Diets Don’t Work


Diets don’t work.  Yeah, I said it.  Okay, I’ll admit that in some parts of the world, diets do work, but they’re mostly involuntary.  (Yeah, I said that, too.)  Here’s the deal.  Western society is awash in food, and for the last 50 years, we’ve been fighting a tremendous battle to keep it out of our mouths – and — we’re losing.  The problem is, like most contemporary situations, we want a quick fix, and we’re willing to lie to ourselves (and others) to get it.  So, when we say, “I’m going to change my life, burn my fat clothes, join a gym and start eating healthy from now on,” what we actually mean is, “God, I hope if I stop eating all the stuff I really like for a while and take the stairs at work, I’m going to be able to fit into my underwear again.”  Folks, that’s not the way to do it – because:

Food is everywhere. – Walk down any High Street in Europe or drive down any highway in North America, and you’re going to find food.  Fast food, slow food, food you can eat right now, food you can save for later, food from a farmer, food from a factory, food from a chemistry set, and even food that started life as something completely different.  My point is it’s easier to avoid heroin if you’re an addict than it is to avoid food if you’re on a diet.  Spend a day out in the big, wide world and you’ll come home so pissed off about all the stuff you CAN’T have, you’ll eat the sofa.

Our culture is built on food. – You have to look far and wide to find any social interaction that doesn’t involve food — breakfast meetings, dinner parties, potluck, barbeque, cake and coffee, tea and biscuits and it goes on and on and on.  Even our mating rituals revolve around food.  Want to get to know somebody?  Go out to lunch.  Want to really get to know somebody?  Go out to dinner.  Want to get laid, married or engaged?  Go out to an expensive dinner.  Nobody ever says, “Hey, I think you’re an interesting person.  Let’s get together and drink some water.”

Snacks – The harsh reality is snacks are the food we eat in between the time we’ve finished eating (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the time we start eating again.  Nobody west of the Vistula is actually hungry.  It’s just a contemporary twitch — and good luck trying to break that habit.

Most people are like me.  — I have a car, a microwave, a dishwasher, a Roomba, a thing that cuts up my vegetables and two guys who show up every once in a while to work in the garden.  I also have a television, a computer and a flat screen thingy that reads to me.  On ordinary days, I don’t get enough exercise to fill a mouse’s ear: on lazy days, I could be in a coma.  In the 21st century, we simply don’t move enough.  So it really doesn’t matter how many calories you’re not eating; if you work at a desk all day and spend your evenings cultivating your ass groove in front of a TV or computer – you’re pretty much screwed.

So, what’s the solution?

The Mediterranean was the first Eden, and by all accounts, Adam and Eve were pretty hot property owners, so it makes sense to eat the way the Mediterraneans do.  What’s not to like?  Fish, chicken, and the occasional cow, 50 kinds of pasta, 100 different sauces, who knows how many cheeses, olives, avocados, enough garlic to scare your friends, bread that doesn’t taste like sawdust, all the salad, fruit and veg you can get your mitts on, red wine, white wine and — at the end of it all — coffee and tiramisu.

No fuss!  No muss!  And it beats the hell out of kale and quinoa on a cracker!

Summertime – and The People are Greasy!

Today, I saw the first sign that yet another spring is steadily steaming towards summer.  The tank tops have come out of their long winter hibernation.  Soon, shorts will follow as millions of women (and more than a few men) shave, whack and cream away their winter pelts in preparation for partial nudity.  From there, it’s only a matter of a few degrees and all that exposed flesh will start reeking of sunscreen in a sweet serenade to the solstice and beyond.

I have nothing against the human body; all of my friends have one.  Nor do I mind summer, although it’s not my favourite season.  However, I find it quite odd that every year our culture demands we take off most of our clothes in homage to the sun, then smear ourselves pasty with unidentifiable chemicals in paranoid protection against it.  There’s an A in this logical train, and a B, but for the life of me, I can’t find C.  I’m actually worried that future anthropologists will take one National Geographic-funded look at our society and conclude we were a stupid, frivolous people who worshipped flab.  That would be the natural conclusion if our civilization meets its demise anytime between the end of May and Labour Day.

