More eye surgery, healthy habits, a gay marriage revelation, a new veggie restaurant, and the shame of the processed food industry

by Rob Tiller

This week I had eye surgery to repair the effects of scar tissue from my previous eye surgery, with the understanding that there would probably be more surgery needed in future. And so in the space of a few weeks I’ve gone from an adult in remarkably good health with no history of hospitalization to a fairly experienced consumer of modern American medicine. There are, of course, some negatives, such as worry, fear, and pain, but I’m trying to stay positive. It’s a learning experience.

Most of my healthcare team at the Duke Eye Center, including nurses, orderlies, anesthesiologists, and doctors were surprisingly cheerful and supportive. The anesthesia was designed to keep me partially conscious, which it did, and so I was able to listen to the conversations of the team and the music they listened to (vintage rock, unfortunately). I was instructed to let them know if things hurt, and I did speak up a couple of times when it got fairly intense.

The operation involved removing scar tissue from my left retina and eye wall and reattaching the retina to the wall. It was an extremely delicate procedure and took about three hours. When Dr. Mruthyunjaya checked me the next day, he was pleased with the initial results, but noted that it would be some months before we’ll know how much vision I’ll have with that eye. At some point I’ll need cataract surgery as well. But that day I was able to see the top couple of lines of the eye chart, which was an enormous improvement from last check, when I couldn’t make out any letters at all.

Healthy Habits

I was banned from all strenuous exercise for at least a couple of weeks and possibly more. I’m not sure Dr. Mruthyunjaya appreciated that this was a fairly harsh sentence for a person like me, with a big exercise habit. Getting to the gym or other physical activity most every morning is something I just do. It makes me feel better for the rest of the day and is part of the long-term plan of staying healthy and happy. But I don’t think about the pluses and minuses at 5:15 a.m., which would be way too much work. It’s taken a long time to get to the point where exercise is almost automatic, and does not feel like dreary work. I don’t want to lose the habit.

With this partly in view, I decided to recommence my computer programming studies during the newly freed up early morning. I signed up with Codeacademy for their free online Python course. It should keep me in the habit of getting up early. So far, it’s been interesting and mostly fun, though also frustrating at occasional junctures when I get stuck. I’m thinking of it as a lot like learning Spanish: an exercise that at a minumum serves to stimulate the brain in a healthy way, and could turn into a skill that could come in handy.

Gay Marriage Switcheroo

Speaking of brains, in the news this week was a report that Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, had decided to switch from an opponent to a backer of gay marriage. His reason? His son came out as gay. I had two reactions to this:

1. good
and
2. you’ve got to be kidding me!

As to 1, I’m happy that Senator Portman has seen the light, and come to view gay people as entitled to the same civil rights as everyone else. But as to 2, coming to this view really shouldn’t depend on having a gay child!

All of us place special weight on the welfare of our loved ones, but that isn’t a very reliable starting place for broader moral reasoning or policy making. Otherwise, those with healthy families would have no concern for the less abled, and those in a majority race would ignore the rights of minorities. This would be a morality with severe myopia. I wonder how much conservative family values blather is accounted for by such myopia.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Senator Portman, who must surely possess more-than-usual courage to take issue with the conventional and rabid views of his party. We could all benefit from exercising our empathy muscles. Here’s a suggestion: what if we all spent five minutes a day imagining that a specific human in a group we generally dislike is our dearly beloved child? Our imaginations could extend the diameter of our circle of caring and feeling. This would be a good thing. I’ll go first, and try to think loving thoughts about a rightwing fringe Republican.

Trying a New Vegetarian Restaurant

Last night Sally and I tried Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh’s new vegetarian restaurant on Dawson Street. It was full when we got there, with a wait time of 45 minutes, which would exceed our usual supply of patience, but we found a place to stand near the bar and had some Chardonnay. The vibe was hip-funky, similar to Poole’s, but with a younger, edgier crowd — think tatoos, grad students, gays and lesbians, interracial couples, and even a few babies. Oh, and one middle-aged guy with a strangely red left eye swollen half-shut. The place hummed with the sound of many conversations.

The food was creative, with an emphasis on local seasonal ingredients. For appetizers, we had the wintery spring rolls with spicy peanut sauce and seasonal fritters, which had NC apples, spices, and bourbon-agave. We split two entrees, the sweet potato sushi rolls with sashimi tofu and braised tempeh with pesto grits. Every bite was tasty.

Shameful Goings on in the Processed Food Industry

It was really cheering to see a new vegetarian business in Raleigh doing so well. As regular readers know, I’m a big proponent of healthy, ethical eating, which is another habit that’s good for humans, and also fun. But there are powerful forces promoting unhealthy food. For evidence, see an op ed piece in today’s NY Times, by Michael Mudd, a former honcho with Kraft Foods, titled How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.

As a former insider, Mudd seems credible when he characterizes the business of large food processors as “enticing people to consume more and more high-margin, low-nutrition branded products.” He describes how “relentless efforts were made to increase the number of ‘eating occasions’ people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each.”

According to Mudd, “Even as awareness grew of the health consequences of obesity, the industry continued to emphasize cheap and often unhealthful ingredients that maximized taste, shelf life and profits. More egregious, it aggressively promoted larger portion sizes, one of the few ways left to increase overall consumption in an otherwise slow-growth market.”

Mudd also describes the food industry’s clever PR efforts to deflect attention and regulation, such as attributing the obesity epidemic to other factors. There are, of course, multiple factors, but none with the same despicable level of conscious intent. At the same time, they contend they are giving the victims “what they want.” These wants, of course, are the product of advertising and food engineering. (There was a very interesting piece in the Times magazine by Michael Moss a couple of weeks ago on the dark art of synthesizing junk foods that are almost irresistible.)

For solutions, Mudd proposes federal and state taxes on sugared beverages and snacks that undermine health, which would generate funds for education programs and subsidize healthy foods for low-income people. He also recommends mandatory federal guidelines for marketing foods to children and better food labeling. This makes sense.