Why people suck at being healthy

snake oil

I thought it was vitally important that the vial in the image look like Re-Animator fluid. Imagine the carnage that would be unleashed by the unwitting dupe seduced by the promise of a cureall that turned out not to be just harmless linseed oil, but instead the sadistic creation of Dr. West that turns its users into a cannibalistic psychotic zombie creatures.

And Obama had such good intentions. Herbert West is laughing all the way to the bank.

The problem with this whole thing is, it’s not too unbelievable. People can be duped into buying just about anything if it promises to lower cholesterol or burn fat or cure scabies. People like to think that they aren’t gullible, but they are. We like to think that we’re past the days of the soapbox salesman selling his crazy potions and tonics, but we’re not!

With your indulgence, I’d like to offer evidence for my case that Americans (and probably most people) are easily duped by anything that promises to make them better with little or no work.

I work at a natural food cooperative. Some people call it a health food store, which ought to send up red flags because it is not a health food store. Organic potato chips are only marginally better for you than conventional ones. They’re still fried in oil, loaded with fat and carbs. I work at a grocery store, albeit a member-owned cooperative grocery store.

Among the many things that we sell that are genuinely good, we also have a lot of things that pretend to be good but are actually quite pointless. I find it fascinating that someone who wants to get healthy will walk toward the supplement aisle before they head for the produce cooler.

We sell a lot of vitamins. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. We also sell “medicine,” that is, cough syrup and pain relievers and the like. But, what does an organic pain reliever look like? If you look closely at any of our “medicines,” that is anything that isn’t actually a vitamin or mineral, it will almost always be one of two things: herbal or homeopathic. I am fine with herbal remedies. I suspect that they work in the sense that they’ve been used for thousands of years and this seems to be better in many ways than the FDA’s method of testing drugs, which routinely passes drugs that later turn out to have devastating side-effects that aren’t evident until years later.

Just you wait and see what a generation raised on Ritalin will look like in another ten years or so.

Anyway, it’s homeopathy that I take issue with. It’s a form of medicine based on the theory that if you dilute terrible poisons with enough water and in the right way, then the water itself begins to take on curative properties. And not diluted just a little bit. We’re talking about diluting it to the point that, in a given, average-sized lake of homeopathic medicine, there might be a molecule or two an active ingredient.

That’s right, people (many, many people) believe this. And this shit ain’t cheap. People are paying through the nose for inert substances that have no medicinal effect whatsoever.

Moving on. You have no idea how many times I’ve been manning the till when some dupe walks in and starts looking at the herbal supplements and turns to me and says, “Do you have [insert herb that they heard about last week on Dr. Oz]?” Ninety percent of the time the answer is no, of course we don’t carry that. We do carry a bunch of other things that have probably the exact same effect, but no, they want whatever it was that Dr. Oz was so up in a tizzy about. I don’t care that Dr. Oz works at Columbia University. I hope he dies of a heart attack so he never bothers me again. He’s a charlatan. You know what he should be telling people? “Folks, there’s only one way to be healthy and that’s to eat good food and exercise.” That’s it. There’s no other way. No amount of herbal antioxidant is going to replace good, healthy, organic food.

Food is the keyword here.

An important case in point is the acai berry. It is actually good for you. Dr. Oz said it was and as much as I hate to admit it, he’s not a complete idiot. For those that don’t know, acai comes from South America and has been lauded and praised for its antioxidants, polyphenols, and other nutrients that your body does benefit from having. They do have to be shipped from South America, however. This is a problem for conservationists, I would say.

And you know what’s better for you than acai berries? You’ll never guess. Blueberries. Blue-motherfucking-berries. Oh, and strawberries. Concord grapes. Red Beans have more antioxidants. So does red wine.

Blueberries grow wild all over the north country where I live. And it’s true, people do eat them and love them (they taste a hell of a lot better than acai, too–acai tastes a lot like sweet dirt in my opinion). But we have a demand for acai. So we sell it. And I can’t say shit because we make money on it. As much as it rankles.

I’ll close with something amusing. A guy walks into the store and looks around for a while. Eventually he approaches me and asks, “Where are those marshmallows you used to have?” I reply, “I don’t think we’ve ever carried marshmallows.” Which might not be true; I’ve only been there a year. So then he says, “Yeah, you know, those ones you used to have. The marshmallows. They’re made from the Nile river fish.”

I stare at him for a handful of seconds. And then I can’t help myself. I start laughing. A hearty chortle from deep inside my stomach. He starts laughing, too and says, “I guess that does sound a little strange. But I tell you it’s real.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine anything more absurd than catching fish in the Nile–the Nile is incredibly polluted, I’ll have you know–with the intention of making fucking marshmallows.

What a world.

Gelächter ist Medizin.