The other week I went to
the theatre here in Glasgow, Scotland and saw
a modern dress version of Romeo and Juliet. I
have never had a problem with modern dress versions
of Shakespeare; its the words that count.
This one was pretty predictable, chain link fence,
graffiti on the walls, Capulet and Montague in
hoodies with lots of bling. You get the picture.
By the intermission I had
adjusted to the heavy Glaswegian accents and come
to a startling revelation. Romeo and Juliet is
not about star crossed lovers or mindless prejudice
- not at all. This play is about a funny nurse.
Who would have thought?
This was confirmed in the
second half by a hilarious scene where the nurse
finds Juliet (in her deathly sleep) and engages
in at least three minutes of funny stage business
with a container of yoghurt (dont ask).
The audience loved it. Every time the nurse was
on stage there were laughs to be had.
The nurse got the biggest
applause at the curtain. We all walked out into
the rainy night, secure in the fact that Romeo
and Juliet is one damn funny play. Sure enough,
the play got good reviews, even in the national
press. I cant wait to see what they do with
Hamlet, talk about room for some good jokes.
I know why the nurse had
to be funny in this production. I know why the
director told her, perhaps in private, roll
em in the aisles honey. The reasons
were that the other actors were lifeless, he didnt
trust the play and Shakespeare is hard work for
most audiences. Whats a fellow to do? Youve
got to call in the funny nurse, the only talent
you have, and go for broke. The sole purpose of
the funny nurse was to distract from the fact
that the production was a total write-off.
It occurs to me that deflecting
attention in this way is a common phenomenon.
Advertising is built on this kind of smoke and
mirrors. We live in world ruled by a kinder, gentler
newspeak. Oil drillers and lumber companies are
building a healthier environment and
goofy clowns and cute cartoon characters tell
our kids to eat junk food. The food industry is
more sophisticated than most in its ability to
direct attention away from unpleasant or unpopular
truth. Large food manufacturers, fast food empires
and even some in the natural food trade dont
want us to think too deeply about the food we
The funny nurse tells you
that a frozen desert with enough sugar in it to
rot the tusk off an elephant is enriched with
calcium to build strong bones. The funny nurse
is as old as Betty Crocker and as wise as Aunt
Jemima and together with her newest incarnation,
the Scientific Nurse, she keeps the conversation
about food right up there on a par with Reality
TV or Celebrity Chat shows.
The promise after World War
II was that food would be uncontaminated, easy
to prepare, quick and cheap. These promises were
in tune with the times. The nation was growing
fast and food producers had learned much about
making bad food tasty during the war. The modern
food industry has its roots in producing K
rations for the military. From 1945 onward the
food we eat has steadily moved away from being
grown to being manufactured.
can now give petroleum jelly the texture, taste
and smell of strawberry jam and make almost anything
taste like chicken. Vegetarians need not despair;
by the end of the century animals will be redundant
in the food chain, theyll all be in zoos.
Well just manufacture unspecified meaty
stuff in the lab and turn it into chickeny, beefy
or piggy product later. The Chemical Kitchen feeds
America and the cost of the service is very high
We have been facing an epidemic
in food related disease for over fifty years.
The incidence of cancers, heart disease, diabetes
and a wide range of serious ailments are linked
to dietary choice and yet the dominant issue is
weight loss. Weight loss is the funny nurse of
the food drama. It makes the conversation superficial,
which is what is intended.
As a nation we know what
foods make us sick theyre the ones
we eat. We know which foods would create an improvement
theyre the ones that we avoid. Every
few years we re-discover this fact and then we
forget it immediately. We forget it precisely
because to pay attention would mean we would have
to change no one wants that. Why listen
to Shakespeare when you can laugh with the funny
The newest approach to a
healthy diet changes almost weekly. Making good
choices becomes a baffling riddle for most of
the population. We are told to avoid carbohydrates,
to stay away from meat, to only eat meat, to count
our calories and monitor our blood sugar. Science
tells us that fats are bad, that not all fats
are bad and that we need some fats but its
not clear yet which ones.
