One of the things that I love about the world we live in is how quickly we are discovering new things about the world. Amidst all the shitty politics and bullshit, there are scientific discoveries and technological innovations happening all around us. One area, in particular, has been really exciting to me… we are learning so much about how the human body works and figuring out ways to “upgrade” it. Due to my love for science and fitness I have been sharing a lot of articles about human health, both the good and the bad.
Unfortunately, as more research is done we are discovering that some things aren’t very healthy for us. I think there must be a miscommunication when I share these articles, though, because people seem to feel attacked. Take, for example, a recent article I shared that linked alcohol to all sorts of cancers. (My dietitian partner informed me that this isn’t really new news, but I had never heard it before).
When I share these articles I am not trying to tell people that they shouldn’t drink alcohol. I share them because I care about the people in my network and want them to be informed about the risks they take. They are certainly free to take those risks, but I would feel bad if I withheld information from a friend about the danger they are putting themselves in. I would like the people I love to live long, healthy lives and I want them to see their kids and grandkids grow up (or nieces and nephews for us childless people). I want them to be able to travel where they desire, have adventures, and create art, and for all those things you need to be alive.
Clearly, that desire of mine is being lost somewhere (probably because I never say it), and the response to articles about nutrition generally fall in two categories. The first response is usually something along the lines of “Oh, well, whatever, everything causes cancer”. While that might be true… everything (or mostly everything) can break down our body and bring us closer to death, I see no reason to unnecessarily speed up that process. Everything we do is a cost/benefit analysis and we make better decisions when we know the full cost. I will continue to drink beer, because the relatively small increase in cancer risk for a the pleasure of a beer is probably worth it… beer tastes good and the risk increase is small. Using that same calculus I won’t smoke cigarettes, I don’t get pleasure from it and the chance that it will cut my life short is incredibly high. Having a couple beers a week probably won’t prevent me from being at the birth of my niece’s baby, but smoking might.
The second response goes something like “I’m sure tomorrow they will say that drinking cures cancer”. Basically, scientific research is often coming up with conflicting information, therefore we should dismiss it all. Yes, research sometimes conflicts other research, that is what makes science a better institution for finding information about the physical world than religion. If research into complicated things always agreed there would probably be a problem. This argument also seems to ignore bodies of research where there is a lot of consensus. You don’t just throw out data because new information in the future might tweak it, there is a such thing as truth in the world and the scientific method is a tool to find truth. It saddens me the most when people use this argument who, otherwise, are very excited about scientific discoveries and technological advancement. We shouldn’t be hostile to new information just because it tells us the life we are living isn’t as healthy as we’d like to believe.
I think what it really comes down to is food is very personal for some people. I really have a hard time understanding this, but I am trying. Food was never important in my family, we have no shared culture around it or any sort of traditions. Food is primarily fuel for my body to function. I certainly enjoy good food over bad food, and I like it when I find tasty recipes that fulfill my nutrient needs, but if someone showed me research that lentils caused cancer I would likely reduce my consumption significantly. This may just be an area where I have a hard time understanding other people. It was very easy for me to cut out meat from my diet when I found that it was unhealthy and violated my ethics, but others have an attachment to food that goes beyond nutrition, an attachment that confuses me a bit.