The Food Police

The world, said James Boswell, is not to be made a great hospital; but to a hammer everything is a nail, and to doctors and medical journals everything is either a medical problem or a medical solution.

Looking at the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association today, I came across a paper with the title “Effect of an Intensive Food-as-Medicine Program on Health and Health Care Use.” It was published just above “A Young Pregnant Person With Old Myocardial Infarction.”

Could that pregnant person possibly be a woman? Heaven forfend that so prejudiced a thought should occur to us! If it occurred to you, dear reader, I suggest that your brain still needs washing. The word woman is here abjured by JAMA as completely as, say, it would abjure (rightly) the word bitch with reference to a woman. In other words, the word woman is now treated as if it were in itself an insult, a rather strange result of pro-feminist indoctrination.

The paper begins, “A patient in their 30s presented to the hospital…” No doubt I am deeply reactionary, almost a dinosaur in a world of mammals, but is not their the plural possessive adjective, and is not “a patient” singular? If the authors of the paper were really not sure whether the pregnant person was a man or a woman, surely they should have written “A pregnant person in his or her 30s…”? That would have been a step too absurd (so far) even for the editors of JAMA, assuming that the paper in question was published with some kind of editorial oversight. I anticipate further linguistic absurdity in JAMA with a mixture of amusement and irritation; that there will be one is a racing certainty (a Dutch friend of mine was going to write a book about Dutch social policy titled Creative Appeasement).

The paper, by the way, gives new meaning to the first two sentences of Nietzsche’s book Beyond Good and Evil: “Suppose truth to be a woman—what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatic, have been very inexpert about women?”

But back to food as medicine. The idea that all flesh is grass—or these days, double cheeseburgers with fries, washed down by some disgusting soft drink looking like the effluvial by-product of a noxious industrial process—is certainly not new. The 18th-century English physician George Cheyne, who was once so fat that he had to move around with the help of pulleys, wrote more than one book extolling the virtues of moderation in alimentary consumption. But in the modern world, there is an inverse dietary anxiety rule: Those who need to worry least worry most, while those who should be careful are the most insouciant.

Anyway, what the investigators did was to give a group of type 2 diabetics supposedly healthy food—fruit and vegetables, you know the drill—free of cost to them for ten meals a week, and compare their diabetic control with a group of similar diabetics (surely they should by now be called people living with diabetes rather than diabetics?) who were not given such healthy food. The diabetics were allocated consultations with dietitians, nurse evaluations, health coaching, and education about diabetes. The same food was also given to the rest of their family.

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