28 September 2011

In praise of unhealthy food

Well, in light of my recent post siding with Anthony Bourdain, perhaps this title seems a bit hypocritical.  Perhaps it would be better to praise "eating food for food's sake" and "not freaking out every time a new item at the grocery store is labeled a super food".  My thoughts today are about whether or not we can rely on our groceries to stave off cancer, keep us looking like we are 20 forever, and make us thin.  Despite ongoing, desperate reports to the contrary, it appears that about all food can do is keep us from going hungry.

This is no longer meat.
Those antioxidants in super-expensive pomegranate juice?  Slate tells us they are probably useless.  In fact, who knows?--they might even be bad for you.  Drinking milk after workouts to get/ keep thin?  Probably a load of crap pushed through by the powerful American Dairy Association.  Remember the food pyramid?  It's gone.  Remember when eggs were bad for you?  Now they're good!  Potatoes?  Also good!  Bacon?  No longer considered a meat source!

What I am trying to illustrate is our utter and complete confusion regarding exactly what the perfect diet is for all Americans.  It's no wonder, of course--different bodies probably need slightly different foods.  But with so much idle time and our dabbling in what the media has convinced us is "science", we have spent far too much time, in my humble opinion, searching for magical ingredients to help us live forever and puzzling over why others seem healthier than we are.  The Asian diet, because some Asians live much longer than some Americans, has been touted as our new savior: very little meat, lots of vegetables, tea, and tofu.  No booze.  It sounds like a good idea, doesn't it?

But then, why do Italians have such low incidences of heart disease when they drink red wine and eat pasta every day?  It's the fish!  If you eat exactly what they eat, you, too, will have a healthy heart!  You see, it's all healthy fat.  That's the difference.  But wait--what about the French?  They don't go to the gym, they eat stinky, fatty cheese, duck liver, and tons of white bread, and they drink champagne like it's going out of style.  That does sound awesome, but is it a diet America can get behind?  Well, they live slightly longer, on average, than we do and they are noticeably thinner as a culture, so yes, yes we can do that.

The Italian diet in action.

Here's the dirty little secret that never gets mentioned in our obsessive, schizophrenic search for the perfect diet: A LOT of countries have longer life expectancies than we do.  35 countries, to be exact, including Japan, Italy, France, but also Malta, Macau, and Israel, where people are constantly killing each other.  We kind of suck at staying alive, apparently.  Same thing for staying thin, which is supposed to help with being alive.  We are fat and die earlier than others despite our constant anxiety and our constant talk about diets and health.  And we will experiment with all kinds of kooky, nonsensical fads, but we never seem to make up our minds.  So here is my inexpert, entirely non-tested advice (but I'm not overweight and I'm not dead yet, so who knows?):

Don't eat this too often.  Unless you're my grandpa.

  • Stop looking for a miracle cure.  It's not pomegranate juice, nor pasta, nor red wine (sorry).  No food or beverage will guarantee that you won't contract some rare form of cancer and die at age 35.  And while many people around the world struggle just to eat enough to stay alive, isn't it a bit crass to pay $26 for an antioxidant tonic promising to be your new fountain of youth?
  • Stop trying to copy others.  My grandfather lived to be 92, and he ate only tan foods whenever possible: fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and of course Werther's carmels.  He had low blood pressure, low cholesterol, and was relatively active late in life.  I would not attempt his diet for myself (because it's disgusting), but it worked for him.  And tofu and veggies work for a lot of Japanese people, and cheese that smells like feet works in France.  Our bodies are all different, though, so that doesn't mean that any of these approaches will work for you.  
  • Stop acting like a freak and use some common sense.  Three meals of Reese's peanut butter cups every day, while FABULOUS!, is probably not good for you.  Nothing but grapefruit all week, with no other nutrients to round it out, is also probably not a wise choice.  That cheesy omelet you had last week?  Meh, I don't know.  But if you're worried about it, maybe you can have some more broccoli today to even things out.  Moderation, and not constantly worrying, might be the only tricks we need.  

Oh yeah, and
  • Move your fat butt off the couch!  French people aren't thin from loving life, they are thin because they walk everywhere.  I have perfectly mobile colleagues who will wait for an elevator for several minutes to go up one floor, so strong is their disdain for walking up a flight of stairs.  Stop it.  That's stupid.  

This is how you walk.  Try it today!