Wednesday, July 8, 2009

THE PERIODIC TABLE OF LONGEVITY

In May, my younger brother came from New York for a visit. We had dinner at the Silver Diner in Springfield, VA. While the food and service were excellent, I found the portion sizes startlingly enormous. Not one to dine out, preferring to stick to a close variation of the Mediterranean diet and eat at home, the spaghetti and meatballs I ordered was roughly four times what I normally consume for dinner and took me an hour to ingest. Then came the chocolate cream pie which he had ordered, but which we ended up sharing because when the server brought it to our booth, my brother realized his eyes were bigger than his stomach. I haven't had dessert in years, chocolate in even longer. Needless to say, I slept fitfully full that night, and walked around the next day like I had lead in the tank. Ironic, because while that isotope is the heaviest known as "doubly magic" or extremely stable in the periodic table, with 82 protons and 126 neurons, there was nothing fey about how I was feeling after the meal and I was definitely out of sorts and out of whack. It took me a few days, and extra hours in the gym, to get back to my "normal," giving me new insight into the phrase "you are what you eat," and no longer wondering why there is an obesity epidemic in this country if that was the general population's daily fodder. Studies show that a good way to gain weight is to dine with others, and that on average, those who feast with just one additional person gobble down 35% more, and those in groups of 4 or 7 or more, wolf down an added 75% and 96% respectively. Given my recent experience, I can easily see how and why. Next time my brother visits, we'll order one meal, share and ask for a doggie bag, more closely approximating eating alone.

And while this particular restaurant did not merit a mention in the Center for Science in the Public Interest's "Xtreme Eating Awards" announced June 3rd, I have no doubt that the caloric, saturated fat and sodium content of the meal was on a par with such luminaries as "Chili's Big Mouth Bites." Doesn't the name say it all! I can hardly blame my brother - in New York City, Nashville, Philly, Portland and the states of California and Massachusetts, and coming soon to Connecticut and Oregon, there are menu labeling laws. A just released Trust for America's Health report ranks California 41st and Massachusetts 49th with respect to state by state adult obesity. Apparently a picture isn't worth...and consumers may need A THOUSAND WORDS...and having enclaves mandating menu labeling within a jurisdiction does not have an ameliorative diaspora effect (in that same study, New York State comes in at # 37, Pennsylvania ranks # 22, but Tennessee hovers near the top at # 4), although the citizens of Connecticut (# 49) seem to be doing fairly well at containing their weight without legislation, and Oregon falls mid range at # 28. Surveys done earlier this year in New York City report that posted nutrition information did affect ordering, causing diners to seek out lower calorie options and avoid certain items altogether. And around the time of my brother's visit, a comparable federal bill, the Menu Education and Labeling Act, was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Rosa DeLauro. As the debate on reforming our national medical system heats up this summer, this proposal, as well as other dealing with preventative education and care, should be an integral part of the discourse.

Upon his return, my brother apparently commented to my mother on how gray my hair had gotten. Yes, at almost 55 my mop top is less copper brown than it used to be, but I'm fine with it, and there is none of that every which way but styled aluminum on my head that drives so many women to color. I personally think dyes and bleaches are carcinogenic and I don't care what I will look like in the box; my goal is to take as long as possible getting there and make it to my golden years.

Sadly, both prongs of this story are related. We are more concerned with what we put on us than what we put in us, although the latter influences the former. Illustrative case in point: Fairfax County, VA, where the Silver Diner is located, in late May filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court against Krispy Kreme for $19 million dollars for the cost of repairing a sewer facility whose iron and mechanical pipes and other components were damaged and destroyed by "...excessive quantities of highly corrosive wastes, doughnut grease and other pollutants..." dumped by the company's Lorton, VA plant, throwing in a prayer for $17 million in penalties for good measure. The case has since been removed to US District Court, with Krispy Kreme requesting a trial by jury and alleging "faulty design and construction." Is Fairfax County considering anything comparable to a menu labeling law? Nope. OK to eat those Krispy Kreme doughnuts, just make them somewhere else. OK to make a federal case over clogged pipes, but not clogged arteries. Prevention, foresight...not in the picture. It is only when we can see the external effects, and there is a hefty price tag attached, that we are moved to even take baby steps to effect change. Hopefully in these dramatic economic times we will be forced to rethink and reprioritize. If we ate better, perhaps we would not "need" such things as plastic surgery and rely quite so much on costly, excessive medical care. If I had a nickel for everytime I said that...and it fell on deaf ears...I would qualify for a platinum (health care) card!

Karen Ann DeLuca