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Drop the toast and walk away slowly


Last updated 6/12/2019 at Noon

I stopped eating sandwiches about 15 years ago. It was a peculiar life choice, as up until then I considered no food completely edible unless it could be placed between two pieces of bread, including soup.

I was just swayed by all the low-carb noise in the air back at the beginning of this century. Bread was the bad guy in those days, and I recall at least one national fast-food chain giving customers the option of having a sandwich without it.

This didn’t seem to really catch on, as I imagine most of their customers knew that a sandwich without bread is another way of describing a salad, and nobody wants to eat one of those.

But I was in my early 40s, a stage of life when our inevitable decline becomes apparent but we’re still in denial, desperate to stave off whatever is coming our way. I like bread. Everybody likes bread.

I just forgot about it, somehow. I stopped making myself sandwiches and never started up again. I didn’t have a problem eating them in a restaurant. This was absent-minded abstinence.

Recently I’ve started making myself sandwiches again, which I’m sure you’re relieved to hear. Someone in this household bought a loaf of excellent bread by mistake, and it was just sitting there on the shelf. It makes for great peanut-butter sandwiches, although my skills are rusty and it can be a little dry.

As I made one the other day, I actually thought for a second about adding something to make it less sticky. I looked in the fridge, ruling out salsa, mustard, and hot sauce before I gave up and just ate it.

That is correct. Whatever you’re thinking, that’s right. I wanted to put another condiment on my PB sandwich and couldn’t come up with one.

I’m willing to stipulate that most people aren’t this dumb.

Still, it felt as though I’d fallen into a common trap, fooled by fads and a culture that encourages conformity in the strangest ways. It felt like I got snookered.

The carbohydrate paranoia of the early aughts made bread the villain, and for some of us we crossed it off the list and never looked back. I’m nowhere near the person I was 15 years ago. The occasional reassessment is good, I think. It’s not like I’m going to start smoking or insulate my house with asbestos.

It’s not just food, not even mostly, but food is a fun place to start. Monosodium glutonate might not set off any alarms on a list of ingredients, but use the acronym and bells start going off for unclear reasons.

Personally, if MSG is wrong I don’t want to be right, but I tend to take seasoning personally. Seeing “No MSG” on restaurant signage is sort of like reading “No soap was used to wash these dishes.” I tend to pass. Your results may vary.

Then there’s diet soda. I have a vague memory of hearing about cyclamates in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, some studies and an eventual ban of the artificial sweetener because a few rats got bladder tumors after being fed the human equivalent of more than 500 cans per day.

No one has ever been able to replicate this, either. Most of the countries of the world allow cyclamates in their food, although the U.S. doesn’t and it doesn’t matter anymore. We have far more effective artificial sweeteners now, at least in terms of sweetness.

And even with all the articles and folklore and tsk-tsking talking heads, there doesn’t seem to be anything demonstrably unhealthy about artificial sweeteners.

A friend the other day was talking about his Diet Coke habit and how he figures he’s allowed to have a vice or two. Hello? Not a vice. I mean, I dunno.

Maybe there’ll be some sort of definitive study and we’ll all panic and throw away our little pink packets, but it’s been 50 years. I think this is a vice-less thing, and I suspect the reason we might think it isn’t has to do with the sense that we’re getting something for nothing.

It’s carbonated water flavored with something that makes it taste sweet but doesn’t use sugar and doesn’t have any calories. It’s almost anti-American.

We don’t know, or care much, so we assume. We pick up talking points and run with them because it’s easy. Diet soda must be bad. Doesn’t it cause cancer?

I don’t know why I’m acting as if this were news. Human beings base opinions on faulty or zero evidence, alert the media. But don’t trust the media, of course.

The conventional wisdom swirling around politics or religion isn’t any different, snippets of sweeping generalization and shorthand. We tend to assume our institutions are monolithic and the people in charge are single-issue robots, for example, when a quick study shows the truth is much more interesting and complex. Variety is the spice of life, at least if you’re unsure about MSG. It’s probably fine.

Bread is also fine. Moderation is something to think about in all things. Conventional wisdom isn’t necessarily truth, and in my experience it’s seldom wise.

I don’t think it’s wise to drink 500 cans of diet soda a day, even if you’re a lab rat and have nothing to lose, but you do you. Go ahead and put mustard on that peanut butter sandwich, buddy.

Nothing wrong with that.


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