Thursday, January 1, 2009


Happy New Year, gentle readers.


Okay. I admit it. I'm middle-aged. And like most people suffering from that condition, I have a decades-long track-record of not keeping my New Year's resolutions. Re-reading the ones I made a year ago, I found that I kept only one and failed to keep four others. That's a 4:1 to ratio of resolutions broken versus resolutions kept, and that's depressing. So, here's one idea. I could make resolutions that I'm actually going to keep this year. For instance:


I resolve to not go to the gym.

I resolve to not cut back on the wine.

I resolve to not read Northanger Abbey.

I resolve to not watch less television.

I resolve to not be nicer to stupid people.


I could five-for-five in a snap. Especially with that last one.


But another idea occurs to me. Bear with me here.


Natural selection occurs whenever there is biological reproduction and a finite amount of resources. Certain heritable traits increase the probability of an organism living long enough to reproduce and pass them on (we tend to resemble our parents), whereas organisms without those traits are more likely to die before then. Over the long term, the accumulation of inherited traits can result in the emergence of new species. This is called evolution by natural selection. Some people don't like this idea, just as some people used to dislike the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun, but it happens whether they like it or not.


It's also the reason I'm a fat blob. Well, it's part of the reason. And also "fat" and "blob" aren't quite the right words. Let's call it a pudgy blot. I was in fighting shape well into twenties and then I got a job in a cubicle, lost my hair, ground my teeth down to nubs, and gained forty pounds. Further schooling, with days spent reading and long nights of much beer (and hands-down the worst served anywhere in the world, at UWO's Grad Club) didn't help. Through extreme exertions, I lost the better part of fifty pounds later on, but since then I've gained about half of it back.


At least half the blame for this goes to evolution. You see, you and me and everyone you know is a miracle, in the broadest sense of the word, because all of our ancestors lived long enough to reproduce. And one reason that they did is because they ate whenever food was available.  For most the biological history of our species, the availability of food simply couldn't be taken for granted. For most people living in Canada today, however, that's not much of an issue. There's abundant food everywhere much of it highly processed, high salt, high fat, high calorie, nutritionally worthless food but our DNA is perpetually screaming at us to eat now while we have the chance, which is good advice, from an evolutionary perspective.


So I wonder, sometimes, is it is my personality or my genes (or is there a difference?) that loves warm bread, cold bread, hot buttered bagels, eggs over-easy, eggs scrambled, eggs poached, eggs Benedict, sausage, back bacon, front bacon, and hash-browns; rib-eyes, New York strips, tenderloins, hamburger, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, chicken wings, drumsticks, pork loin, pork chops, pulled pork sandwiches and mashed potatoes with gravy; lasagna, cannelloni, manicotti, spaghetti and sausage meatballs; cheddar, gouda, brie, sage-derby, and camembert;  white wine, red wine, ice wine, port, sherry, lager, and ale; peach pie, strawberry pie, apple pie, blueberry pie, pumpkin pie…oh, God…


There was a rather sad scene in the movie Supersize Me where a young woman, having attended a seminar about the so-called Subway Diet, said remorsefully that the diet wouldn't work for her because she couldn't afford to eat at Subway three times per day. Apparently she believed that the subs themselves had some sort of special weight-loss inducing properties, and, fundamentally, that's the belief that underpins every nutty fad diet that comes along. But the basic solution and probably the only real solution for me and you and everybody else whose biology has not yet caught up with the circumstances of superabundance in which suddenly find ourselves, is stoicism. Recognize the inherent nobility of moderation. Put down that big of chips. Push away that plate. Refuse that dessert. Cork up that bottle of wine. And get some damn exercise. Try this. Do it right now. Lie on your chest. Then, push up. It can be done.  We can appeal to the fitter angels of our nature. For evolution or, if you prefer, the agent that made evolution happen in the first place   endowed us with another trait, unique in all of nature: the intelligence to defy our basest biological impulses. 

1 comment:

Graham Broad said...

The photo is of the famous Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. Well, of his statue, in Rome.