It’s a Racket


You learn something new every day. Today I learned never to order quinoa salad for lunch. My wife claims she was born with this knowledge. She ordered a turkey sandwich. And I’m still hungry.

Quinoa is one of those superfoods that are supposed to have wondrous properties like anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and antioxidants that promote health and prevent disease. But that’s not why I ordered Quinoa salad. I ordered it because it reminded me that I once won an argument with my daughter about how quinoa is pronounced.

I’m not a big fan superfoods. In fact, I’m skeptical of everything to do with nutrition beyond Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” All the claims for superfoods and diet fads seem like pure nonsense and marketing hype to me. I’ve become a bit of a curmudgeon about it.

When I was a kid, my mother rented out one of the upstairs rooms to a man named Rudy. Rudy was a part-time binge drinker. About every six months or so, he went on a binge. When he was sober, he was a skeptic. Mention anything to Rudy and he would wave his hand and say, “It’s a racket.”  Christmas? “It’s a racket.” Boy scouts? “They’re  a racket. “ The church? “The biggest racket of all.” Alcoholics Anonymous?” A racket!!” I’m afraid I’m becoming Rudy.

Lunches at the synagogue I attend now always feature gluten-free choices. I was sitting at a table with a woman and her son. She had all gluten-free stuff on her plate. “Are you a celiac?” I asked. Before she could respond, her son said “No, she’s a crackpot.” I felt an immediate bond with him. What kind of a person feels an immediate bond with someone who calls his mother a crackpot?

When I go to the supermarket, I avoid anything organic. I have gone so overboard in my aversion to organic food that a friend claims she sprays pesticide on any food she gives me. I’m pretty sure she’s kidding

I have a relative who has taken megadoses of vitamins and various nutritional supplements all his life. Once he read about some study that touted the supposed health benefits of maple syrup and immediately started downing a tablespoon of maple syrup every day, but without any pancakes or French toast. And he’s in terrible health. His gullibility about vitamins and supplements is odd because he’s a pretty good chess player. I have read that good chess players are suspicious by nature, which makes sense. People who are too trusting don’t pay enough attention to an enemy’s plans. Dr. Oz is the enemy.

Despite the gluten-free choices at the synagogue lunch, I suspect that diet fads and superfoods reflect the decline of religion. Maybe we’re hardwired for irrationality, and when we lose it in one area, we make up for it in another. Food is a natural candidate for secular irrationality. Having foods that are permissible and foods that aren’t and abstaining from food altogether in periodic fasts are prominent features of religion. Religion has waned but not the obsession with food as a means of purification.

The health food and diet industries share another feature with religion: they’re big money makers. Which is just another way of saying they’re a racket.

I have become Rudy.


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