the possessed, living underground, fathers and sons, three sisters, a cherry orchard, war and peace, and resurrection — from strangers who wrote wonderful books. I savor the trips good books give me into the faraway, the fascinating and the unknown.  

In our modern fast-paced society of today it seems that more kids are in a hurry to not read a good book. Our noises distract us from the fact they have hungry hearts and minds. Maybe it’s time we called time-out, lured them to a table adorned by beautiful slow food, and had honest conversations with them.