Menachem's Writings

What Do Coffee, Tomatoes and Red Wine Have in Common?

We are told that God created an imperfect world. Our task on this earth, as the servants of the Omnipotent Creator, is bring about tikkun olam, to move mankind closer to perfection. Rabbi Tarfon informs us in a Mishna, in the Tractate of Avoth, that though "it is not for you to finish the task, you are certainly not free to remain uninvolved in the task".

The masters of the Kabbalah expended much effort in explaining why this is so, why the Creator wants or requires us to complete what ostensibly should have been His creative task, why it is in His interest to have us "underlings" complete His creative process.

I don't today want to, at this point, enter into a discussion on the issue of why, but rather I want to bring some unexamples of man's implementation of the godly desire, man's challenge to God's will.

When Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden he pleaded with God saying, "You have consigned me to the level of my ass. When my donkey eats grain from his feedbag, I'll share his breakfast." Thereupon God taught Adam the eleven steps required to produce bread, he taught him the basics of food technology.

I would like to paraphrase or perhaps expand this story in the Midrash. God created a world in which He provided everything necessary for Man's survival. A large, almost infinite, variety of food. Clothes. Shelter. Sure the Eden era is over -- now we must plough, breed, build. But we can -- because the raw materials and tools are available to us. The technologies are known to us.

So I was surprised yesterday when I saw a story about coffee and bad breath. A study by Professor Mel Rosenberg at Tel Aviv University found that [yet unknown] compounds in coffee disrupt the activity of bacteria responsible for causing bad breath. According to the research, they can even block the bacterial development. Great! Cream and two sugars please (only kidding).

"Contrary to our expectations, we found some components in coffee that actually inhibit bad breath", explains Professor Rosenberg.

That's nice. You now don't have to put all those tubed chemicals into your mouth when washing your teeth. You can drink coffee, or perhaps use sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or saline. It is said that some people don't like the aftertaste of coffee. Please tell that to all the people who frequent Starbucks and the millions of other coffee lounges worldwide, or take home a jar of Taster's Choice.

Unfortunately you can't real make [additional] money selling coffee, sodium bicarbonate or common household salt. But you can make lots of money if you put them in a bottle and call them a medicine, a pharmaceutical, a drug. Never fear. Our scientists know where their bread is buttered. I didn't see who is funding this research, but you can be sure it isn't the coffee bean growers. Our investigators inform us, "Once the element in coffee which prevents malodor is isolated, it could be added to chewing gum, sucking candies, or salves* to prevent halitosis**". Wow!

Macrobiotics don't like tomatoes. They classify them as "night shade" vegetables. Their claim is that the acid in these foodstuffs may cause arthritis. Perhaps there is something in the claim. I like cherry tomatoes. They are certainly more tasty and I believe more digestible than the regular variety.

Recently it was found that tomatoes can help in reducing or even "blocking 'bad' LDL cholesterol which can clog arteries". Cool! God created these little red, round, robust vegetables, which can be cultivated nearly anywhere on the globe, in order to keep your blood flowing. Suffers of atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, can reduce their elevated levels of cholesterol without recourse to "artificial" [read manufactured in a factory] cholesterol blockers, including simvastatin, cholestyramine or clofibrate, by eating tomatoes in their salad.

But can a drug company make money selling tomatoes? Of course not. The BBC report continues, "Scientists say a natural supplement made from tomatoes, taken daily, can stave off heart disease and strokes. The tomato pill [sic] contains an active ingredient from the Mediterranean diet -- lycopene [actually the Latin word for tomato] -- which blocks 'bad' LDL cholesterol which can [sic] clog the arteries".

It's a few years since scientists first released the news that a daily glass of red wine can protect one against a range of conditions, including cancer and heart disease. Great for the wine growers of the world? (As an aside, the number of boutique wineries in Israel is growing geometrically. This trend is occurring in many other countries too. It seems wine consumption really is on the increase.)

You guessed it. The pharmaceutical companies are in there first. The BBC again: "Scientists in Italy are developing a pill that will have all of the health benefits of a glass of red wine."

Chocolate too has many benefits, like, yes, protecting you from cancer and heart disease. "Chocolate, like red wine, which is also said to protect against heart disease, is believed to contain chemicals called phenols. These reduce the presence of free radicals that damage cells and DNA, causing disease."

I haven't yet found a report of the drug companies in on this caper . . . yet.


* salves analgesic or medicinal ointment

** halitosis The condition of having stale or foul-smelling breath.

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