Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, or so goes the proverb. But what if we really, really don’t like the devil we know? Sending the subspecialty vegetable market into a tailspin, then sitting President George Herbert Walker Bush proclaimed offhandedly that broccoli was off the menu for his White House and its many affiliated functions. It was that the stalky member of the cabbage family had long been in disfavor; and now that Bush had become master of the realm, it would be summarily banished.
Aside from wondering why one couldn’t simply eat around the offending plant matter, an inquiring mind would naturally consider what replaced it. If there was no edict on substitution, could the eventual choice have been even worse? Or in the entire universe of emerald-colored side dishes, were all others preferred?
In the days when parents routinely made, at home, one family meal and we all ate it, substitutions were not generally looked upon with favor. “Your Mother took the time to make those carrots, now eat them.” It is unclear how the social contract required reciprocation but we did not question. Likewise, “Clean your plate because other children are starving” makes sense only if a 7-year-old is philosophical. Regardless, kids, time immemorial, have declared, “I’d rather eat anything than that.”
Is it possible that we really meant it? Would we rather dine on “snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails” instead of the dreaded broccoli? What is a snip, anyway? When faced with a discomfort, how do we moderate the inconvenience against a world of unknowns? Can we hope to predict the future, or are we justified in relying on the notion that a terrible, even worse, tomorrow must be better than what we believe to be terrible today?