Author’s Note: I’m currently in the process of migrating old blog posts to this new system. That may mean some links, syntax highlighting, and other details are broken or missing temporarily. Sorry for the inconvenience!

What is a healthy diet? I’m old enough that I grew up with the food pyramid which insisted the key to healthy living was eating as much bread as you could find.

Apparently that’s wrong.

That was apparently some big government conspiracy thing that overemphasized grains, meat, and poultry. Really the key is to limit carbs, since they get converted into sugars that tell our insulin to just save all those calories for a rainy day, so we just pack everything on.

Maybe.

Actually, it might be that there are slow carbs, which are different from regular carbs. And protein might not be a good option either, unless you’re already super muscular (which I’m not, by the way) so obviously you’ll want to avoid carbs and protein, which leaves fat. Oh, that’s another thing - fat is good for you (it just has a really crappy PR guy). But also anything that you buy in the healthy aisles are going to be marketed as low-fat or fat-free because some people who aren’t in the loop still think that fat’s bad, and substitute it for additional carbs, but the joke’s on them because they’re probably eating too much protein.

Or maybe it’s just calories-in, calories-out, but probably not because the human body is complicated and anyway welcome to 2016. Eat kale.

Knowing Stuff

Alright, I’ll confess: I don’t really care what the optimal diet strategy is. Eating healthy is rather critical for me at the moment, but my morbid obesity isn’t the result of a mere “if only I had a hint at what’s causing the problem” type of problem.

But I am fascinated by the idea that there are broad questions that - at least in principle - have answers. Knowable, demonstrable answers. And we’re living in a time where it’s incredibly easy to disseminate information (ignoring the academic journal problem, which is a whole other hot-button issue for me, so let’s just say “hurray for Open Access” and leave it at that).

But there are types of questions that I think transcend mere knowledge - they become part of entertainment. Diet books, videos, etc are a huge industry, meaning the question of health isn’t the only factor in terms of what gets put out there. Other contraversial issues are often political (which is just another form of entertainment, in that we have a vested interest in political topics that provide entertainment (both in the “yeah, I hate that Walter-White-esque-politician-guy” sense and in the “lolz politics” sense (yeah, I’m nesting parentheses, sorry about that))).

But we don’t have the expertise to critical evaluate everything. When it comes to some topics, we simply have to take the common consensus at face value. And when there are competing ideas, this poses a significant problem. I need to get healthy so I don’t die. Okay, so do I ally with the vegans, the ketos, the paleos? It feels like what I need to do is go get a degree in biochemistry, since clearly either there is no consensus - or the “right” people are doing a very poor job of marketing it.

Standards — xkcd

I’m perfectly happy for there to be passionate debate and disagreement about a topic. But I do worry that this might be difficult to pull back from. What happens when we do find that panacea of health? Do the competing theories just fall away? I suspect not. It’ll be everyone’s job to critically evaluate every little thing that ever fragmented, just to make sure they’re not getting swindled.

But do we have the energy for that?