I can just imagine the 3D hologram documentary: a team of scientists digging up scores of corpses, all perfectly preserved (and permanently stuck together) by the SPF 60 embalming fluid we are imbibing through every pore.  The monotone voiceover would be priceless.  (Read this in a standard BBC accent.)
“We don’t know a lot about the Normerica people, really.  However, from the data we’re finding, we can conclude that they spent most of their wealth on food.  As you can see, they were abnormally fat and practically naked.”
“Why do you think they gathered around water?”
“We don’t know why exactly, but some evidence suggests they were trying to wash off this slimy crap we’re finding everywhere.  Tissue samples show that this is probably the substance that killed them.”
“Other scientists have postulated that the Normericas actually used these dangerous chemicals to coat their bodies as part of a Death Cult ritual.  What do you say to that?”
“Most serious scholars dismiss those theories as academic sensationalism.  If there were any of these so-called Death Cults, they would most certainly have involved food.  Just take a look at the size of these people and notice the family grouping — even the children.  Look at the distended abdomen, the heavy thighs; here we see signs of adolescent cellulite.  No, it’s quite apparent that food was the Normericas’ number one priority.  Their whole lives revolved around it.  We believe they discarded their clothes as a visual affirmation of their devotion to food.  I doubt very much if they concerned themselves with the damage these chemicals were doing until it was too late.  Of course, this is still speculation, but we hope this particular find will shed more light of the Normerican culture.”
“Thank you so much, Dr. Kardashian.  This is Justin Bieber XVII, reporting live from the Pacific Coast outside Las Vegas, Nevada.”

It could happen!

I realize that we’re rubbing our way through the ozone layer at such an alarming rate that the rays of our life-giving sun are becoming dangerous to exposed flesh.  I also realize that our society has developed a sophomore titillation with peekaboo, and since we abandoned discretion back when Paris Hilton was a puppy we need to protect ourselves.  However, the logical solution is not an extended chemical bath — especially since, in the last two decades, we’ve collectively gained enough weight to populate a whole new country.  Here’s the deal, folks.  I don’t care what season it is, or how sexy you want to be, if you look like a stunt double from Free Willy the movie, cover yourself!   Not only will you being doing yourself a favour by not playing hide and seek with melanoma, your neighbours will thank you.  Perhaps not to your face but, believe me, they’ll appreciate your efforts.  And guys, this includes painting yourself orange and showing up at football games with your shirt off – it’s not appealing.  In fact, as Red Green once said, “You’re frightening the children and confusing the babies.”

I know summer’s coming, but this year, instead of spending tons of money on clothes that hardly cover what Mother Nature provided and greasing the rest of you up with God only knows what chemical concoction, could we just pause for a second and look in a mirror?  As a man of the world (with an ever-increasing equator) I know of what I speak.

Henry Ford and the Road to Obesity

Everybody knows we’re getting fat.  You can’t go anywhere without being reminded that our Western society is plumping up like a corn-fed chicken.  And it’s not just statistical anymore: some far away Body Mass mumbo-jumbo spread over an entire state and distilled into a percentage.  No, everybody knows somebody who’s carrying an extra twenty pounds (Sometimes, it’s them!) and most of us actually know a few people who are waddle-over-to-the-fridge-for-another-corndog obese.  Fat is breaking down the doors of our society and coming in for dinner.  Normal is becoming one more chin and one less visible belt buckle.  Everybody knows this, but nobody knows why.

The general consensus is our society’s problem with personal lard comes from junk food and video games.  While this is true, it doesn’t tell the whole story; to do that, we need to go back in history and look at who is actually responsible: Henry Ford.

Most of us know Henry Ford as the guy who invented the assembly line.  This is a good way to pinpoint him in history, but it’s not strictly true.  The automobile assembly line was invented by Ransom E. Olds; Ford just borrowed (stole?) the idea and made it work.  Olds went on to build Oldsmobiles, and Ford changed our society forever.  Here’s how it happened.

