A man in rumpled pajamas sits on the side of his best and in the raspy voice like a rusted gate hinge he looks at us and laments., "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." He repeats that three times, so miserable, woebegone and steeped in self-regret that he's oblivious to everything around him, including the piercing nasal reminder from his wife, off-camera, who keeps repeating, each time, "You ate it, Ralph!" This classic TV pitch for Alka Seltzer from the early seventies touches so knowingly on the things that make us human, including our tendency to overindulge, that forty years later it still brings a smile of instant recognition.
I know Ralph. I've been Ralph. I got to thinking about him while researching my book on wheat, whole grains and the general hysteria about gluten. Toward the end of it I wrote that we're really the tenants of our our bodies, not absentee landlords. I probably should have changed "tenants" to "proprietors", but either way the analogy just popped up, and I'm glad it did. If we own the building, which we do, and leave a gas-valve on through carelessness, or pile up toxic waste in the basement, we don't get to walk away, lock the door, and make it somebody else's problem. It was my way of encouraging us to be mindful about what we ask our systems to process, digest and transform into muscle and fat. Our bodies I know to be remarkably resilient, capable of rebounding from our salt-sugar-fat -alcohol-you-name-it excesses with miraculous consistency —but only up to a point. The problem with that point is that it rarely announces itself with absolute clarity well in advance of its arrival, and when it sometimes does, we usually go out of our way to ignore it. Ralph will recover just in time to punish his system yet again and hear it from him wife, but good.
There's probably no way to subvert human nature, but there are at least a few ways to negotiate with it, I'm convinced. One is to seek out healthy versions of things you and I enjoy eating. Another is to be realistic about cutting back on things, like meat, that Dr. Dean Ornish and many others have proven to shorten your life and double the risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. As Ornish suggests, reducing animal protein intake slowly and steadily makes more sense than trying to eliminate it overnight. In the area of grains, specifically wheat, long-fermented sourdough presents a healthier option than commercial-yeast products, for reasons I explain the final two chapters of Grain of Truth. I didn't know much about that until I dug into the bioscience of digestion and got intimate with our microbiome, those trillion bacteria in our guts that really control just about everything from mood to energy level to cognitive function. As tenants or propietors of our bodies, we can help them help us, it's really just that simple. Cereal fiber from whole grains and an acidic gut environment nourished by sourdough, yogurt and other sources of lactic bacteria create a home for health and a defense against disease. Until I get evicted from my own body, I've welcomed them in as permanent residents, rent-free.