Lee Pitts: A Losing Battle
We’ve turned the corner on beef consumption and it’s back on the rise after more than a decade of falling like a sack of hammers. I attribute beef’s decline to the plethora of diets urging folks to skip the meat in favor of melba toast, coffee enemas and colonic cleansings.
Sometimes it seems like half the world is starving to death while the other half is on a diet. It is estimated that 80 percent of ten year old girls in this country are on some sort of diet. And they have so many to choose from. There’s the diets named after places where no one is fat, like the Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Scarsdale and South Beach diets. A lot of good the Scarsdale diet did its inventor, Herman Tarnower, whose so called “friend” lost 185 pounds of lover when she murdered Herman, probably because he made her eat too many pineapple chunks with cottage cheese and kept telling her how fat she was. We also had the no-white-food diet, eat only when hungry diet, the milk diet, and the drinking man’s diet, which consisted of martinis and whipped cream. Actually, the drinking man’s diet has been with us for centuries because in 1087 William the Conqueror only consumed alcohol in order to lose weight. Forever after he was known as William the Drunk.
Most of the diets were dreamed up by doctors who had something to sell and wanted to appear on Oprah. (She purchased Weight Watchers not long ago, probably to get the wholesale price on Weight Watchers cream puffs.) There were diet books by Robert Atkins, The Doctor’s Weight Loss Book by Dr. Irwin Stillman, and the No Breakfast Plan by Dr. Edward Hooker Dewey. Some people got seriously rich from fat, like Jennie Craig, and the people behind Nutri-Systems and Metrecal, which was all the rage when I was a kid. And in 1961 Royal Crown Cola introduced the first diet soft drink, Diet Rite, which started a flood of diet drinks. I had an uncle who was hooked on Diet Rite and he offered me a taste one time. That was over 50 years ago and I still haven’t got the bad taste out of my mouth.
There’s a long history of folks creating new food in order to get rich. In the 1830s Reverand Sylvester Graham said being fat made people full of lust and so he invented Graham Crackers as a solution. The Good Reverand was known as “Dr. Sawdust” after that. When Dr. Harvey Kellogg became a Doctor at the Battle Creek Sanatorium in Michigan he pushed a vegetarian diet and invented granola and toasted flakes of grain to help patients lose weight. We now refer to them as Corn Flakes and the company as Kelloggs. Dr. James Salisbury created a concoction of minced meat and water to help people lose weight, thus giving us the Salisbury Steak.
There were diet gadgets too, like the fork that lit up when too much food was on it, a headband that filled your brain with negative thoughts about food when you sat down to eat, and a suit you filled with crushed ice which was supposed to burn calories by increasing metabolism.
Some of the diets the quacks came up with were deadly. In 1976 Dr. Robert Linn invented “The Last Chance Diet” and for many who drank his protein drinks it was. There were 58 deaths associated with the drink before it was pulled from shelves. In the 1980s The Cambridge Diet, so named because a Cambridge professor heartily endorsed it, was a pyramid scheme that caused at least 30 people to have heart attacks.
Although I don’t need to lose any weight I have considered writing a diet book as a way to get rich. Among the titles I’ve toyed with are: “The Prison Diet: Living on bread and water on death row while waiting for Old Sparky to warm up; The Beer Diet: how to lose weight by switching from craft beer to Coors Light; The Bangladesh Diet: Go live there for two months. And my favorite: The Mob Diet. Two Chicago hit men will come to your house, beat you up so your jaws have to be wired shut and you’ll have to drink out of a straw for six months.