The Magic Realism of a Healthy Diet

Mag­ic Real­ism is a lit­er­ary style that explores the seem­ing­ly mag­i­cal effects of com­mon­place things. Con­sid­er, for exam­ple, the fol­low­ing scene from One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude, by Gabriel Gar­cía Mar­quez. Melquíades is an old gyp­sy who nor­mal­ly comes to the vil­lage once a year with a group of gyp­sy ped­dlers who sell won­drous and mag­i­cal goods and ser­vices, such as mag­nets and mag­ic car­pet rides Melquíades looks old­er than his true age because he has lost his teeth to scurvy. Yet one year, Melquíades shows up with his teeth mag­i­cal­ly restored. To everyone’s amaze­ment, he can actu­al­ly take the teeth out of his mouth, along with his gums, mak­ing him­self look old again. He can put the teeth back in, mak­ing him­self look young again.

The read­er knows that there’s noth­ing mag­i­cal about a set of false teeth. How­ev­er, the vil­lagers have nev­er seen any­thing like it before. Den­tures are out­side the scope of their per­son­al expe­ri­ence. There­fore, the trans­for­ma­tion pro­duced by a set of den­tures seems like mag­ic to them. Sim­i­lar­ly, a tru­ly healthy diet is sim­ply out­side the scope of per­son­al expe­ri­ence for the aver­age Amer­i­can. As a result, we think that it’s nor­mal for peo­ple to get fat and sick in mid­dle age. We think that it’s nor­mal for mid­dle-aged and elder­ly peo­ple to have to take a fist­ful of pre­scrip­tion med­ica­tions every day. Thus, the effects of a tru­ly healthy diet might seem mag­i­cal to us.

A tru­ly healthy diet would rep­re­sent a rad­i­cal change from the way that Amer­i­cans have been taught to eat. When I was in home eco­nom­ics in sixth and sev­enth grade, I was taught that peo­ple are sup­posed to eat two serv­ings of meat and three serv­ings of dairy prod­ucts every day. Oth­er­wise, we’d sup­pos­ed­ly run a risk of pro­tein and cal­ci­um defi­cien­cy. Even today, I still see warn­ings against “fad” diets, which are usu­al­ly described as diets that “elim­i­nate entire food groups.” Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the “experts” who ped­dle this advice are not experts in nutri­tion. In con­trast, the Amer­i­can Dietet­ic Asso­ci­a­tion has come out with a posi­tion paper that pro­vides sup­port for a pure­ly plant-based diet.

A tru­ly healthy diet for a human being would get less than 10% of its calo­ries from fat and would be based exclu­sive­ly on high-fiber plant mate­r­i­al. It can include plen­ty of unre­fined starch­es, such as pota­toes, rice, or corn. In oth­er words, peo­ple real­ly ought to elim­i­nate two of the “basic food groups.” Some peo­ple also need to avoid par­tic­u­lar plant foods. For exam­ple, peo­ple with celi­ac dis­ease can’t eat wheat, rye, or bar­ley.

To see the seem­ing­ly mag­i­cal effects that this rad­i­cal change in food choic­es can have on ordi­nary Amer­i­cans, look at the “Star McDougallers’” page on Dr. John McDougall’s Web site. Many peo­ple show how they’ve man­aged to reverse sup­pos­ed­ly incur­able dis­ease sim­ply elim­i­nat­ing two of the basic food groups and cut­ting way back on fat. It’s not mag­ic. It’s mag­ic real­ism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *