I’ve been on pins and needles all this last week, worried about Thursday. Thursday Vermont Public Radio reporter Steve Zind came to interview me about the No Sugar project.
See, here’s the thing. As I sit here writing my fifth sentence, (does “Ack!” Count as a sentence?) I realize I’ve already gone back and changed the first sentence at least three times. That’s what I love about writing- the process of going through and getting it to say exactly what you mean to say in exactly the way you mean to say it. This is the reason I’d be a truly terrible politician, for example, or trial lawyer, or radio interviewer for that matter: I don’t really do “off-the-cuff.” I live in perpetual awe of those who can.
Instead, I do the opposite. I love finally finding the right word that hits your meaning on the head like a soft, firm hammer. I love the fact that I can sit down and write for ten minutes and when I look up I realize it has actually been two hours. I love going back and reading something I thought maybe wasn’t all that great and totally surprising myself by being entertained or interested by it after all- as if it had been written by somebody entirely different from me.
But the interview went fine- I mean it probably went great. Steve Zind is an incredibly nice guy, and besides that he was honestly interested in our weird little project. He asked great, to-the-point questions and worked to steer me back on course whenever I got away from the original question too far or completely lost my train of thought. (Hello? Earth to Eve!) He even went with me to the supermarket for a bit of grocery shopping and it was fun sharing with him my nomadic life on the fringes of the supermarket. Like the old adage, we stuck to the store’s outer perimeter of produce, meat and dairy, steering clear of the darker inner sanctum of processed everything. Like we were on a recon mission, we ventured in on our rappel ropes only to quickly nab boxes of Shredded Wheat and Triscuits before zipping back out as if those scary florescent Cheetos might suddenly launch a surprise attack.
In addition to not being so terrific on the spot, another insecurity of mine is the whole not-being-a-doctor thing. I mean, I can read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison and watch Dr. Robert Lustig’s “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” till I am blue in the face, (I am up to four times through The-90-minute-Bitter-Truth at this point) but I just can’t quite seem to keep all those metabolic transactions in my brain at one time. No- that’s not true. I can keep it in my brain, mostly, but not in the super thorough I-know-this-stuff-like-the-back-of-my-hand-way that is required when you are called upon to coherently explain the matter to someone else.
But I did my best anyway- and ever since I’ve been going it over in my head wondering how much of an idiot I really sounded like. Of course, another bad thing- but also a really good thing- about being interviewed is that sooner or later someone will ask you a question you haven’t heard yet, and haven’t prepared an answer for.
“What about joy?” he asked me as we drove toward the Price Chopper. “Isn’t some part of eating fundamentally about joy?” It’s a great question. Way better than “but you eat honey, right?” or “have you lost any weight?” or any of the other questions we regularly get asked.
I don’t remember my answer, but using my super-human powers of interview revisionism, I would like to re-answer that question now. What I should’ve said is this: A lot of people, my husband included, either take or used to take tremendous joy in smoking cigarettes. The question is, at what point does that joy get overridden by the realization that this thing is very probably addictive, and going to kill you? Because that’s what we’re talking about: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer and… have I mentioned anything that scares you yet?
My Aunt Bonnie died of alcohol-induced diabetes. Although I didn’t know her very well, my understanding is that she didn’t have the money or the insurance to care for her illness, but she sure as heck wasn’t about to give up drinking. That wasn’t even on the table. The way my cousin tells it, Aunt Bonnie made her choice.
Bottom line: how much substance-related joy would you be willing to give up, if you knew it was going to kill you? Cigarette smokers, drug addicts and alcoholics the world over have been forced to answer that question time and again, and I suspect, eventually, all us sugar consumers will be too.
Can we have occasional sugar? Sure, if we think about the right way: like the occasional drink, or the occasional cigar or cigarette (if we’re one of those rare individuals who can smoke the occasional cigarette.) If we can restore sugar to its place in our culture as something truly special. I don’t know about you, but if I eat something at every meal including breakfast and snacks… I don’t consider that special.
That’s what I should’ve said.