Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More Desperate Characters

Only these characters are real. You can read about them here.

The people chronicled in Julian Dibbell's article adhere to an eating regimen called caloric restriction. So do the monkeys in this article.

Caloric restriction is just what it sounds like: limiting your calorie intake to the minimun required for survival. The difference between CR, as it adherents refer to it, and anorexia lies in the pursuit of health. A person on CR seeks nutrient dense calories, whereas the anorexic seeks, well, nothingness.

Numerous scientific studies indicate that CR extends lifespan in monkeys, worms, yeasts, and, perhaps, humans, though we're not sure yet. Until recently, it was difficult to locate volunteers, and most of the current crop aren't old enough yet to crow about their successes.

The CR acolytes in Dibbell's article weigh every morsel they intend to ingest; meals are an intricate mathematical calculation of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. April Smith, a CR doyenne with a popular blog, is described as she removes a scallop from a salad: too much protein. Her boyfriend, Michael Rose, is viewed as the John Galt of the CR movement. He is six feet tall and weighs one hundred fifteen pounds. He maintains this weight by eating 1,913 calories daily. His hands are orange from the relatively high proporation of beta-carotene in his diet. His emaciated appearance is defended by fellow CR acolyte Paul Mclothin:

"Men are sterotyped and still associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger...but...when I see a man like Michael, I think thats how a man should be. I think he looks absolutely handsome--intelligent, dapper, sexy. It's a mark of intelligence, of how a great role model should be: slim, bright, calorie restricted!" (130)

These people are crazy. You'e realized that by now, right? No? Let's consider what they eat. Vegetables, nuts, low/non-fat dairy, an egg subsitute called Eggology. No meat. No full fat. No sugar. No bread. Droplets of red wine, due to resveratrol.

And Quorn. That's not a misspelling. Quorn is a fermented soil mold grown in fermentation vats and processed with additional vitamins. Like tofu or tempeh, it can then be used as a high protein meat substitute.

If you are okay with eating fermented soil molds.

Starving yourself does come with downsides: you need to be careful, lest you begin losing bone and muscle. Your sex drive will go wacky. April Smith claims her has soared, while her boyfriend notes his has dropped. Still, they claim their sex life is wonderfully enhanced by their empty bellies.

I wonder about maintaining bone density, partcularly in those women prone to osteoporosis. What about pregnancy? Raising children? How do you feed them? What, and how much? Illness?

I am averse to any "food" not naturally occurring. Eggology and Quorn fall under this admittedly broad category.

What about the hunger pangs that must plague these people? Hunger is the body's way of conveying information about the state of the organism. Namely, it needs fueling. What's next? Prolonged thirst? Ignoring the urge to relieve oneself?

Yes, we all know about the mystical high starving people experience, but years of adhering to a low calorie diet must dull the glassy edges; like any drug, at some point you need more--less, in this case--to maintain that elusive state.

But why would you? There is no promise of living longer on CR. You might, but quality of life enters the picture. Starvation may not save you from hearing loss, cancer, or ALS, the disease the killed CR researcher Ray Wolford at age 79. Yes, he was 79, but so was my grandfather when he died. My grandfather smoked heavily for over forty years. He ate chicken fat smeared on bread and drank his coffee white with milk and sugar. He loved Cream of Wheat with loads of butter and salt. (No lumps! He would say to me as we dug into our respective bowls.) My grandfather died after a brief illness with his wife of 53 years at his side. Dr. Wolford died of a disease that rapidly destroys the ability to walk, talk, move, breathe, or swallow. It's a horrible disease, a horrible death, and all those refused plates of pasta didn't do a damned thing in the end.

Are the CR people totally wrong? Probably not. We all know getting fat is unhealthy. But if extremely limited eating by choice were the human norm, I think it might have appeared earlier in our evolution. We wouldn't see native diets loaded with fats like yak butter, lard, or fish oils. We wouldn't be drawn, as a species, to animal husbandry. No confit. No pigs. No cows to milk. We wouldn't have all those meat-tearing incisors or omnivorous digestive systems.

Finally, though, the quality of life issue is what gets me most. Starve for years and you might live a long time. And then what? In Simone de Beauvior's All Men are Mortal, the young protagonist comes upon a man lying listlessly in a chaise beside a hotel pool. Day after day he lies unmoving. Finally she approaches him and learns he has been granted the gift of eternal life. But the gift is a nightmare: the man has repeatedly loved and lost friends and lovers. He has witnessed mankind's foibles ad infinitum. Life has lost all savor. The girl is horrfied, unable to believe that human life is ultimately defined by the unavoidable fact that it will end.

Julian Dibbell. The Fast Supper. New York Magazine, October 30, 2006.

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