As a citizen of a country where the national spectator sport is Watching What You Eat, I am part of a lingering minority who still regard food as fun.
I know that is radical, but there you are. Surrounded by messages to read Gourmet and eat Scarsdale, I do not like to feast solely with my eyes. In fact, my all-time favorite diet was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald: "Gave up spinach for Lent."
I am not a gluttonous eater, you understand, but a constant one who thinks of a fast as three hours without food. This is because I was raised on Winnie the Pooh, who was, in turn, raised on demand feeding. His internal clock didn't register lunch time or dinner time but, rather, "Time for a Little Something."
The reason I do not have the same shape as my little mentor is that Winnie hit the honey pot and I tend to chomp on things, like carrot sticks, that make noises inside my head.
Nevertheless, I am absolutely inundated and depressed by messages warning me that food -- too much of it or the wrong kinds of it -- may be bad for my health.
Which brings me to the point. Every night on my way home, when my mind is filled with lovely thoughts of A Little Something, I pass a six-foot-high male midriff bulge. This particular bulge is brought to me on a sign paid for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield people and it is captioned with the following two words: Hazardous Waist.
I have a theory about the double message of this sign. It is that living in a world that seems dangerously out of our control, we have become obsessed with defending our own bodily turf. When we can't do anything about the big hazardous wastes out there, we worry about the hazardous waist around our middle.
The waistline gag would not go over big at Love Canal. But even there, I will bet you some people are counting calories while their chromosomes are under attack. They are like the man photographed jogging in the shadow of Three Mile Island during its darkest days.
The usage to protect our own lives is part of human nature. If we can't control anything else, at least we think we can control our weight.
And our shape. And our health.
This vague obsession with ourselves isn't either the hedonism or the masochism it's cracked up to be. It's self-defense. We draw a Maginot Line around our bodies and regard anything that goes into it as a potential intruder.
The news is full of stories this week that deal with food as if it were a foreign agent. They divide our problems into eating and exercising, calories and cholesterol, pounds and preservatives, sweeteners and sodium.
The National Academy of Sciences reports that the cholesterol we were supposed to give up may not be bad for us, but too much salt and too many pounds are. Another researcher tells us that the bypass surgery performed on 20,000 people a year may control their obesity but cause their arthritis.
In the Journal of American Medicine, someone writes that we can help our hearts by walking briskly and carrying a six-and-a-half-pound stick. In the New England Journal of Medicine, someone else says that the secret to preventing heart disease may be eating Chinese black tree fungus.
Meanwhile, at Arizona State University middle-aged pigs on the polysaturated and polyunsaturated diets are forced to go jogging.
The fact is that if you are what you eat these days, you are confused.
In an odd way, the urge to take charge of our lives has led us headlong into the arms of the "experts." But as Irish essayist Robert Lynd once said, "The last man in the world whose opinion I would take on what to eat would be a doctor. It is far safer to consult a waiter, and not a bit more expensive."
The National Academy of Sciences report offers at least one thought close to my heart: "Good food . . . should not be regarded as a poison, a medicine or a talisman. It should be eaten and enjoyed."
Yes, indeed, I think it's Time for a Little Something.