I Am Fed Up!

Belly FatPenny and I spent a rainy Saturday morning recently, sprawled on our couch watching a movie on Netflix. But it’s okay. We weren’t eating Doritos out of the bag, and the movie was a documentary, the film equivalent of eating kale. Daughter #1 had recommended this movie, the Katie Couric vehicle, Fed Up, which I assumed would be another version of Food, Inc.I don’t know how many people have gone back to the well of Whole Foods self righteousness to wring our collective hands over the American diet, but apparently the genre is to documentaries what comic-book movies are to movies with explosions. This one, sprawling all over the subject matter (but without a mention of Monsanto as the paragon of all evil), covered a good deal of the same fare as the previous incarnations.

What Fed Up does that is new is to point a fairly convincing finger at sugar as the biggest single problem in the American obesity problem. (Can we ever mention that word without putting “epidemic” after it?) On the other hand, it doesn’t really offer a great number of answers to the problem.

But I’m fed up with part of the message of Fed Up, which seems to blame every actor imaginable for our fat selves. The food companies are to blame. The schools are to blame. The food lobbyists are to blame. The wimpy Department of Agriculture is to blame. Former President Clinton is not to blame, apparently, and is interviewed mouthing commonplaces several times, although it’s not clear why his administration is absolved when those before and after him are held to account. Even Michelle Obama is criticized for allowing her anti-obesity message to shift from foods to exercise.

Everyone is guilty, it seems, except for the people who actually put the food in their mouths and, in the case of the children, their parents. We see a 400-pound fourteen-year-old going in for bariatric surgery, while his parents, both of whom are fairly fleshy, worry about him. Can we just agree that all of the eating that gets a person to that size doesn’t take place at school?

This film ridicules the narrative of the “nanny state,” but in suggesting that government is the answer in reining in the horrible greed of food companies, she ignores an inconvenient truth. You don’t need a nanny state when the actual nanny is doing the job. The problem is that too many American families are making a nanny out of the school and the television . In the end, you don’t need a nanny when the parents are on duty. Certainly there’s a place for the government to take a hand, but let’s not jettison personal responsibility.

Good Diet Advice?

movie_snacksA recent article in the New York Times provides seven “simple rules for healthy eating. As I read these rules, I’m struck by how sensible they seem, but then I’m also struck by how the “common sense” of 2015 that underlies these rules might have seemed senseless a few years ago. Take, for example the brave new world attitude toward two of the bogeymen of diets past:

Things like salt and fat aren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. Don’t be afraid of them, but don’t go crazy with them either.

As appetizing (sorry) as I find these guidelines, I wonder if the author Dr. Aaron Carroll, isn’t just lending his credentials to the prevailing winds of public opinion. In fact, this scientist admits pretty frankly that his ideas are not terribly scientific.

These suggestions are also not supported by the scientific weight of rigorous randomized controlled trials, because little in nutrition is.

If this is true, as it apparently is–after all, would a doctor lie?–then why are the pronouncements of doctors, nutritionists, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be taken seriously? Why should we think of a diet rich in pizza and cheesecake as being inferior to one full of whole grains and organic veggies? Why should we take this non-scientific advice more seriously than we take the dietary codes of the Old Testament? The answer: It just seems right. I’m sorry, but that’s pretty feeble science.

I have to admit that reading over Dr. Carroll’s ideas, I feel as if he gives good advice. I feel that, but I won’t be a bit surprised when the winds of opinion shift in ten years and decide that Wonder Bread was actually what we should have been eating all along.


Be (Less) Salt of the Earth

A spilled salt shakerIn Matthew 5:13, Jesus admonishes us to be the salt of the earth. It’s a metaphor, but why would Jesus make a positive metaphor out of such a wicked substance. After all, as anyone who pays attention to the scientific brilliance of TV newscast health reports, salt is a silent killer. Before long, Morton will be joining American Tobacco in a walk of shame for contributing to the long, slow demise of American health.

But not so fast, scientists are increasingly saying. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that not only are the government’s recommendations for salt intake unnecessarily low but a too-low intake of salt can actually be a health risk. An article in the Washington Post presents the matter in some detail.

“The current [salt] guidelines are based on almost nothing,” said [Dr. Suzanne] Oparil, a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Some people really want to hang onto this belief system on salt. But they are ignoring the evidence.”

How could something as simple as salt stymie scientists for so long? The answer is that, despite the dietary claims that are made for all kinds of foods, actually substantiating how eating influences human health is notoriously difficult.

Not being a chemist, a physician, a nutritionist, or anything else likely to get me a guest appearance on Dr. Oz, what am I to do? I have a host of established scientists on one side saying the salt will kill me, while a host of scientists on the other side, perhaps less established but possessing more recent studies, say that too little salt is a problem. I’m stuck in the middle, hand paralyzed over the salt shaker.

This dilemma is yet another underscore for something I’ve long believed: Christian life is better than non-Christian life. As a believer, I’d love to live a long and healthy life, but I recognize that my hope is not ultimately tied up with the findings of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I can respect the way in which science lurches along testing provisional truths and moving from hypothesis to hypothesis, but I know that I can depend on the unmoving truth of the Word become flesh. The insight from the Holy Spirit, while not quite as specific as a recommended daily intake of sodium, will provide the guidance that I truly need.

While the nutritionists furiously rage together and the people imagine a vain thing, I’m going to focus on being the salt of the earth. Pass the salt, please.