Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Good LIfe

About 15 years ago, I was with friends and the topic of conversation went to the recent death of comedian John Candy. The two friends, started clucking their tougnes and then said in effect that his death was the result of how lived.

Of course, we all remember John Candy, this big bear of man. He wasn't the specimen of fittness that my two friends were. They tended to believe he reaped what he had sowed.

I remember being bothered by their attitudes. There was something a bit pious and mean-spirited in their pleasant condemnation of Candy.

I tend to be someone that tries to live sensibly. I drive a Prius. I tend to buy organic foods, especially milk that is free of hormones and meat that isn't loaded up with antibiotics. If I have a choice between brown and white rice, I go with brown rice all the time. I don't smoke and rarely drink.

I do these thing for various reasons. But I rarely talk to others about them. I just happen to do them for my own benefit.

One thing that has bothered me at times is this belief that we have to tell others how to live their lives for their own sake.

David Frum has an article on his website about conservatives and living the healthy life. There are some good things in this article, but there were also some things that frankly bother me. Part of it is that I feel that there is a sense of health puritanism that makes me feel that no matter how much I try, I will still fall short of the healthy living goal.

Some of his concerns are worthwhile: I too fear about the amount of antibiotics that are used in cows and chickens. I like eating grass-fed beef. (After my trip to Argentina last winter, I don't think I could ever go back to corn-fed beef.)

But what bothers me is when we start to worry about things such obesity, which as Megan McArdle has said tends to be a moral panic.

What bothers me is also how this fear that people start living right leads into some kind of moral scold. We tend to put down those who smoke for instance. I've seen how people who are at heart good people, treated like they were war criminals just because they lit up. We are starting to do the same thing with those who don't follow the same way of living that we do.

Frum is correct that conservatives should not celebrate bad habits, but we shouldn't denounce an occasional steak or cigar either.

In the end, for me what is important is what we are living for. All of this healthy living sometimes comes from a fear; a drive to live a long life and a fear of death.

But the thing is, eating right is not a guarantee that we will live a long life. I am reminded that Linda McCartney, the wife of Paul McCartney was a committed vegetarian who died of cancer before the age of sixty. This weekend, I saw Julie and Julia, which features how Julia Child became a foodie godess. In the movie she smoked and the food she cooked was rich in butter. She lived to be 92.

I'm not saying we should eat what we want or go out and buy a pack of Winstons. I am saying that we can do all the right things and still die early. And in the end, we will die: no gets out of here alive.

What matters more to me is what I am living for. Do I show my partner, my parents, my friends love? Do I enjoy my life? Do stand up against injustice?

In my view, people won't remember that you drank organic milk every day. They will remember what kind of person you were.

So, yeah I will still do all the things I have done, but in the end what matters to me is the quality of my life. I let the quantity work itself out.


Philip H. said...

There have been a series of post at Dusk in Autumn about how, as a society, we've made some grave nutritional mistakes in going to a more vegetarian and lean meat diet. Seems that humans are predisposed to eat a certain amount of fat in their diet, and it needs to be from meat sources.

Joe said...

I agree with some of what you said, but take issue with other points you make. I don't deride smokers as bad people, but I do object to breathing their smoke which can affect my health.

I don't object to people being overwight, but it DOES affect the amount of money this country spends fighting things like heart disease.

SO while I don't condemn people for being overweight - yes, I am - I do think urging changes in lifestyle to miprove quality of life is a good thing. As long as we don't look down on others.


redvet said...

Good Morning, I work in the food industry at the production end. I really like the idea of promoting healthy products when it is something with which your convictions are strong. I was particularly interested in your reference to milk without all the hormones and antibiotic free meat.
As someone who is passionate about agriculture and will invest my families future in the future of milk and beef production I wanted to caution about paintng with such a broad brush when speaking of "all the hormones" and "antibiotic free". The organic food market is regulated about as well as the internet right now. claims are made that, while they could be true, do not tell you what else might be there. I would imagine that we purchase different brands of milk, but I would be willing to take a sample of each and send it to a laboratory for hormone assay to see if there is a difference. In parallel, I would be very willing to take a sample of the beef that your family consumes and send it, side by side, with a sample of the meat from Rainbow Foods (my family consumes beef that is Minnesota farm raised and purchased by the side). The results may suprise you.
As an advocate of agriculture and family farm, I just ask that you use discretion in how you describe the milk and meat, or offer up your personal experience with milk hormones and antibiotics in meat when making the reference. painting with a broad brush without having full knowledge of which brands have these hormones and antibiotics is a great marketing tool for an unregulated industry. What we really need to do is promote the family farm.