New Year’s Day has come and gone (and a warm welcome to you, 2021), which means it’s time my wife and I take down the Christmas tree. For some, taking down the tree means disconnecting the branches from the trunk, the trunk from the base, and packing the whole thing into a cardboard box to be used again next year. For us, taking down the tree means lifting it off the stand, hauling it outside to the truck, driving it over to the drop-off lot, and donating $5 to fund the recycling. Yes, this year – as with all of my years – the Christmas tree is real, not artificial.
I’m not here today to debate real vs. artificial Christmas trees. They both have pros and cons and your choice rests on where you live, your budget, and assorted other reasons. For me, a real tree is simply a tradition I refuse to give up. Picking out a tree with my family was a big deal when I was young. There was something magical about living in sunny Los Angeles and watching dozens of pine-scented snow-dusted trees being unloaded from Canadian railcars. Never mind we paid a little extra to have our tree “flocked” (adding a touch of spray-painted artificial snow). It was still a real tree.
Real vs. artificial goes way beyond Christmas trees. When I consider one next to the other, I always think of Memorex. In the 1970s and ’80s the Memorex Corporation produced audio cassettes, the precursor to the compact disc. In their TV commercials Memorex included singer Ella Fitzgerald belting out a note powerful enough to shatter a wine glass. Then they’d play a recording of Ella’s performance and the wine glass would still shatter, begging the question, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”
Real vs. artificial also recalls Milli Vanilli, the R&B duo from the late ’80’s. Milli Vanilli made it big with the album “Girl You Know It’s True”, then won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. But years later the world would find out Milli Vanilli never sang anything. Instead they lip-synced their way to fame; their albums the voices of studio performers. Milli Vanilli returned the Best New Artist Grammy shortly after that.
Let’s visit real vs. artificial a little closer to home; say, the kitchen. As much as my wife and I seek whole, organic, locally produced foods, we can’t help including a few outliers. I just went through our pantry and came up with a few good examples:
- Aunt Jemima syrup. This pancake topper – destined for rebranding in the name of racial equality – is nothing but high fructose corn syrup, water, and a whole lot of chemicals. The “Natural Butter Flavor” variety blatantly advertises “contains no butter”. You’ll find all the pure maple syrup you want in Vermont but you won’t find a drop in a bottle of Aunt Jemima.
- Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts. A long time ago Pop-Tarts contained real ingredients (else my mother wouldn’t have put ’em on the pantry shelf as kid snacks). Today’s Pop-Tarts are enriched flour and a bunch of scary-sounding ingredients developed in a lab. It takes half the height of the box to list everything that goes into a Pop-Tart.
- Kraft Mac & Cheese. Make a bowl of pasta, top it with melted cheddar, and Voila! you have macaroni & cheese in two ingredients. Kraft Mac & Cheese needs twenty-one to accomplish the same dish. But man, don’t it taste great?
- Ritz Crackers. More enriched flour plus lab ingredients. (Maybe every food can be made from enriched flour?) The Ritz Crackers box includes a warning, “Contains wheat, soy”. Ha, if only that was all it contained.
- “Real” Bacon Bits. My mother-in-law left this bottle of horror behind when she brought a salad for Christmas dinner. But guess what? It really is made of bacon (okay, and chemicals). I must’ve been thinking of other brands, where the bits are actually “flavored textured soy flour”. Oh ick.
Back to our real Christmas tree. After the gifts were passed around and opened, we discovered one more, looking a little embarrassed behind the branches. It was a brightly colored basket, the kind all dressed up with a cute wooden box and Christmas bow, overflowing with food items and protected in plastic wrap.
But here’s the rub. We opened the basket and found a whole lot of nothing. Generic cookies, coffee, candy, and a couple of cheap Christmas mugs, arranged carefully so as to suggest the basket contained much more. To add insult to injury, none of the food items were name-brand (except for a handful of Lindor truffles). The cookies and candy were made with a ton of artificial ingredients. The coffee was so generically packaged it had me wondering if it was even coffee. The whole basket made me think “Memorex”.
This is where I jump to a discussion about artificial intelligence, but your real brain needs a rest so that’s a topic for another day. Meanwhile, my wife and I will keep heading out every Christmas to tree lots (or the woods) to find the perfect one. “Artificial” may sneak into other parts of our lives now and again but at Christmas, we’ll always be keeping it real.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.