It is late Sunday evening and you have just been alerted that there is a problem with the town's water supply. In order to fix the problem the town will be shutting off its water by midnight, and hopes to resume service within twenty-four to thirty-six hours.
Do you notice an increase in your overall anxiety?
What will you do, knowing that water will be unavailable for some time (run to the store for bottled water, fill pitchers, take a shower, run a quick load of laundry or dishes, etc)?
Do you find yourself thinking more about water than usual, and preoccupied with when it will be available?
This is the anxiety you experience, day in and day out, when you deprive yourself of particular foods.
So, this past Saturday, I had the opportunity to watch a similar scenario play itself out. In Weston, Massachusetts a water pipe burst leading to an undrinkable water supply for 31 communities comprising of 2 million people. I live in Marblehead, one of the towns affected by this problem. Residents were alerted through Board of Health phone calls, e-mails and the news that water must be boiled or bought to be safe, and the "catastrophic problem" could take days or weeks to fix. Phones were ringing, people were stressing. That evening, my husband and I were meeting two other couples for Indian food in Salem, Massachusetts, a town next door to ours, but not affected by the water supply problem. Patrons in the restaurant, I noticed, were more excited by the pitcher of tap water the waiter wielded, than the chocolate martinis and bottles of Kingfisher beer brought to the tables.
By the next morning, people were in a panic. Newspaper headlines sounded the alarm, and the TV news was filled with shots of empty grocery shelves where bottled water once stood. There were reports of fighting over what little water remained, and in some communities people waited for hours in mile long lines for bottled water that was being distributed by the National Guard. In other areas, people drove to unaffected towns in search of twelve packs of bottled water. It was reported that someone paid $7 for one bottle of Fiji water.
Suddenly, water was on everybody's lips...well figuratively, if not literally. That, after all, was the problem. In grocery aisles, on the walking path, at the dry cleaners, all you heard were conversations about water. I realized that I was hearing people talk about water - how much they wanted it, how they just had to find more, when the water ban might be lifted - the way I usually hear people talk about diets. It was constant. The obsession about water was replacing what has come to be the "norm" about obsessing over eating/dieting. Those who use fear tactics sounding an alarm on the supposed "obesity epidemic" would have been thrilled. Two million people craving a zero calorie liquid....
No one was talking about ice cream or M&M's or hamburgers or French fries. Just water, H20, ice cubes.
And by Monday, the anxiety had mushroomed as coffee drinker buzzed (or, as the problem unfolded, didn't buzz) about their caffeine withdrawal. Coffee houses in the 31 affected communities couldn't brew their cup of Joe, and that left many, many people in an added place of deprivation. No one was stressing over chocolate chip muffins, donuts, or bagels. Water and coffee, that's where the derivation and anxiety were, because that's what you couldn't get.
Three days after the water supply was compromised, tap water was again deemed safe to drink. Store shelves now overflowed with the extra shipments of bottled water that hurried into stores. After a minute of rejoicing and toasting one another with a bacteria free glass of tap water, life goes on much as it did before the burst pipe. I overhear people ordering their coffee at Dunkin Donuts, and once again stressing about whether or not they should order the muffin or donut that now beckons to them. In restaurants and on the street, I overhear people lament about their weight, committing themselves to another diet with self-imposed deprivations.
In lesson 6, we end with a quote from Mark Twain: To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to do that very thing. The recent water ban made it crystal clear - as clear as the water that now flows plentifully from my tap. Scarcity makes us scared. Abundance makes us feel calm. I wish I could rewrite the news headline today and proclaim: Deprivation no more: Burst your own pipes and flow in abundance!