Advances in technology always make us uneasy. Telephones, vaccinations, E-mail, mobile phones--despite the value we now place on them, these innovations provoked dire forecasts, and damnation, on their arrival.
A vocal minority continue to see these innovations as dangerous. Some of the unease that comes with the new and different is well founded. We don't have to search far to find examples of new technologies that turned out to have unanticipated, troublesome consequences. Nonetheless, much of the uneasiness that accompanies innovations is based less on their actual risks than on an intuitive distrust of the unfamiliar.
And, we have a deep, probably innate, attachment to the status quo. Cognitive psychologists have shown, for example, that people place a higher value on something that they possess than they would pay to get it in the first place. Our preference for the status quo and our aversion to the unfamiliar fuel, in part, the current debates over stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, and particularly, genetically modified food.
I imagine that the blueberry pancake, when it was introduced, caused, in some quarters, the same disquiet.
As the locals in South Lubec, Maine, tell it, the first blueberry pancake came out of Helen Baxter's kitchen on a Sunday morning in late September 1897. Helen told friends later that she doesn't know how the thought came to her, or if she even seriously thought about it in the first place.
On this particular Sunday morning, which really wasn't any different than most others, Helen was whisking eggs, flour, and butter into pancake batter. She and her husband Asa were expecting their son George, his wife, Lizzie, and the kids for breakfast, and they expected Helen's pancakes smothered in Asa's maple syrup. As she whisked she could see the two last bushels of blueberries in the pantry. For three weeks straight Helen had put up blueberry preserve and baked scores of pies. Perhaps the remaining bushels reminded her of how far she had to go, and the thought tired her. At any rate, she found herself walking into the pantry, scooping up two handfuls of blueberries and tossing them into the batter.
When George, Lizzie, and their kids arrived, they went, as was the custom, straight to the large kitchen table. They saw a plate of bacon, a bowl of butter, a pitcher of maple syrup, and two platters of pancakes--one plain, the other blueberry.
"What's this?" asked George.
"Looks to me like pancakes and all the fixings," said his father.
"You know what I mean," said George, pointing to the blueberry pancakes.
"Looks like blueberries in there."
"These are good," said 8-year-old Mary as she took her first bite of blueberry pancake.
"Blueberries don't belong in pancakes," said George.
"And why not?" asked Helen. "Come on, Ma. You know well as I do. It's not natural. It's not part of the pancake. You put in something that doesn't belong there."
"I'm going to give some to Georgie," said Mary, as she put a blueberry pancake on her little brother's plate.
"Pancakes are made with flour and butter and eggs, and only flour, butter, and eggs," said George.
"But George," Lizzie said, glancing at her mother-in-law, "Betsy Fowler puts lard in her pancakes. She told me so last week at church supper."
"Not only that," said Helen, "but pancake recipes have changed even in my lifetime. My grandmother used four eggs to two cups of flour. They all did in those days. Now everyone uses two eggs."
"It's just not right," said George. "And how do you know that a pancake with blueberries won't make you sick?"
"Never heard of anyone getting sick from a blueberry," said Asa.
"George Baxter!" said his mother. "You've been eating blueberries since before you had teeth, pancakes too, and you never got sick from either."
"But the combination," George said darkly. "No one knows what that might do."
"I had a feeling you might not like them," said Helen, "so I made a platter of ordinary pancakes, the kind we always have. You don't have to eat the ones with blueberries."
George was not easily consoled. "But suppose by mistake you plunked a blueberry pancake onto the platter with the regular pancakes. One of those could end up in the stack of pancakes on my plate."
For the first time, no one answered. Everyone but George was busy eating blueberry pancakes.
George was running out of cards but he still had a few left. "The whole idea makes me queasy," he said, watching his mother bring to the table another platter of blueberry pancakes. "And if something makes me queasy, there must be a good reason."
"What's queasy?" asked 5-year-old Clarence.
"It's when you want to throw up," said Mary.
"I don't get it," said Clarence. "What's that got to do with pancakes?"
Finally, George played his trump. "Anyway," he said, "if God wanted pancakes to have blueberries he would have put them there."
"Can't argue with that," said Asa.
Said Mary, "Georgie wants another blueberry pancake."
Walter A. Brown, MD, is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine.