Sunday, October 21, 2012

Must we reopen the Methodist pickle debate?

John Meunier, veteran United Methodist blogger, has unwisely reopened the Methodist pickle debate. Can't we just let some of these intractable issues alone? Don't we have enough issues on our Methodist plate already?

Yesterday Meunier posted a quote by John Wesley concerning the consumption of pickles. I assume it is from Wesley's Primitive physic, or, an easy and natural method of curing most diseases, a blockbuster best seller of its time.

The Wesley quote Meunier recklessly resurfaces is in response to an opponent of pickle-eating:
Another instance of exaggeration we have, in what he says concerning pickles. It may be allowed, that they are not wholesome to persons of a delicate constitution. Perhaps, too, the using of them in large quantities may impair a good constitution. But still I cannot commend the condemning of them universally, as no less than poison. I really believe a man of a firm constitution might use a small quantity of them daily, yea, for forty or fifty years together, without hurting himself at all.

This statement would seen to contradict other statements made by Mr. Wesley himself.

The preface to the edition of the Primitive physic posted on the website of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (in this case entitled Primitive Physick) clearly states: "All pickled, or smoked, or salted food, and all highly seasoned, are unwholesome."

Which statement is to be considered the authentic Wesleyan viewpoint?

This must surely have been relevant during the United Methodist boycott of Mt. Olives pickles in 2004. A few months after the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to join a five-year-old boycott of the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. organized by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Mt. Olive and the North Carolina Growers Association agreed to participate in collective bargaining. 

During the Mt. Olive debate, no one really addressed the deeper issue of whether Methodists ought to be eating pickles in the first place.

Meunier laughing!
This issue had thankfully remained dormant ... until John Meunier imprudently chose to stir the pot yesterday. (Some people just are not happy unless they are agitating!)    

It should be acknowledged that pickles are not the only substance toward which Wesley had an ambivalent attitude. The United Kingdom Tea Council's social history of tea drinking in England includes the following statement:
 ...a few decades later in 1748 John Wesley, the great preacher and founder of the Methodist movement, was arguing for complete abstinence from tea, on the grounds that it gave rise to 'numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind'. He cited the example of himself, claiming that tea drinking had caused in him a 'Paralytick disorder', which had cleared up since he began to abstain from the beverage. Wesley urged that the money previously spent by an individual on tea should instead be given to the poor, and as an alternative hot infusions could be made from English herbs including sage or mint. His argument was certainly thorough (although medically entirely incorrect), and he even touched on how one ought to deal with the awkward situation of having to refuse an offered cup of tea. The tract is shot through with the emphasis on the religious importance of self-denial that was a central tenet of early Methodism, but in fact at later in his life Wesley went back to tea drinking.
(Oh my! I hope I haven't inadvertently resurfaced the Methodist tea-drinking controversy.)


  1. Well, I have nothing to add to the pickle controversy, other than to say that pickles, being heavily salted, could be damaging to a person's health who is on a salt-restricted diet. However, as regards tea, the late, famed, multi-Grammy-award-winning conductor, Sir Georg Solti, had been a heavy tea drinker before rehearsals and performances; but sometime during his tenure as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he found that when he reduced his tea consumption significantly before such events, he himself was much more relaxed and yet able to function quite well in his musical post. So, as Wesley said, "all things in moderation" can be our watchword. (Or, was that Ecclesiasticus 31.27-28? Oh, no; he was writing about wine! My error!)

  2. Oh no, xnlover, now you've resurfaced the wine controversy!

  3. Scold me all you like, Dean, the truth about pickles must be told. :)

  4. John, sometimes we must choose harmony over truth.