My 15 and 13 year-old daughters visited me over the holidays and we had a wonderful time together. We went skiing, skating, ate ice cream and chocolate chip pancakes, and I taught them backgammon.
When we went out for breakfast one day the server initially approached our table with three 16 oz. glasses of water filled to the brim with ice. (I know the capacity because I used to make that glass.) Having dined out only a few times since returning from China, it was a very out-of-the-ordinary sight for me. The Chinese seldom use ice in their drinks and no restaurant would ever serve a beverage containing ice unless the customer had specifically requested it. Even then you would only get one or two cubes, if they had any at all.
Few cultural habits are the result of a single cause but the Chinese habit of going ice-less is largely medicinal. The Chinese believe that everything introduced to the stomach should be as close to body temperature or above as possible. This, they believe, promotes healthy digestion and, in the case of water, absorption.
On the American side, we have come to believe that chilled drinks are more refreshing, particularly in warm weather. Restaurants, however, had a big hand in this conviction, just as Hallmark had a big hand in building the popularity of Valentine’s Day. A glass full of ice holds less of the drink itself, leading restaurants to believe that a glass full of ice is cheaper – and thus more profitable – than a glass without.
Like most Americans, I was an ardent fan of ice for most of my life. After living in China for six months, however, I gave up on ice and accepted the Chinese habit of drinking water at room temperature. Beyond buying into the health benefits, it was just too much hassle to get ice. And while no restaurant would serve water that had not been boiled or purified, you couldn’t be so sure about the ice.
Ice also requires a lot of energy to make. So while why my primary motivation for eschewing ice was as stated above, I ultimately came to wonder just how much energy is consumed in the US in the production of ice for beverages. I don’t know the exact number for sure, but I will bet it’s the equivalent of several power plants. Ice, as a result, surely contributes significantly to the US carbon footprint – the largest in the world per capita.
Now, I am not a ‘tree hugger’ in any political sense, but I am a conservationist and believe in taking all of the simple steps we can to reducing the environmental impact of our behavior. Raised in a very outdoor family with its roots in northern New Hampshire I believed that long before ‘carbon footprint’ entered the lexicon. Which is why, in part, I continue to live without ice.
When I posed the issue to my daughters over breakfast, however, more to get them thinking than to change their well-ingrained behavior, they were aghast. They were simply incapable of getting their heads around a world of beverages without ice. And they were quite animated and agitated in their reactions. “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you find a cold drink to be more refreshing on a hot day?”
“Of course I do. I’m not suggesting that I prefer living with no ice. But I have come to accept it.”
Acceptance, however, is in short supply in the US today. Somehow the core American value of ‘rugged individualism’ has come to cast a very unflattering light on the very concept. Both conservatives and progressives alike have come to equate acceptance with weakness, even evil and immorality. “No compromise” is the new battle cry. Conflicting opinions are considered less than ill-informed and misguided; they are vile, the result of stupidity, prejudice, or arrogance.
As much as I would like to put 2016 behind me as we enter a new year, this was clearly manifested during last year’s US election cycle. Despite some of the embracing rhetoric, acceptance wasn’t really on anyone’s agenda. It was a narrowly defined concept at best.
This is very unfortunate and does not bode well for our collective future. When acceptance becomes out of favor wars result; forms of apartheid flourish; discrimination becomes mainstream; and social and economic progress stall, or accrue only to the few.
At the ‘ice breakfast’, therefore, I made the New Year’s resolution to invigorate my ability to accept. And to encourage that value in my daughters.
The problem with acceptance, however, is that you must be a little accepting to accept the wisdom of acceptance. It’s not selling out. And while it is a form of compromise, it is only compromise in a very narrowly defined context.
Just think what would happen if we all became just a little more accepting. We might not wean ourselves off of ice, but we would, collectively, be in a much better place.
Think about that the next time you stand at the ice dispenser built into your refrigerator door. Consciousness is the first step toward progress.
The Chinese taught me that.
Happy New Year!
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