By Sean Dietrich
Once upon a time, butter, eggs and bacon were considered health food. Our grandparents’ generation believed them to be the “Holy Breakfast Trinity.”
Old-timers believed that farm eggs, pork bellies and hand-churned butter were the keys to longevity and happiness. And I don’t mean this ironically. I mean that these men and women actually believed this. So did their medical professionals.
Long ago, I remember when my grandfather visited his longtime family doctor—a cross between Fred Mertz and Methuselah. The old doc would finish each exam by shining a light into my grandfather’s ear canal and saying, “Hey, I can see daylight on the other side.”
Then they would laugh, fire up a couple Lucky Strikes and tell dirty jokes.
You had to love these men. They were from another generation. They worked hard, polished their car engines, wore extremely high-waisted pants, used Old Spice and ate bacon.
As a younger man, my grandfather would visit the butcher on payday and buy a huge pork slab. Bacon was so vital back then that he would buy it before he spent money on anything else important, such as the mortgage or beer.
Keep in mind, this was before the days of standardized testing and cellphones. Back when kids were still walking to school, uphill, 40 miles, both ways, crossing rivers full of alligators and doing their homework on the backs of shovel blades with charcoal.
So just to briefly recap what our grandparents believed:
Bacon, butter and eggs: good. Communism and rock ‘n’ roll: evil. High-waisted men’s pants: sexy.
But somewhere along the way, nutrition experts changed their tune. They started claiming that bacon, butter, egg yolks and pretty much anything that tasted good would kill you. This was in every magazine, newspaper and morning talk show.
Soon, food companies were manufacturing bland, fat-free products that weren’t fit for thinning paint.
We had fat-free American cheese slices that tasted like single-ply Charmin. We had a liquid, cholesterol-free egg substitute that resembled putrefied snot. And don’t forget turkey bacon.
If the Good Lord would have wanted a turkey to become bacon, he wouldn’t have given us Jimmy Dean.
Regular people everywhere were changing to fat-free diets. People like my father-in-law stopped eating real butter. He began using low-cholesterol butter substitute that came in a spray bottle.
At each family supper, after the prayer, dinner guests would be forced to butter their biscuits by spraying yellow hairspray all over their food.
Around every corner was another expert telling us not to eat eggs, but to eat some exotic “superfood,” even though the superfood happened to look like a pile of beetle larva. Quinoa, I’m looking at you.
Pretty soon the only permissible things to eat were peanuts, chicken and Pez. But, even that belief didn’t last.
Because it wasn’t long before the experts said PEANUTS were bad for you because they were high in phytic acid—which strips your body of minerals. So, no more peanuts.
But oh well. At least we still had chicken. Good old chicken. Nothing could ever be wrong with chicken.
WAIT! SCRATCH THAT!
Suddenly, news channels were telling us about salmonella outbreaks in the poultry industry every few days. It was such a big deal that nightly news anchors ended their broadcasts by saying things like:
“I’m Dan Rather, and whatever you do, don’t eat chicken or you will go blind.”
Today, things haven’t gotten much better. It doesn’t seem like experts can agree on what to eat.
Once, at a dinner party, I saw three doctors get into a heated disagreement over the subject of diet and nutrition. Keep in mind, these were actual practicing doctors who drove actual Lexuses.
One doctor claimed that a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet with low carbohydrates was best. Another recommended low-fat vegetarianism. The third doctor was actually a chiropractor and went around trying to crack everyone’s neck. But he drove a Chevette.
My cousin’s family just converted to veganism. His wife believes that the human body should not consume animal products. Also she has recently joined a multilevel marketing company and holds meetings in her den every Friday. Bring a casserole.
Another friend (a sports physician) believes the “paleo diet” is the way to go.
He explains that Paleo is based on the carnivorous diet that stone-age humans ate during the Paleolithic era, back when the average life expectancy of a male was 22 years.
My friend Tyler went gluten-free last month. He says he feels great and has more energy. We visited his house for dinner. His wife served us pasta made of mung bean curds.
And I’ll be honest, sometimes I get so confused.
Should I eat bacon or not? Are egg yolks going to kill me? What’s the word on potted meat?
For answers, I turned to an old retired doctor. He is a sweet elderly man with deep lines in his face. I trust him because he smells like Old Spice, and he wears his pants a little high on the waist.
I asked him what his opinion was about everything.
“Oh,” he said, “I’ve seen lots of trends, but I’m old, I’ve seen a lot. Do you know what I’ve found the best health practice to be?”
“Be happy, be nice, use moderation, and eat whatever the hell you want.”
Then he shined a light in my ear canal and said, “Hey, I can see daylight on the other side.”
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, the Tallahassee Democrat, Southern Magazine, Yellowhammer News, the Bitter Southerner, the Mobile Press Register and he has authored seven books.