Steak sauce, Jedis, and social justice


Dear Rebecca:

Your son is awesome and smart and full of heart. But I want to add to the discussion of  the A1 steak sauce label — hopefully in a way that doesn’t discourage his passion for justice, but informs it.

So, a couple of thoughts:

It’s wise not to trust the “official” history. You and your son already know this, of course, but it’s pertinent here. The label may say “Established 1862,” but that’s not quite right. Here’s a short history from, which I think is accurate:

A.1. Steak Sauce was created sometime before 1831 by Henderson William Brand, who was a cook for King George IV. He may have first made or come across the sauce while in the King’s employ, but it’s highly doubtful that the King tasted it and pronounced it “A1”, as he is reputed to have said.

In 1831, Brand struck out on his own to make the sauce, founding a company called Brand & Co. In 1850, the business was bought by W.H. Withall, but continued to trade under the Brand name. The sauce was exhibited at the International Exposition in London in 1862. In 1873, Brand & Co. was bought by Dence and Mason. It was introduced into America in 1895; into Canada in 1931.

That challenges the idea that people were ignoring the Civil War to frivolously manufacture condiments, at least in this case. Myths can distract us from the truth of a matter, and cause us to midirect even our best-intentioned efforts.

But I’d also argue that wartime condiment manufacture isn’t all that bad. Why?

People gotta eat, man. Let’s put aside, for the moment, that lots of old-style condiments were made not to make foods taste better, but to stop foods from tasting bad: Fresh food, quality food, in abundance, is a relatively recent historical blessing: People dealt with the issue by slopping mustard or spices or, yes, A1 sauce on meats that were badly prepared, or gamey, or simply not that good, just to make things palatable.

Having a decent meal — thinking about ways to procure and create a decent meal — doesn’t mean you can’t also work against injustice. Sometimes, it’s the most essential task in the world.

I found this blog post fascinating:

Have you noticed how much ministry Jesus did around the dinner table? Here are some examples. For ‘starters’, pardon the pun, two meals, the last supper and the feeding of the 5,000, are recorded in all four gospels. Also Jesus’ meal with Levi the tax collector and his shadowy friends is found in all but John’s gospel. We add the feeding of the 4,000, found in both Mark and Matthew. Total these up and we have four meals, found in thirteen passages! But there are many more. Meals are particularly prominent in Luke’s gospel. Take a look at two very uncomfortable meals at the houses of Pharisees (11:37-54 and 14:1-24), the meal with Zacchaeus (19:1-10), and the meal that followed Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the Emmaus Road (24:30). The list is still not complete. You can see why scholars have said, ‘Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.’

The task of working for justice — social or otherwise — doesn’t necessarily have to be done with grim asceticism. (Though: Sometimes it does.) Otherwise, we’d all be eating flavorless millet until the revolution comes. We certainly wouldn’t be going out to restaurants.

In any case, when your entire culture has committed itself to killing many other people, it’s not the worst thing to avoid that process and instead put your energies.

And for some reason, I’m thinking about the woman who covered Jesus in perfume. There are moments when the beautiful thing, the celebratory thing, is the important thing to do. It’s not always easy to identify those moments, however.

There will always be wars and rumors of wars. Your son says: ““And you know, in four years, I get to vote. Don’t think that my generation is going to forgive yours for the state of things.”

Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for saying ““the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I’m honestly not sure if the second part of that is true, but I know for certain the first part is. Striving for justice is the work of generations, one that goes (at least!) to the time of Jesus. Nobody has ever “fixed” things entirely: We (hopefully) do the best we can in the time we have, and then we hand the struggle onto the next generation. Will there be a generation that solves everything? I very much doubt it. In 20 or 30 years, I feel certain some youngster will be griping about the failures of our children’s generation.

The Baby Boomers griped about their parents’ failures, particularly during Vietnam. Gen Xers have spent recent years lamenting their parents haven’t left them America as good as they found it. And now the next generation gets to complain about us. It was ever thus.

All this reminds me of “The Last Jedi,” and some comments Mark Hamill made recently about Luke’s depressing arc in that movie:

It is tragic. I’m not a method actor, but one of the techniques a method actor will use is to try and use real-life experiences to relate to whatever fictional scenario he’s involved in. The only thing I could think of, given the screenplay that I read, was that I was of the Beatles generation—‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘peace and love’.

I thought at that time, when I was a teenager: ‘By the time we get in power, there will be no more war, there will be no racial discrimination, and pot will be legal.’ So I’m one for three. When you think about it, [my generation is] a failure. The world is unquestionably worse now than it was then.

I’m not sure it’s worse. But no, we haven’t achieved utopia. I dare say we never will.

I’m worried in expressing all this, I sound like a fuddy-duddy grownup patting a younger person on the head with a patronizing “someday you’ll understand.” I want your son to be angry about injustice, to pursue solutions with a righteous zeal.

But you’re right, Rebecca, when you say “relentless outrage isn’t effective–we also need to rest and recuperate, refocus so we can come back stronger. And the normal tasks of life continue: laundry, dishes, homework, maintaining friendships, attending funerals.”

Amen. Let us work toward justice as best we can, recognizing the work may accrue some victories and setbacks, but will probably never be complete.

Also: I like A1 steak sauce.

With love and respect,




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s