Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Explaining That Last Blog Entry

I hope my most recent blog diatribe (it seems like that should be "monotribe") on eating habits isn't misunderstood. I believe in good eating habits although I've probably violated them as much as any American. And I think all of us should follow the advice of bone fide experts, reducing salt, fat, carbohydrates, sugary drinks, etc., in our diet. But I also think too many of those who are posing as our food wardens send contradictory, and more to the point, a confusing array of information out to a public unprepared to implement it, either because they can't afford the foods recommended, can’t sort out the confused message of the experts, or because their lives are so structured that preparing meals only with fresh organic items is out of the question.

It takes time and money to eat the way our experts expect us to; time to prepare such meals, and money to afford the ingredients for preparing "from scratch" meals. (Many of our poorest eaters live in situations in which they lack proper sanitation for preparing food, lack the utensils needed to prepare it, lack the kitchen space and appliances it would require, and lack the skills needed to cook wholesome meals.)  Even for those who could prepare good meals it is often easier, when one is rushed or tired, to grab something on the way to work or on the way home in the evening or, failing that, to open a can or a box and make a quick meal at home; soup or mac ‘n cheese. These are all problems that theoretically could be addressed but no one I know of is proposing that radical a solution. Rather we get entertainment-based shows that feature unrealistic solutions aimed at the affluent or the rare household that can afford to support a full-time “homemaker.”

But the thing I get most upset about is what I see as, in the case of Dr. Oz, hucksterism, and in the case self-proclaimed dietary experts, extreme excentricism. (That is probably not a word but I mean by it that they are out of balance and far from the center of accepted dietary practice.) It would be impossible to follow the advice of Oz; he has a different guru on each day with a different take on what will make us live forever or quickly lose those unwanted pounds. Figuring out what to believe is as impossible as asking "What would Oprah do?" And I have serious doubts if very many people maintain the exotic diets of their favorite expert for any length of time. I've talked to a few people who have tried one or more of them (sometimes in tandem) and decided they weren't for them. I’ve heard of more.

One other point which I alluded to in the poem is that, since the turn of the twentieth century, longevity has steadily increased in the U.S. (In 2006 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that, for the first time in the U.S. life expectancy exceeded 78 years.) I believe that is because of the healthier diet we were able to afford and obtain, especially in the years after WWII (and the reduction in infant mortality). It is only recently, with the advent of fast food, and ubiquitous convenience store food, that we have been packing on the pounds and threatening to shorten our lifespan again. The problem is, of course, partly what we eat but probably more how much of it we eat, how often we eat it, and how little we do to burn off those excess calories.

I suspect the average neighborhood dietary specialist is very sincere in what she/he recommends. (Their typical story runs something like this; I – or my husband or child – was dying and the regular medical profession could do nothing for me, but I researched and found the holy grail of dietary supplements or specialized foods that cured me, and now I want the whole world to be as healthy as I am. For a small fee I’ll send you my book that will guide you into health.) I doubt that many such experts are becoming rich from their work as “dieticians.” Nonetheless I think they run the risk of steering people away from sound medical advice, often at a time in their life when they need it badly.

Even Oz may believe he is providing useful information to his audience but I have a hard time believing he gives more than a cursory thought to the programs his production crew lines up for him to do each day. If he isn't as highly paid by NBC as Brian Williams he can't be far behind. I'm assuming money is his prime motivation for being there rather than in the cardiac surgery unit for which he is reputedly well trained and expert.

But it is hard to fit all of that into a poem, and you can see that it becomes less poetic the more I get stirred up about it. If you are still around, thanks for listening. I hope this clarifies the purpose of the poem – which, indeed, had little purpose beyond that of entertainment.

I do eat pretty much what I want to. I often think of a Pastor’s statement several years ago, that we all do what we want to. We may wish we didn't want to do what we are doing but we nonetheless are doing what we want to do. I want to eat in a manner that keeps me as healthy as I can be. That includes not eating some things that I wish I didn't want to not eat.

But I don't want eccentrics and hucksters jerking me around either. That is why I go to Mayo (and to those who base their opinions on peer-reviewed evidence – the NIH, the CFDC&P, etc.) for my advice and not to the one-diet-fits-all expert or to the great Oz.

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