When I was a teenager, our family lived in a house with a big front porch that my parents and grandmother used like a second living room. When it rained, Daddy sat out there anyway, on the metal porch furniture that was sometimes in shallow puddles of water that the wind blew in.
If it began thundering and lightening, Mother would dash to the screen door and urge him to please come inside. She was afraid of a lightening strike and Daddy’s tragic demise. He, however — although never religious — apparently subscribed to the predestination theology embraced by John Calvin, the doctrine that all events have been willed by God.
“If it’s my time …” he’d say, more to aggravate Mother than anything else.
But when he had a heart attack at age 60, he quickly stopped eating his customary breakfast of two scrambled eggs, two slices of thick bacon and a couple of heavily buttered pieces of white toast, substituting oatmeal instead.
Those were the days when butter, eggs and bacon were considered to be the worst things a body could ingest, besides the dreaded lard — a staple of Southern cuisine — and most everybody cut down on their consumption, if not avoiding them entirely.
(Those also were the days when The Marlboro Man was still riding the range in TV ads for cigarettes.)
I got to thinking about all this the other day when The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article headed “Low-Salt Diets May Pose Health Risk.” The story reported that while current guidelines from government agencies and health organizations have set recommended daily dietary salt consumption at between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower, a new study finds that people who consume fewer than 3,000 milligrams a day have a 27 percent higher risk of death or experience a serious ailment, such as a heart attack or stroke.
That’s big news for me, because I’ve always had a heavy hand with the salt cellar, much to the consternation of my loved ones. And it turns out that I could have read it almost a year ago in The New York Times and felt safe in sprinkling a bit more on the breakfast eggs I never quite gave up, even when they were the most publicized of villains.
“Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don’t eat has been proved to be indispensable for life. But I go marching on,” said Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, who was born a century before the government began establishing dietary guidelines for United States citizens.
It had been discussed for years, and in early 1977, it was done. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, would have approved. “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food,” said the Greek physician some 2,000 years ago.
This would be simple, provided the growth of the genetically modified food market. For example, Wisconsin newspaper editor and columnist Doug Larson thinks, “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
But no need for that, thought Mark Twain: “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”