This Aussie lady named Mary we ate dinner with every night on our two-week cruise to Asia . . . she was so funny. The third night in a row she held court, telling everyone that diet and lifestyle have NOTHING to do with how long you live (a big study she saw on the “telly” said it’s all the people doing the exercising who are dropping dead of heart attacks), I finally said something. It was pretty innocuous, I thought.
“Weeeeelllllll, Mary,” I said, smiling, “thousands of studies say otherwise.” Up until then, she’d told me affectionately how I remind her of her rather ambitious, health-nut oldest daughter. But just then, she snapped: “Oh, you remind me of my daughter–just SHUT UP!” (It reads worse than it sounded, since of course she has that cute Australian accent.) My friend and my daughter–and my new friends, too—laughed and repeated that line for the rest of the vacation.
You know that argument well, that because Grandma never ate a vegetable in her life and outlived all the healthy eaters in the family . . . well, therefore, we should all throw common sense out the window. A convenient if ridiculous argument! This is the logical fallacy known as the non sequitir. It goes like this, and people use this kind of reasoning all the time (it would get thrown out in court by even semi-competent lawyers, though):
“Eating hot dogs is supposed to be bad for you. Grandma ate hot dogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Grandma lived 30 years longer than the average American. Therefore, eating hot dogs isn’t bad.” (You can track where the logic goes wrong, I’m sure.)
Fact is, you always have outliers in any study of any variable. Fact is, anomalies like Grandma are always going to happen. But don’t bet the farm on them. They’re still outliers and anomalies.
A dentist in the ’40’s named Francis Pottenger studied genetics, through the effects of processed food on hundreds of cats. Half the cats were fed natural foods and half were fed processed foods. What was interesting was that those fed junk developed health problems in later life, but their CHILDREN developed degenerative diseases in MID-life and their GRANDCHILDREN developed severe issues EARLY in life.
We’re seeing identical patterns in human beings, now that we’re on the third generation of people eating lots of processed food. Sure, our grandparents look okay, some of them, but our children aren’t doing so hot. For evidence, review the statistics on the childhood obesity epidemic from the Associated Press multi-part story I blogged about a few weeks ago. Even if your kid isn’t overweight, he’s got significant risk of other problems if he’d eating the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). (Atherosclerosis is now prevalent in 8-yr. olds, and this discovery is so new that most don’t even know about it. What will be the consequences to the economy, to families, of this trend, 20 years from now?)
Incidentally, those cats? Pottenger put the sick cats on whole foods, and they gradually got better, but it also took three generations to return to excellent health. Just like it took three generations for processed food to DESTROY their health. Let’s treat our kids like that third generation, which they are. They need us. We’re the ones providing their food and we have such an important responsibility to them.
Another important implication of this very old piece of research is that genetic markers are less important than diet. If people don’t eat the S.A.D., they don’t develop arthritis, or diabetes, or cancer. Your genetic weaknesses show themselves ONLY when your lifestyle brings them out.