Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A True Believer

I was proselytized today - and all I set out to do was take a water aerobics class. The instructor is a temporary substitute, while the normal Tuesday instructor is recovering from knee surgery; this was the first time I'd seen her, as the regular instructor just had surgery last week.

The new instructor had just read a book, after seeing the author interviewed on public television; and she was full of the enthusiasm of the converted. Nothing would do but that she must share her bright new truth with the class, especially since it was about our health. We must know this, it would be good for us. I don't remember the author's name, she said he was a researcher at Cal Berkeley; but the burden of her song was that it doesn't matter how much you exercise or how carefully you watch your diet: you must eliminate bread. If you eat bread you will be fat, and you won't be able to control it. Bread is evil, especially white bread. We all know, of course, that sugar is evil, too; but I admit I've never before heard high-fructose corn syrup described as "toxic." I think that may be a little overstated. Even fruit should be eaten only in moderation, as it contains - yes - sugar. She particularly warned the group against mangoes.

About this time, I stopped listening. I went there to exercise; if I want advice on nutrition I know how to find it. I also know a fad when I hear one, and this, by God, is a fad; in a couple of years they will have found some other thing to be appalled about. A few years ago it was the carcinogens in grilled meat. Her horror at the unsanitary conditions in a soda pop factory - they get so many flies, she said, that the FDA gives them an allowance of insect parts that are acceptable in soda pop - led me to remark that they probably do filter out the biggest bits; but mostly I just let her rant.

The interesting thing about the whole incident was her tone. She spoke with the accent and the emotional verve of a recent convert to a new religion. In another era she would have been standing on a street corner with a tambourine, singing hymns and exhorting passers-by to believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved, brothers! I guess it's true that you don't have to follow a formal religion to be religious; she certainly exhibited a religious fervor over this.

And I, of course, immediately raised my hackles and growled; I don't like people who know the only Truth. The step from "I know the only Truth" to "The people who refuse my Truth (translation: don't agree with me) are evil and must be destroyed" is all too short: and the next step after that is into war and ethnic cleansing and other unpleasant pastimes. I doubt anyone would kill someone because they eat white bread; but there are people in Berkeley who publicly embarrass pregnant women whom they don't know, if they see them drinking wine or smoking in public. This is a form of social assault, and is a lesser manifestation of the impulse that leads the Taliban to beat women who appear in public without a burqa.

I also have little patience with ascetics; this is the new asceticism, where we will only be purified if we give up the foods we like. I like bread, and it's certainly better for me to snack on than, say, potato chips or pork rinds. For that matter, I like soda pop, although I limit my intake because I'm trying to control my weight.
My main reflection on the proposed diet is that you wouldn't be able to tell if it actually made you live longer, or if it merely seemed that way...


  1. Anonymous7:53 PM

    I'm thinkin', I'm thinkin'. So much to believe, so little merit.

    Anonymous David the Apparently Uncovertable

  2. Anonymous4:10 PM

    Ah, another zealot. Makes you wonder about the thousands and thousands of people throughout history for whom bread was a main stay. I guess they didn'tknow what was good for them.

  3. I know, this is what drives me crazy about the "bread is evil" crew: for thousands of years, bread was the food, the staff of life; if you had bread, you had food. If you had bread and cheese, you had good food. Now, if they see you with bread and cheese, they hassle you about refined flour, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Ridiculous.