Hope springs eternal that
somewhere between eating twigs and bark and throwing
up our hands and washing down some fried animal
parts with a gallon of purple ice sludge lays
the truth. The debate will go on for three reasons.
The first reason is that science is a total bust
in terms of telling us what to eat, the second
is that confusion is actually good business where
food is involved and the third is that we love
to be confused.
Wonder of Science
I would much rather listen
to an anthropologist, an epidemiologist or an
ecologist concerning human diet than a nutritionist.
The function of specific nutrients in diet is
fine background information but fairly useless
in deciding what to eat. It is like the old story
of five blind men describing an elephant. With
all the variables of individual metabolism, activity,
environment, personal constitution and individual
history, drawing conclusions is very difficult
unless the study is huge.
Science loves to discover
things. That doesnt mean the discovery has
an immediate application. It also doesnt
mean that someone with a vested interest hasnt
funded the discovery. There have been
studies that have shown that there were nutrients
in cheese that prevented cancer, that chocolate
had great health benefits and that eating any
number of high fibre breakfast cereals would prevent
colon cancer guess who sponsored the studies?
If you guessed that it was the manufacturers of
those foods you get a free lollypop.
It is also very easy to manipulate
silver bullet science to promote a specific diet.
How many hundreds of millions of dollars were
made on the back of Low Carb diets.
What a mammoth fraud. Even natural food stores
were stocking these products, shame on them. The
natural foods industry knows better. Specialty
items and snack foods rule the roost when profit
is the issue.
Large studies like the China
Oxford Cornell Diet and Health Project
have proven once again what every sensible study
of nutrition has shown before it. A diet that
is based on complex carbohydrates and plant based
protein with an adequate variety of fruits and
vegetables shows a marked decrease in the types
of disease we suffer in North America and Europe.
Such a diet also helps most people find their
healthy weight if they are getting even moderate
exercise. The problem is that there is little
profit in these foods.
Remember this: Dieticians
following scientific nutritional guidelines design
the meals served in hospitals. I rest my case.
me Im confused
As I said before, confusion
is good in the grocery trade. If I can get people
to buy four different kinds of milk instead of
one - Im ahead of the game. If I can take
tap water, filter out the chlorine, add some minerals,
put a tree on the bottle and call it Hoboken Springs
Pure Water Im ahead of the game.
The words such as pure or natural
have become meaningless marketing tools and only
serve to make the consumer feel good about the
I knew we were all in trouble
when I read an ingredient list several years ago
and it included something Id never seen
before. There in the second position on the list
was dehydrated cane juice. Wow, talk
about creativity. DEHYDRATED CANE JUICE! I was
thrilled because I really wanted to buy that stuff.
I dont eat sugar but maybe just a little
dehydrated cane juice would be OK. I can hear
the funny nurse giggling in the wings.
No fat, low
cholesterol, no sugar, no
sugar added, filled with natural anti-oxidants
the beat goes on. We all want to be healthy
but it is difficult to give up the foods we associate
with culture, pleasure or habit. There is a cynical
edge to the food industry that knows this. Rather
than accept the fact that it is damn near impossible
to create healthy versions of everything some
marketing guy will put some tofu in it and hope
we dont ask questions.
Food should taste good. Food
should bring pleasure and health. We dont
want to be fearful of what we eat but there is
a point where we have to make a choice. Do we
pretend that the food industry will take care
of our nutritional needs or do we take that responsibility
back into our own kitchens where it belongs? Do
we use more fresh, locally produced, organic food
or do we eat ready-made and try to fill in the
gaps with supplements?
In dealing with the corporations
that run the food game we might be wise to listen
to Juliets nurse in one of her sober moments,
Theres no trust, no faith, no honesty
in men; All perjured, all foresworn, all naught,