The Reagan Cheeseburger

August 27, 2015

I was never one for fad diets, ones with trendy names I loathe those based on bad and fleeting science. I flirted with “healthy” food in fits and spurts over the years though which gradually entered my typical grocery shopping list and daily diet. Then, several weeks ago I made the biggest and most concerted changes to my diet than ever before.

I get an annual physical. A couple years back the doc noted I should watch my BP—it wasn’t an issue yet, but I should keep an eye on it to make sure it did not become one. I thought nothing of it. Earlier this year I had my physical and my new doc said though everything else was solid, my BP was too high and my cholesterol was ticking up—not high yet, but worth addressing. I once again ignored it but agreed to come back in a few months to follow up–at which point, being that I had not made any changes, things were still too high and she said to avoid medication, which she thought I should do my best to do at my age, I should immediately begin a healthy “DASH” diet and increase my exercise.

For many years I had strenuous jobs that kept me on my feet running around all day. I stayed fit without trying though I stayed stressed and angry which began a slow uptick of BP.  But I have worked 90% of my hours in the past year from a desk and my 3 times a week on a stationary bike simply wasn’t cutting it. So, I began committing a minimum of 45 minutes a day 6 days a week to exercise. I also did two major things with my diet which immediately began to feed off of each other for the better—I drastically increased the number of fresh fruits and vegetables I eat in a day and I began eyeing the label on everything I bought to check for salt, saturated fat and cholesterol numbers—which in turn made me opt for fresh rather than processed and packaged options almost every time. I learned several vegetarian recipes that not only suffice but taste better than many of my meat recipes. I began eating whole unprocessed unsalted nuts and omega rich fish, small scoops of almond butter, oats and grains but less packaged bread. I began grazing through the day and eating smaller portions in my sit down meals. I stopped eating processed meats and though I will likely opt for an occasional steak or burger again soon enough, I cut out red meat for the time being.  I scaled my coffee back to a rational level and though I love a glass of wine, a craft beer or a tumbler of scotch I also began notching those units and skipping them a few days a week.

At this point I know most readers are like—who cares? And what does this have to do with anything least of all Reagan?

Well, my diet has done a few things. One, it quickly shed 10 pounds of fat from me and cut my BP numbers way down to good healthy numbers. Two, it doesn’t feel like a “diet”. It feels natural. I like what I eat and I’ve learned new foods that I enjoy whether it’s a vegetable ratatouille, mushroom risotto, roasted almond kale salad or an egg white omelet loaded with vegetables. But more than that I enjoy basic, simple fruits—blueberries, peaches, apples I enjoy carrots and tomatoes. They taste better than they used to. I haven’t had a greasy bag of chips in months and I had those almost every day for far too many years. Here’s what I, like many before me, quickly learned.

When you give yourself real food, real things taste better and it clicks that this is what you are meant to eat, what you are meant to feel like after a meal. Conversely, fake shit just tastes fake to put it bluntly. It’s funny but you know how if you drink enough fizzy sugary carbonated cola water simply tastes wrong because it’s clean, clear and doesn’t burn going down? I remember as a store manager—and even when I ate like crap and drank too much as a college student I chugged water throughout the day because running around as a retail manager one must be hydrated or miserable—but my younger employees would far too often complain that “water tastes bad I need something that burns my throat” when no soda was available for their consumption. See, if you eat the fake shit long enough you get used to the fake shit. It’s comfortable. It’s what you know, what you resort to at every convenience. It takes no effort. In its own way it’s comforting because it’s high sugar high fat high salt—it hits all your pleasure spots in a quick blast and then you feel like shit but in a few hours you can do it again. A fast food or prepackaged junk food diet is very similar to a drug habit.
As a nation we have a junk food diet relationship with politics too. Reagan was our cheeseburger. Trump is shaping up to be our Hardee’s  obscene extreme burger with fried eggs and 4 patties.
I’ll back up for a minute.

I think to fully understand American politics in the twentieth century one must deal with both Roosevelts’, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. But I think to quickly look at where we are right here right now in the political landscape of America 2015 we need compare only Carter and Reagan. Carter was the healthy kale salad that America found ourselves with after years of eating only bad airline meatloaf. He was the healthy, balanced, right choice but he had only 4 years (or less in public opinion) to change the tastes of the populace to want what was best, what was healthy for them in leadership , governance and foreign relations. Americans, by and large, quickly responded by dumping the salad and opting for a greasy cheeseburger in the form of Ronald Reagan.

Where Carter was devoted to peace, diplomacy and safeguarding the disbursement of weapons from warring nations Reagan was most often the opposite in all matters. Where Carter was cognizant of the looming energy crisis (even installing solar panels on the WH) Reagan doubled down on fossil fuels and short term solutions. Carter urged restraint, patience and community—Reagan ushered in an era of corporate greed, unchecked consumption and unregulated industry. Reagan was America’s cheeseburger—instantly gratifying (at least if you weren’t poor, gay or a minority). He did not ask you to sacrifice in the short term for the long term gain—he was full throttle ahead for making and consuming as much as possible and damn the consequences. It was what America knew and hell, even if it was bad for us we could just repeat the process again…and again…until the market collapses, the environment dies and the wheels come off. Those who were already wealthy or on the cusp of being able to be wealthy (particularly if they were of the “right” demographics) embraced Reagan as the solution to Carter. He allowed them to unleash their most basic impulses, to capitalize and flourish in business at the expense of those who worked under them and at the expense of the country and environment as a whole.

The modern perils we face—global warming, economic policies, healthcare, wage disparity and the global landscape particularly the situations throughout the Middle East—were typified in the disparate competing goals, perspectives and actions of Carter and Reagan. Every conservative President or candidate since Reagan has aspired to his example, most often even pushing far to his right. We have seen a few candidates but few successors to Carter’s legacy though we caught glimpses of it in some of Clinton’s actions and have increasingly witnessed it (except, unfortunately, in many military actions) in Obama’s presidency but now we see its fullest potential in candidate Bernie Sanders. And here’s the catcher—there is an entire generation of people who have grown up at least knowing that the fake shit is bad for you. They know the real thing is so much better. The question is—will they outnumber the fearful loud crowd who wants to say screw it and head to Hardee’s for a sack full of thick burgers via the Trump route?

I know myself that one of these days, likely in the next few months I’ll take a hiatus on my diet and head to Red Robin to celebrate something. At which point I’m having the biggest burger covered in bacon, cheese eggs and hot sauce, a plate of fries and one of those whiskey bacon milkshakes. I’ll walk out of that place a bit happy but a bit crappy feeling. I’ll go back to my diet. The problem with America taking the Trump route is that we would be forgoing our diet for a minimum of 4 years and I don’t know how long it would take us (and the world because of us) to recover from the catastrophic damage of four years of sustained over-consumption of fake shit.
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