Throughout most of history, ever since Khufu the Egyptian decided he wanted a big funeral, there was only one way to make things: local craftspeople.  These were individuals (and, probably, their sons) who toiled away, usually at home, producing one item at a time.  This changed with the Industrial Revolution when factories and machines started doing the grunt work, but, in general, precision jobs, even into the 20th century, were done individually.  In 1913, Henry Ford (who, BTW, didn’t much care for history) changed all that by producing an inexpensive and reliable automobile on that assembly line he stole borrowed.  The economics is complicated, but, in a nutshell, Ford brought his labour costs down to the point where he could actually pay better wages.  In essence, he produced an automobile his own workers could afford.  It went like this: while Ford was selling his Model T for $360.00, over in Lansing, Olds was selling Oldsmobiles for $4,000.00 (the price of a decent house at the time.)  In fact, Ford made the Model T (or “Tin Lizzy”) so cheap you were a fool not to buy one.  Within ten years, there were 20 million automobiles on the roads of America, and nearly half of them were Model T’s.

So what has this got to do with fat people a hundred years later?  (I thought you’d never ask?)  This is where the dominos of unintended results start to fall, and once they get going, they move pretty quickly.

Before Ford’s transportation revolution, the majority of the workload in the world was done by a vast army of horses.  They pulled, hauled and lifted most everything, carried goods and people to and from the marketplace, plowed and harvested, and, on Sunday, took the family to church.  They were as ubiquitous then as the automobile is today.  However, as more and more people bought cars and trucks for work, pleasure and transportation, fewer and fewer people needed those horses.  They began to disappear, along with all the industries associated with them.  Things like livery stables, harness shops and the thousands of farms that once grew the hay, straw and oats needed to keep a four-legged army on the road every day: all went poof.  Over the next few years, millions of acres of fertile land went from producing fodder for horses to food for people.  The change was so rapid and our agriculture so efficient that, all over the country, growers, distributors and wholesalers found themselves with literally megatons of extra food on their hands.  They had to figure out a way to get rid of it without bankrupting everybody through oversupply.   Their solution was to add value to their products by processing them: the difference in price between a bag of flour and a loaf of bread is huge.

This also widened their market.  With rapid transportation, processed and preserved food could be shipped all over the country — with no loss to spoilage.  Suddenly, Georgia peaches were available in Milwaukee in cans, Florida oranges showed up in Chicago as juice and Nebraska corn became nachos in Arizona.  Bisquick™ biscuits might cost a little more than grandma’s, but they were way more convenient.  Frozen Birdseye™ vegetables didn’t taste quite as good as fresh, but it beat shopping every day.  Canned and frozen became the norm as we sacrificed taste and quality for quick and easy.

From there, it was only a matter of time (two decades and a World War) until the automobile itself became a link in the food chain.  In the 50s and 60s, young people with disposable income were spending their evenings cruising the suburbs a la American Graffiti.  The drive-in restaurant was the place to meet and greet the opposite sex and share a Cherry Coke™ and a cheeseburger.  In the great scheme of things, an Idaho potato might be worth about 10 cents on its own, but turn it into Mcdonald’s fries, and it’s worth a dollar; 45 cents worth of Texas hamburger became a $3.99 Big Mac™.  Raised on cake mixes, TV dinners and canned vegetables, young people didn’t hesitate to gobble up acres of fast food and wash it all down with buckets of soda pop.  It was the natural extension of value-added foodstuffs.

Today, automobiles allow us to live miles away from where we work, but on the long road home, there’s a cornucopia of drive-thru fast food, just waiting to eat dinner with our children — and we don’t even have to get out of the car!  Our long commutes mean very few of us pause to eat breakfast or have time to pack a lunch.  Therefore, after sitting in the car for an hour and at our desk for another two, by the time the cashew-carrot muffin comes around — healthy or not — we have two.  It’s easier and sometimes cheaper to eat the carefully preserved pre-chopped salad, feed the snack pak lunch to our kids and microwave the frozen lasagna for dinner than to buy a raw chicken and figure out what to do with it.  Actually, it’s incredibly difficult to even find unfinished food anymore.  Next time you’re in a grocery store, look around and compare processed food to fresh; it usually runs at a three-to-one ratio.

Of course, we’re getting fat, and, yes, Angry Birds™ and Pizza Pops™ are to blame. But history has a way of giving us unintended results, and if Henry Ford had been a farmer instead of an economic wizard, we might not have had either.