Sunday, December 29, 2013

Healthy Eating

As part of its sedulous concern for the welfare of its workers, my school favors us with periodic health tips via a newsletter put out by some medical organization. The most recent newsletters, which came out just before the holiday season, offered advice on how one should approach this merry time—a time that the writers of the newsletter apparently assume to be a period of gluttony, self-indulgence, and sybaritic abandon that would make the Roman Saturnalia look like a Quaker prayer meeting—without entirely destroying one’s constitution.

Of course, this is not the first time I have seen such helpful screeds. One can hardly go on the Internet or enter a store without finding signs, handouts, and flyers that proffer advice, monitions, and scary predictions concerning the consequences of eating food—almost any food. Merely reading the many articles that appear in the News section of could convince a person that hardly anything is safe.

Indeed, I have concluded that the basic belief held by the authors of these manifestos is that all food is poison and that it would be far better if we could eat nothing at all, or at least nothing that tasted good or in any way appealed to human beings.

Since, however, human beings do have to eat, the dietary experts have undertaken to make us feel as guilty as possible about it, so we will eat as little as possible. Their language is remarkable. We are told we may “allow” ourselves a cookie at a Christmas party; that we should eat some “healthy” concoction before going out so as to minimize our evil lust to consume a sausage or a brownie later on; that we ought to seek out the plate of broccoli and celery while fighting down the death-wish—a wish perhaps the result of the inherent wickedness imparted by Original Sin—to instead have a fried onion ring. The day after we blaspheme the temple of our body by riotous gourmandizing we must, of course, head for the gym and exercise especially hard so as to exorcise the aftereffects of insensate indulgence.

The language of these publications really is a bit theological. We are prone to sin—sin in this case that may result in crippling ourselves and bringing pain and misery to our loved ones when we collapse as a result of easily-avoided dietary wickedness—and must seek forgiveness by, for example, a few hours on a treadmill. (Did you know that treadmills were used as punishment in Victorian-era prisons? Yes. Prisoners were compelled to put in so many hours on a treadmill. Think how healthy they were at the end of their sentences. And they didn’t even have to pay for using the equipment!)

As one who was brought up in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, I can speak with some authority on techniques of inducing guilt: the modern food-haters are doing a good job. I am sure they have succeeded in removing joy from the lives of many people. Even at a holiday party we cannot eat an hors-d’oeuvre without a premonition of doom; as you pop that small, wizened sausage into your mouth you can feel a stain spreading onto your soul; you find yourself excusing your reckless indulgence in a handful of popcorn by resolving to starve yourself for a week to make up for your transgression. This is an improvement on the Confessional: the sinner now assigns himself his own penance even as he commits the sin.

I do not think the heralds of health go far enough, however. So I would like to offer a few ideas on how each of us can contribute to the welfare of our fellow men:

1)  If you are invited to, let us say, a New Year’s party, station yourself next to the table that bears the most seductive goodies. Be sure to have with you a heavy ruler and a bag of healthy food. Whenever some libertine is about to pick up a cheese cracker, rap him sharply on the knuckles with the ruler and offer him a carrot. Recalled as by a guardian angel from impending corruption by a Satanic canapĂ©, he will surely be grateful.

2)  Bring with you to parties pictures of malnourished children. (You can easily print these from the Internet.) Scatter them about the snack tables. This should induce healthy guilt into all the revelers.

3)  Cards printed with improving slogans such as these can be placed at strategic spots:

      A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
      A slice of cake and you're at your wake.
      "Devil's Food" indeed!
      An apple tart may stop your heart.
      Abandon all hope, ye who nibble here!
      Like some pie? Prepare to die.
      The way to Hell is paved with chocolate cupcakes.
      Water is God's champagne.
The health savants, as well as the spirits of Oliver Cromwell, John Calvin, and all our Puritan forebears, will surely thank you (even if no one else does).
- Feel free to send this essay to anyone who might enjoy it (as is true of all posts on this blog.)

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