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More traditions we could do without

A few months ago, I wrote about a few traditions I thought should be retired, among them sugar, coffee and high heels. Update: I no longer drink coffee, and my steadier nerves and shrinking belly-fat are reward enough for that feat. I still eat sugar, though I feel I shouldn’t, and my fallen arches make high heels a guilty desire I can’t fulfill anyway. Here, for your consideration, are the other five of the 10 things I wish we could jettison as national obsessions:


Like sugar and coffee, chocolate is traditional because companies that make money off it want you to see it as a substance you can’t live without. Also like sugar and coffee, chocolate production is an ethical problem. The people who produce it in third-world countries have difficult lives, so I try to buy fair trade varieties. My husband and I buy it almost every week, but in steadily dwindling amounts, I hope. Carob is a nice, ethical alternative, but it definitely makes me feel like an aging hippie.


My husband calls these “rocks,” and not in a complimentary way. I think he just doesn’t want to buy me one, but that’s understandable. Need to have status, vulnerability to peer pressure and outright sheep-ism are not good reasons for spending a lot of cash on something that: 1) you can easily lose, 2) may be ripped off your person by a thief or 3) makes you complicit in a trade that even at its cleanest is not that clean. Many stones are beautiful for their color or patterns (tiger’s eye, for example), but diamonds are just sparkly. Magpies like sparkly, but humans have frontal lobes much larger than magpies.

Sport utility vehicles

SUVs demonstrate some ugly aspects of human nature. Online you can find an interesting documentary about a man in England who gets $1 million for an afternoon in which he subjects a small group of test subjects to a battery of tests. At the conclusion, he boils down the “keyword” that sells a product to consumers and gives that word to the company that hired him. When car manufacturers paid him to do this process on SUVs, to their surprise the keyword turned out to be not ‘safety’ or ‘comfort’ or even ‘status.’ The keyword was ‘dominance.’ That word became encoded visually and verbally in all the ads for SUVs and, between 1988 and 2016, has sold hundreds of millions of them. But the wish and need to dominate our fellows is so chimpanzee. So I drive a plain old Honda Accord and get “owned” all day on the road.

Wood fires

By this point in the article, I will admit that my ideas are harsh and inconvenient; I’m willing to bet many readers would like to burn me instead of logs, but I can’t remain silent on this one. When I was a child, my father built us a home with two wood-burning fireplaces, but we mainly used the one in the basement recreation room. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the United States had half the population it has now. It had, in most places, one-tenth of the pollution. Now, with asthma endemic among children and my own aging sinuses assaulted all year with pollution and pollen, the smell of wood smoke stinks to me of death and selfishness. Even if I had an old-fashioned fireplace, I would convert it to gas. Actually, I had a gas fireplace in my Los Angeles home, where wood burning has been banned for five decades. Gas fires are also lovely and they don’t belch choking black smoke into the air to clog the eyes, noses, throats and lungs of your neighbors.


Get out the torches and pitchforks, I’m going to attack the national pastime. But wait a moment, it already has been attacked by many football players, their coaches and their loved ones. Boxing, you know, used to be an important college sport. My husband’s uncle was killed at age 20 in a college bout — that was in the 1930s. But now you’d think a college was courting disaster if it made boxing the centerpiece of its social life and alumni fundraising. So, why football? What are we, crowds screaming for the kill in the Roman coliseum? I think football will sooner or later (of course, sooner would save the brains of more young men) be a sport only indulged in by some. But right now on high school and college campuses this brutal, damaging sport is way too protected as “an American tradition.” You know what needs that kind of fanatical protection? The human head.

Valerie Ilustre is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.