A Revolution Of The Moderates?
A new restaurant opened in my neighborhood recently, so I decided to give it a try. After being seated, I started looking at the menu; it was lunchtime and I was in the mood for something filling, but not too heavy. Ideally, chicken, fish or a nice pasta dish. I took the menu and started peering through it. I found many burgers, all with two or three patties, and a number of steak meals, all large sized. I also found a large variety of salads and vegan dishes. No trace of chicken, fish or pasta. The waiter approached, very welcoming. I wondered if I was missing a portion of the menu, so I asked him whether he had any fish on the menu.
– Sorry, sir, are you a pescatarian? If so, we have a number of vegan alternatives! I recommend the vegetable paella.
– No, I do eat meat. Do you have chicken or turkey?
– Sorry, sir, we don’t. But we have a number of meat dishes I can recommend.
– I saw those, a bit too heavy for me. How about pasta?
– Sure! How about edamame or black bean spaghetti?
– I was thinking more along the lines of spaghetti Bolognese with a healthy dose of parmesan cheese on top!
– Sorry, sir, we don’t offer those. Our vegan chef doesn’t like this dish!
– The vegan chef? And how about all these huge cheeseburgers and steaks you have on the menu. The vegan chef doesn’t mind them?
– Sorry sir, the meat items are made by our meat chef, Anett Kukk, and the vegan chef is not involved in those.
– And Ms. Kukk couldn’t offer some toned-down version of her heart-attack inducing dishes?
At this point, the waiter smiled and said: “I don’t think you’ve met our meat chef: she’s pretty intense and she doesn’t do toning down!”
Though this weird restaurant had piqued my curiosity, I was ready to leave and try my luck elsewhere when a middle-aged man gently ushered the waiter aside and sat opposite me. After he gave his instructions to the waiter: “Get me my usual for two”, he smiled to me and said: “You’re my guest today and I ordered a small sampler that we can share; I’m Ray, by the way, and I own this restaurant.”
I instantly took a liking to the guy, which didn’t deter me from asking him to make sense out of the strange menu.
Ray was probably used to the question, because he went into a monologue: “You see, I have two chefs, both of whom are renowned, each in his specialty. My vegan chef, Etoffard Heveurd, has received numerous awards and has a loyal following. People come from his native Belgium to Miami to sample his dishes. My meat chef, Anett Kukk, is revered among steak lovers. Because they are such celebrities, I have to comply to their wishes as far as the menu is concerned.”
I interjected: “I am surprised these two radical opposites would agree to a common menu!”
He smiled: “Oh, you’d be surprised. These two get along perfectly. They are both purists, each in his own way, and they respect each other for that. What they hate is everyone in between, for example the people who eat dairy products with their vegetables or eat fish or chicken instead of beef. That’s why I don’t have those on the menu. And to be fair, their followers bring me enough business that I can afford to displease the occasional customer such as yourself.”
I replied: “I am indeed surprised. But I am also surprised that their respective customers would get along. It is one thing for two individuals to overcome their differences, another for two opposed groups to tolerate each other.”
He had another mischievous smile: “Then you must be the type of person who trusts his logic more than his observations. Because this is a very normal phenomenon, and not limited to food. You see, our society is getting more and more polarized, along political, religious, ethnic, you name it, lines. And the reason this polarization is so great is that each group is waging war, ostensibly to the opposing group, but in reality to the moderates within its own group. For an ideological extremist, moderates pose more danger than opposing ideologies: moderates on both sides of the divide are trying to reconcile viewpoints, promote acceptance of the other and prioritize peace. Extremists are much more helpful: they are either on your side and therefore your friends or they are against you, but because they are so extreme, it is easier to demonize them to make you look good. So, to an extremist, the other extremist, even if opposed to him, is his best friend!”
As he was speaking, images of recent political, religious and social events came to me, and I realized that he was right. But I was still hungry for more of his insights, so I asked: “I don’t know about you, but I am really annoyed by all the polarization in this world, wherever one looks. At this rate, everyone will soon become a radical and wars will erupt everywhere. What’s the solution?”
He gave me a satisfied grin, happy that I had understood the message: “The solution, my dear friend, is that we, the moderates, have to rebel! We are still the majority, but we tend to be silent and peaceful. We really need to overcome our passivity and revolt, impose our pacifist way of life, our tolerance. It’s ironic, but we must fight to preserve our peace. We must not let moderation become extinct.”
With that, he left me with dessert. And I understood that he probably had given that speech to many patrons before me. He was no ordinary restaurant owner: he was a man with a calling.
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