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February 15, 2013

STAWAR: Too little chili can be hazardous to your health

The cold days of February turn my thoughts to a hot bowl of chili. 

Chili suppers are still popular fundraisers. Our daughter was involved in preparing take-home chili on Super Bowl Sunday at her church. Last Saturday, my wife Diane and I worked at a church luncheon featuring chili and Tuesday there was a chili cook-off where I work, to benefit the American Cancer Society. At our church event, members of our Sunday school class brought pots of chili, which were then all mixed together. 

Historically, there has been lots of controversy about what should go into a proper pot of chili. I like both the light and dark kidney beans, although many people think that including any sort of beans at all is heresy. For this occasion, we also added some spaghetti noodles, like any good Hoosier. 

Diane said her mother always put in elbow macaroni noodles, which was unheard of in Southern Illinois, where I lived. My mother would occasionally pour chili over spaghetti and serve it as Chili Mac, but it was never mixed in as a standard ingredient. 

Diane knew some people in Wisconsin who put green peas in their chili, and I think we can all agree, that just isn’t right. At the chili lunch, one family’s recipe called for chic peas, a nice addition in my mind. 

Mixing several different kinds of chili together usually works out surprisingly well, despite the fact that it almost guarantees that there will be something included in each bowl that someone will find disagreeable. 

Events like chili suppers, spaghetti dinners, and fish fries were the hallmark of the 1950s and 1960s, when people and communities were more socially integrated. 

Harvard scholar Frank D. Putman warns that America’s social capital has become dangerously depleted over the past 25 years, as our connections with each other have dissolved and threaten to impoverish our lives and communities. Factors that have contributed to this decline include changes in work life, family structure, population demographics, suburban life, television, women’s roles and increasingly computers and digital technology. 

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