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OPP (Other People’s Plates)

March 24, 2011 by Laura

Now that I’m on a health kick, I really notice what other people are eating. Last night we went out on a date (!) to hear some live music (!!), and the guy sitting next to us was having steak and potatoes and gravy. He was a big guy. It was when he got the ice cream for dessert that I went into one of those critical care nurse reveries of him becoming diaphoretic and clutching his chest, and me needing to yell, “YOU! Call 9-1-1 and get the AED!!” and then going through the whole CPR thing. As it turned out he survived the show. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. Nothing can ruin a date like an MI.

And maybe it’s none of my business, right? It’s not like he was smoking and blowing it my way. Besides, my nose is so stuffy I couldn’t smell the steak. Why would I care? Because he’s the guy I take care of after the CPR keeps him going long enough to get to the ICU. And he’s the guy driving up the cost of health care with his MI and subsequent years of compromised cardiovascular health. OK, that sounds really cynical. I don’t really look at my patients and think, “Oh great, there go my premiums!” I see my patients and their families as people who are suffering. What’s sadder, is that they often accept that suffering (and it is considerable) as their fate.

Not all of the illness I see is avoidable, but much of it is. I tell you this, and simultaneously remind myself, because we have a tendency to blithely follow our habits as though we are powerless to do otherwise. I want to tell you that as long as you are on this side of the hospital bed, you are not powerless.

Last week I had a patient who was in terrible pain because his left foot was dead; that is, no blood supply to it. His peripheral arteries were so blocked, that he was awaiting the amputation of his foot. Arterial disease is about inflammation, and smoking causes inflammation. When I reminded him of this, he told me to quit nagging. When I told him he still had one foot left to save, he rolled his eyes. He would rather lose his legs that lose the cigarettes. Sound crazy? I don’t know. I don’t know how to assimilate that in a way that does justice to an entire person, rather than just throwing around catchy phrases about personal responsibility. I like to believe that we’re all doing the best we can with what we’re given, while still believing that there’s always room to grow.

What I do know is that our bodies are, in general, extremely resilient. We have built-in healing processes that we can enhance in myriad ways. The best methods do not require us to seek specialized practitioners, expensive  supplements, or exotic treatment plans. Eat right (and by “right” I mean tons of vegetables), exercise daily, enjoy quality time with people you like and have a hobby. The tricky thing here is that all of these require us to assume some measure of control over our own health and lives. We can’t look to the medication or the herb or the retreat or the trainer to save us from ourselves. We have to trust that we can provide for ourselves adequately. I presume that just about my entire audience is capable of this. If you grew up eating nothing but convenience store foods and have no idea what to do with broccoli well, welcome! I hope I can help.

I hope we can all help each other, actually.



  1. Craig says:

    “The tricky thing here is that all of these require us to assume some measure of control over our own health and lives. We can’t look to the medication or the herb or the retreat or the trainer to save us from ourselves. We have to trust that we can provide for ourselves adequately.”

    Laura you’re beginning to sound like Ayn Rand. Kidding aside, I could not agree more with this sentiment. I have ranted many times that the FDA/USDA have, on a whole, done more to harm national health than to improve it. There are several reasons for this, but a major one is that they have induced a sense of complacency about food in our national weltanschauung, an assumption that anything offered for sale in the public marketplace is “safe” and/or “healthy” and thus the only germane consideration is buying the products that are most convenient and easy to consume.

    Have you been to an Aldi? Have you grocked that company’s algorithm? Most grocery stores stock in excess of 30,000 distinct items. Aldi analyzes the 3,000 or so most purchased items and sells only those. It can buy them in huge quantities and thereby offer steep discounts. The important point here is that the stocking decisions are purely consumer-driven. That is, Aldi only stocks the items that consumers are already buying a lot of — the sutff most people buy most of the time. Go in one and have a look. 90% of is is highly process/refined convenience food crap. The store is a sodium/sugar/fat bomb. It’s a perfect real-time example of exactly what you’re talking about.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m actually trying NOT to sound like Ayn Rand. Or what I think Ayn Rand sounds like, having never read Ayn Rand, but not liking what Randians sound like.

      I’m still working up a cogent position statement here. I really think we have lost faith in ourselves, not as “individuals” but as competent people who don’t need to rely on expert opinions for every little thing. Still we need to be able to trust and hold accountable the systems and frameworks that are the mainstays of our society without resorting to total paranoia. (That last bit is leftover from a conversation I had last night–ask Dale to fill you in–you missed a doozy).

      We don’t have Aldi in Cali. We do have Food Maxx. Don’t get me started.

  2. Craig says:

    Note what has happened to organic food. For many decades I have been a patron of local food coops and a consumer of organic food. For much of my adult like, through just a few years ago actually, this was a labyrinth of sorts, a mix of standards, mostly set by privately organized groups of farmers and/or consumers. As jumbled as it was, it worked pretty well because people who wanted to consume this type of food had to make an effort to educate ourselves about what standards were being applied and what they meant in terms of the items we were consuming.

    Then along came the federal government with their organic food act. Central regulation at the federal level pretty much always helps huge corporations and harms small producers. This is because a huge corporation can amortize the cost of regulatory compliance over a large volume of production and thus can undersell the small mom & pop. This is exactly what is happening with organic food. At the same time, through aggressive lobbying, the “organic” industry has gotten the standards gradually diluted. The process is known among political scientists as “regulatory capture” and it is exactly what is happening, in real time right now, with respect to organic food.

    My point is that we absolutely should not trust, ever, systems/frameworks that involve regulatory oversight and control of an industry by a centralize governmental agency. History shows, time and again, that these systems become corrupt and end up aligning themselves with the regulated industry, thus abrogating their nominal role of protecting the users of products/services from that industry.

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