There’s something kind of awesome about listening to Rush Limbaugh kick and scream like a 4-year-old child being told to eat his spinach instead of shovel cookies into his face. This entire bit is hilarious, listening to him whine and cry about how terrible and disgusting it is to put OMG actual plant matter in your mouth. While it’s funny listening to him be a little baby about this, though, there’s more to be concerned about here. Limbaugh has taken to suggesting that the advice to eat fruits and vegetables (and to exercise) is conspiracy organized by scientists that are hiding the truth, for nefarious purposes. It’s hard not to wonder if he’s trying to kill his listeners by ranting at them about how their diet should be nothing but junk food and their physical activity levels shouldn’t exceed picking up the remote control and pressing buttons.
He cites an article in the Daily Mail that said the fruits and veggies thing is a myth. Here’s a general rule of thumb to follow: the Daily Mail is not a reliable news source. This goes double for anything with a whiff of gender anxiety to it, and certainly the hardcore wingnut press against fruit and veggies has more than a whiff of gender anxiety to it, in the same way anti-cat ranting often does, because plant-based food (and cats) are coded feminine.
Indeed, the story from the Daily Mail is some fucked-up science reporting. The study they cite shows that people who ate 8 more more servings of fruit or vegetables a day and a 22% lower chance of dying of heart disease. The Daily Mail glides right past this, though, denying that it had any real effect at all, and then claiming that the advice to eat fruit and veggies is a corporate scheme cooked up to sell more product., as if the far more extensive marketing push to get people to eat more fat and animal products didn’t exist. When you actually run a search for more reliable reporting on this study, you find that it tells a far different story than the Daily Mail claims:
Even among those who couldn’t manage the eight servings, more fruits and veggies consistently meant a lower risk; for every additional serving above two per day, researchers observed a four percent decrease in the rate of heart disease deaths.
Oh, and this:
“This is probably the largest study of its type and should convince even the greatest skeptic of the value of fruits and veggies,” said Dr. Randall Zusman, director of the division of hypertension at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Part of it probably has to do with the fact that eating more fruit and vegetables often means eating less of the bad stuff, of course, but that doesn’t negate the results of this study, as much as Limbaugh and the Daily Mail would like to believe it does.
What makes this entire rant of Limbaugh’s even weirder is that he then references the recent passing of fitness guru Jack LaLane as “proof” that eating right and exercise don’t have any good health benefits. Problem with this is that Jack LaLane was 96 years old. Granted, reading LaLanne’s profile, I have to say the man took it way too far—eating is one of the most consistent pleasures that people get and his advice not to enjoy your food is just not really sustainable or life-affirming—but that’s beside the point. As are some of the unscientific claims he made. The point is that you don’t do much better than 96, in terms of longevity, and he was working out until close to the end, which is basically about as much as any of us could ever hope from life. One man’s life and death isn’t really proof for or against the health claims about exercise and vegetables—what matters is the aggregate data, which points to the benefits of a healthy diet—but it’s weird to point to someone who basically lived the most extreme promises successfully. As far as I know, no one has ever promised immortality. Plus, there’s more to health than just mortality rates; there’s also questions about quality of life, which nutrition can dramatically affect as you age. Diabetes, heart disease, and mobility problems are all manageable under modern health care, but I dare say the people who have these problems would probably have a lot less trouble, expense, and stress in their life if they didn’t have to deal with these problems. And nutrition and exercise can be preventive in many cases.
My feeling about this is that one of Limbaugh’s talents is to take his own psychological issues and to project them out into political rants that rationalize himself to himself, and this tends to work because a lot of what makes him such a pathetic figure affects members of his audience. See the post I wrote earlier about this, and how resentment and self-delusion are major components of right wing fantasies. It’s incredibly depressing, because it indicates that hopelessness is fueling this mad dash to the right the country is taking. There’s a giving up quality to this rant, and to others from Limbaugh. Discouraging people from trying to take care of their health? Lying to people about the benefits of prevention? He’s basically trying to convince you that it’s all futile and you should just give up even trying to care about yourself or your family. Which, in turn, just encourages more resentment and more lashing out at the “liberal elite”, who are increasingly set up as envy/hatred objects for many reasons, but now including for eating vegetables and walking around. It’s depressing as hell, so much so that it makes me actually long for the irritatingly bright “go girl” mentality of someone like Oprah Winfrey. Isn’t there much of a middle ground anymore, between giving up before you even try and this sort of over-privileged earnestness that doesn’t acknowledge that there are some things out of control? Can’t there be a muted optimism that acknowledges the structural problems and the reality of bad luck, but suggests we should try to do better as a society anyway?
Appropriate for this occasion: