Saturday, April 2, 2011

At the Heart of an Inferior Olive

I recently bit down on a half-cured, unripe olive. It was a disappointing gastronomic experience, to say the least. Our personally picked olives had cured for two months in a concentrated brine, and most of them were pretty good. This particular olive, however, was decidedly inferior--so inferior, in fact, that it got me thinking.

As a medical student my mind has sunk deep into medical tracts. So when I thought of that bitter olive, the inferior olivary nucleus came to mind. This nucleus relays information to the cerebellum, which basically means that it is involved in muscle coordination.

Coordination is important not just as I walk to class or scribble notes about neuroscience but also as I seek a clutter-free life. Take those olives, for instance. Christy and I believe that picking our own olives is a good way to both practice and enjoy the ethic of simplicity. We simplify our budget by picking and curing our own olives, while at the same time we experience the simple joy of personally selected olives seasoned with garlic and rosemary. In this way, a small budget coordinates, rather than conflicts, with the joy of good food.

Such coordination doesn't always happen, however. Sometimes, we soldier through a few days of beans and oatmeal in order to stay within our monthly food budget. And sometimes, a bitter olive greets my taste buds instead of a gourmet delight.

So from the heart of an inferior olive(ary nucleus), we have learned two things about the ethic of simplicity. First, practicing idealism in the real world does not come without sacrifice. Like it or not, freedom from clutter inevitably means a few "bitter olives". The second point, however, is that living simply is not a zero sum game with all the good things of life. Coordination is possible. We have discovered, in fact, that coordination happens far more often than conflict. The tasty olives really do outweigh the bitter. In fact if you haven't already, we highly recommend that you taste for yourself one of these days.


  1. Awesome! You guys never fail to amuse and amaze me!

  2. Great, Barry! A lot of people talk Simplicity, thanks for leading by example. Outstanding!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, Elwyn. We're still newbies with the practice of simplicity. Compared to hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari, we have a long ways to go:)Still, we're having a great time with the journey, and really appreciate your support.