Friday, June 20, 2008

Low Carb in Novels

During my Baltimore trip, I rattled through two novels, both of which I enjoyed, but... the second one I read was Anita Shreve's Body Surfing. Now, I have to say, I really enjoyed this book on the whole; Anita Shreve writes beautifully and atmospherically... I think I've read and enjoyed nearly all her novels, and this one was no exception.

But right in the beginning, when she introduces the only character in this book who is pretty much totally unsympathetic... prejudiced and petty and pretentious would all be good descriptive words for her... she also characterizes her as being on a low-carb diet. Note the following excerpts...

"Unlike Mrs. Edwards, who counts her carbs religiously and seems to be hastening herself to an early death with the eggs and meats and cheese she eats in quantity. Even the low-carb ice-cream bars she snacks on at night seem, with their thick, viscous shine, to be depositing cholesterol molecules directly into her bloodstream." (p. 14)

"Ben attacks his lobster with relish. Jeff breaks the soft-shell claws with his fingers and eats the sweet meat without butter. Mrs. Edwards drenches even the smallest shreds in the yellow liquid. No carbs in butter." (p. 19)

"'Bread?' Sydney offers, picking up a basket.
Mrs. Edwards stares. Mrs. Edwards does not eat bread." (p. 23)

Now, possibly, these excerpts aren't really conveying what I'm trying to show, but... well, first of all, there's that media notion, so at odds with all the actual scientific evidence, that a low-carb diet is a ticket to high cholesterol and fatty arteries. That ignorance bothers me. It's like an acceptable prejudice... like, 150 years ago, people would say, oh, Negroes are lazy... and it would be, oh, well, of course they are.... because doesn't everyone think that? Of course a low carb diet causes heart disease. Everybody knows that.

The second part that bothers me is the clear association between a low-carb diet and a character who is implied to be gluttonous. The drenching of the lobster with excessive butter. The quantity of meats and cheeses. It's more "media Atkins", the notion that everyone eating a low-carb diet is pigging out on vast quantities of fatty food.... and that there's something wrong, something vaguely distasteful about it.

I don't think that I've ever read a novel before in which the diet that the person had chosen seems to be saying something about them... and the message was, someone you would like would not eat this way. It really bothered me, this casual, ill-informed perception. It offended me in the same way that I'd be offended if someone said anything that lumps all people together in their characteristics and choices... all redheads are bad-tempered. Wives always nag their husbands. Americans are ill-mannered overseas. Things like that. Things that group people into distasteful things, things that associate innocuous choices with not-so-innocuous behaviors.

As I said, I'm probably making too much of this, but it really bothered me.

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