Reflections on a Wild Berry Pie

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Powers Farm Market (Photos by Paul Ericson)

Recently, I visited my parents’ and my sister’s graves at White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford. Afterward, driving home, I stopped across Marsh Road at Powers Farm Market to pick up a few staples: bread, milk, etc.

As I approached the checkout, I passed a display of fresh-baked pies. One, called “Wild Berry Pie,” with light brown crust and hints of fresh blue and purple fruit inside, caught my eye.

I was about to put the pie in my shopping cart when I realized that coming to Powers directly from the cemetery—where I myself have a plot—raised an interesting question: Should I not buy the pie because eating a healthy diet might help me live longer and stay out of the cemetery, or should I buy the pie because no matter what I eat I’m going to end up in the cemetery, so I might as well enjoy a good piece of pie while I can?

Uncertain what to do, I put the pie back, paid for the milk and bread, and drove home.

But the question stayed with me. Where does one find answers to age-old questions about how to live?

Wild berry pie

For concerns like this, I often turn first to the Bible.

“Eat, drink and be merry,” advises Ecclesiastes (8:15). But then the Bible cites gluttony as an example of bad behavior (Deuteronomy 21:20), and in Christian teaching gluttony is one of the “seven deadly sins.”

The question nagged at me, and so did the tempting image of that Wild Berry Pie. How could I have reached this late stage of life—three score and ten—and still not know how to answer this question?

Then I recalled that one of my neighbors, now successful in business, in college had majored in philosophy. Maybe he could offer some learned advice.

On the phone, I described my cemetery/Wild Berry Pie dilemma.

“What would the great philosophers say about this?” I asked. “Should I have bought the pie or was I right to resist?”

He thought for a moment.

“Well, long life versus immediate pleasure—it can be a paralyzing choice,” he said. In his voice, I detected genuine sympathy.

“You’re asking an applied ethical question as opposed to a metaethical question,” he continued.

I had no idea what that meant.

 “Your question asks us to make a decision based more on practical philosophy in accordance with what society values at a particular time,” he said.

I was still lost.

“For example, during World War II,” he explained, “preserving supplies was an important public good, so an ethical question such as this might be answered with an eye to restraining individual appetites for consumption. In that case, you’d want to resist buying the pie. But today, when we face no wars, and yet when personal anxiety is on the rise, we might instead err on the side of pleasure and personal fulfillment. A modern, practical philosopher would say, ‘Buy the pie.’”

Well, that was encouraging.

“On the other hand,” he continued, “modern consequentialist philosophy would have you decide based on prospective outcomes: ‘If this is bad, then I do this; if this is good, then I do that.’”

“I’m not sure I entirely follow you,” I admitted.

“Your question,” he said, “implies a choice: indulge in pleasure by buying dessert and therefore shorten your life or act against pleasure by foregoing dessert and therefore extend your life. But in real life, it’s not clear that either of these choices would lead to the supposed end that you think it would. And the choices you’ve laid out are not the only choices.”

“They’re not?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he said. “For example, you might not buy the pie but then that choice might nag at you all day, increase your anxiety and cause you to act in some other bad way as a result—including overeating.” 

I do tend to overeat when I’m anxious.

“Or, you could buy and eat the pie and then because of that choice make another choice to exercise more and eat better in the future.”

True enough; often when I exercise it’s out of guilt.

“Or you could buy the pie but eat just one piece and give the rest to someone on the street, thus turning it into a charitable act.”

“So, what should I do?” I asked.

“That’s up to you,” he said. “Good luck.”

I appreciated his thoughtful counsel, but I still had no idea what was the right answer.

Later that day, I felt like taking a drive. I had nowhere particular in mind to go but got in the car and turned on some music. Ten minutes later, noticing I’d driven to an area not far from Powers Farm Market, I thought, “Hey, as long as I’m here, I might as well pick up that Wild Berry Pie.” 

And that’s what I did.

Which reminded me of old, homespun philosophy: “People have two tongues. One in their mouth, the other in their shoe. If you want to know what a person’s real intentions are, ignore what they say and watch where they go.”

The tongue in my shoe led the way; the one in my mouth enjoyed the pie.

Peter Lovenheim, journalist and author of “In the Neighborhood” and “The Attachment Effect” is Washington correspondent for the Rochester Beacon. He can be reached at [email protected]. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

5 thoughts on “Reflections on a Wild Berry Pie

  1. Hi Peter Like Jane, I appreciate reading all of your pieces in the Beacon. And yet my stomach hit the floor when your philosopher friend said ‘But today, when we face no wars’. The lack of awareness and therefore responsibility for our military operations and 750 overseas bases ( ) is taking bread and safety from children in the US and beyond. especially through the $32.17 trillion federal debt. Would you consider interviewing some people about that collective blind spot sometime? I would love to read it!

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