Guiltless Eating

How do you feel about this?

UNITED STATES—The obituary for the celebrated Look-Life shutterbug, Phil Stern, whose lens caught scenes of war and froze iconic images of Marilyn and James Dean for all time, struck a dissonant chord when the scribe just had to chip in “Stern, a longtime smoker, had emphysema.”

You know, maybe he died because he was older than the hills (he was 95 after all). And saying he was a lifelong smoker who suffered emphysema is secretly warning, “You better watch out, you better not puff. Or else.” It’s the latest update on shame and guilt—a modern trivialized version—that places an excruciating burden of destiny in what we decide to put in our mouths.

Thus, as science, medicine and nutrition get to discover more, the more innocent consumption is becoming forbidden. In its place they are serving up a heaping helping of a highly, toxic dish, perhaps the most toxic.

Guilt, with a little parsley of fear. Prehistoric humans had to hunt for their food; moderns must wade through a gauntlet of strictures, stay away from this item or that, or worry about two versions of kinda the same thing like margarine or butter, diet cola or sugar cola. This serves to clutter our mentality and cast a pall of reluctance over spontaneous eating.

What are obituaries in the future going to look like? “The deceased was 135 years old and a lifelong drinker of unfiltered water?”

We, the living are chafed by fear-resolve to keep getting those darned carbon filters that end up having to be carbon-dated to know how long it’s been since we put in a new filter. That’s another source of anxiety.

Future obituaries may even see fit to mention that the dearly departed had a history of white-rice consumption and was suffering Alzheimer’s. Already, when brown whole-grain rice is not on the menu a number of us (including me) may have a hissy fit. Bottom line: a little white rice and unfiltered water once in a while won’t kill us, but continuous anxiety over food choices will certainly help make us grave before we reach the grave.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to throw out good habits and eating fresh. I urge an awareness of all the detrimental fear and food chatter out there that contribute to anxiety. Like the poor young woman besieged by glutens here and everywhere at a recent milestone birthday celebration at a prime rib restaurant (“Miller Time” 11/06/14). There are times to suspend what we’ve been told, and it’s necessary to grasp the joy as best we can. This means saying goodbye, albeit temporarily, to what we’ve been told by science.

Interestingly, 39 percent of assertions made on a popular TV doctor’s show were found to have no scientific research to back them up, according to study published in the November issue of BMJ medical journal. So think about it, because of the power granted to this airwaves doctor, some viewers out here are fretting over a claim or pronouncement which four times out of ten has not been proved.

Part of lightening up is not let the hearsay latch in on you and dampen a good time. If the health rumor mill tells you something is “bad”—do some research and learn why. Of course some of us are sick of researching every last thing. A more sweeping response is to shun food guilt as much as possible. The quickest formula I can share now to shun guilt in the thick of the holiday season, with its avalanche of no-nos: seize the moment, with your heart and mind. Don’t be pushover for diet doldrums.

These times are a great opportunity to practice our ability to be joyous and grow in strength to repel guilt and embrace the moment. The real work this season is letting the thoughts and misgivings about what we’re eating slide off us. Shoot for the moon, put yourself on a zero-guilt diet. Sure, that’s challenging. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, but a lot of days. So too guiltlessness. Start practicing concentrating on joy in the moment and you’re gonna be surprised at the results.

And save your guilt for the big stuff. Did I help a brother or sister in need? What could I do to give more?

Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Lighten Up Now: the Grady Diet,” available on Grady Miller can be reached at