The most popular current character in British advertising is the Birds Eye Polar Bear. He is controlling, slightly sinister and omnipresent.
In a recent ad we find him waiting patiently in a freezer with salmon that you bake in a bag. The door of the freezer is opened by a woman holding some fresh fish that she intends to prepare for that evening’s meal. Why she is opening the freezer we don’t know. Whatever the reason it gives him the opportunity to plant a seed of doubt in her mind. “Fish is tricky”, he tells her in a way that makes her picture her guests being carted off in an ambulance to have their stomachs pumped at the local hospital. He robs her of whatever confidence started her on this culinary adventure so she opts for his salmon in a bag and presumably the safety and surety it offers. What happens to the expensive fresh fish, we don’t know. I suspect the bear eats them later as bears rather like fresh food.
Corporations like the one that owns Birds Eye don’t like us trying adventures without their safe, guiding hands. There is a story from the early days of Betty Crocker cake mixes which demonstrates how determined they were to overcome the sensibilities of housewives. Betty Crocker sales weren’t very good. Market research showed that housewives felt like they were cheating if all they had to do was add water, mix it up and stick it in the oven. So they changed the recipe, removing powdered eggs and requiring the cake maker to add an egg thus “creatively contributing” to the end product. Sales took off once the guilt was removed and the proud housewife could claim she “made” the cake.
While it sounds like a great time-saving idea, there is something disturbing about it. Making a cake or preparing a fish dish takes time. The time you spend in the kitchen is time you have to take out of the rat race of being busy, of consuming and getting out there to earn more money so you can do more consuming. The message you receive is that you are wasting your time in that kitchen when you could be out doing more useful things.
What sparked this reflection was discovering an old school friend on Facebook and discovering she loves cooking. In her blog, (kayesyrah.blogspot.com) she takes people on food adventures which act like a counterpoint to the polar bear and his meal in a box /bag offerings.
Maybe a move away from the polar bear is a move a little closer to the sort of attitude to life God want us to adopt.
One of the key aspects of Jesus’ ministry was freedom. Through a touch or word from him people were liberated from illness, disability, demons and even death. The people he regularly spent time with were categorised by their condition as something to be avoided and therefore they weren’t allowed to live beyond mere existence. The key purpose society seemed to keep them for was as examples of what happened to you if God didn’t like you. The Polar Bear described fresh fish as “tricky”, lepers and healing were labelled with the same word. So no one bothered.
Jesus not only liberated sufferers, he liberated people from being oppressors. He taught his followers to be last, to care for the little ones and to not confuse high status with holiness. No one was “tricky”, instead everyone was beloved of God.
So we should celebrate those who offer us adventures, fresh foods lovingly made, life enhancing recipes and the chance to step out of our comfort zones. We were made to be creative and life-giving. We were made to appreciate creativity and to be full of life. No corporation can offer you laughter around a table , admiration for your efforts, closer friendships and requests for the recipe. All they can do is hide in your freezer and boss you about.