From the Editor

John Turner

Having survived the adventure in Buffalo, recounted in “From Liberty Street,” I am now in Chicago. It is different here from Vermont. In fact, every time I go away from Montpelier now I realize that most of the rest of the country is not much like Vermont. And, then, I begin to wonder what that means. I stopped yesterday at a travel center in Ohio and there I found myself among an entire population of huge people. We used to say that people were chunky, or tubby, or even fat but there weren’t words then to describe the size of people I encountered at the travel center. It’s not that there aren’t big people in Vermont. There are. But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a concentration of people as large as the ones I saw yesterday. I confess, I found it troubling. I doubt that people of those dimensions can live to a healthy old age. They are putting too much stress on their physical systems. Surely, they know that. And, yet, there they are. This has to say something about life in America now, but exactly what I can’t be sure.

It used to be the case that you could go into a filling station or a corner store and buy a small package of toffees or caramels. But now, all I see are gigantic bags of candies. I suppose one could argue that these reflect economies of scale and that by buying one of these big bags you can have enough candy for a month of occasional snacks. Yet, I suspect that’s not how they’re used. It’s more likely that people buy these bags and eat everything in them within a day. That, in itself, would be an assault on a human system scarcely to be born.

It may not be that this lack of restraint in eating reflects anything general about American culture. Yet, I fear that it does. And that makes me worry about my country. There are excesses here, both in consumption and in rejection of knowledge that don’t point to a happy future for this nation. I wish there were a way for us to become more aware of these dangers.

We certainly don’t have to live drab or abstemious lives. But, I confess to the belief that if there were a bit more of the simplicities of Vermont and a little less of the giganticism I see elsewhere, we would be a better people. And, if that’s simply a kind of chauvinism, please forgive me.

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Harvard Square Commentary, October 16, 2006