Bethany Godwin is a junior at the University of North Alabama. The following is a paper resulted from a research paper assignment in her Honor's English Seminar class on the topic of Utopias. Bethany's interest in nutrition began when she was 13 and she was chose to do a book report on Dr. Attwood's Low-Fat Prescription for Kids [ http://www.vegsource.com/attwood/book.htm ]. She furthered her research with John McDougall MD's books, and subsequently Bethany's parents, on seeing the wonderful results of a vegetarian diet, joined her in becoming vegetarian.
Utopias. Why are they so written about, so dreamed of, and so discussed? Maybe there are many reasons. The primary reason I believe that they are such a topic of discussion is the hope they provide for the future or a longing for what was in the forever-gone past. Seconds separate time-just a second ago is the past, this second is the present, and one second from now is the future. Why has mankind always been obsessed with every second but the present one?
While utopia, literally translated, means "not here," why can it not be? What do we see as a utopia? How do we get there? Why not start now? These questions put the responsibility on us and not our ancestors nor our posterity-yet-to-be.
As mentioned earlier, utopias read about, dreamed of, and discussed encapsulate many ideas, principles, and themes. One of those I would like to address today.
For just a moment, if you would, think about the perfect place. More than likely what you are imagining is as varied from someone else's as the human species. Yet, all of them rest upon one major premise you may have taken for granted-your nutritional health and well-being.
Do not all utopias have perfect health as a major premise? The Judeo-Christians typically refer to Heaven as being a place with no pain and suffering. Many ancient writings, whether talking about Golden Ages or future utopias, discuss the peace and enjoyment people experience. In none of these writings were health problems mentioned. In fact, one's good health was so expected that reference to it was not made in many of these works. Thus, let us explore utopias in relation to one's health in terms of food and exercise.
Health. It is more than the absence of pain. In fact, health, as described by Dr. Dean Ornish, is as follows: "Health refers to your overall state, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as 'the overall condition of an organism at a given time; optimal functioning with freedom from disease or abnormality'" (Ornish 316). In today's society, much emphasis is put upon people's past health (health histories of patients and their ancestors). In today's society, much emphasis is put upon people's future health (studies performed and cures being sought). In today's society, aside from the minor band-aides and repair jobs done, few people are putting a concerted concern upon their current health. What does having concerted concern upon one's current health involve? Three things: vegitan diet, organic vegetables, and proper exercise.
Even in literary writings, concerted concern is not placed upon one's health. For example, Walden Two, which is a past utopia in my mind, does not place significant influence upon one's diet. When the guests ate their first supper at Walden Two, it mentioned that the menu was goulash, soufflé, and lamb chops (Skinner 41). While this menu had some vegetables included, the allowance of meat is frightening. Breakfast was equally disturbing-scrambled eggs and bacon (Skinner 61). Why is this frightening and disturbing? Dr. McDougall explains in his book that consumption of meat is dangerous for quite a few reasons. First of all, he explains that animal flesh is contaminated with hormones, stimulants, and antibiotics that are used in the livestock yards. Second, when cooked at high temperatures, chemical changes in the animal's flesh can occur that can actually create carcinogens. Further more, many people have allergic reactions to both animal flesh and dairy products (McDougall 37-44). Thus, to obtain optimal health, meat and dairy must not be consumed. Is it not clear that while Frazer strove to create a utopia there, he failed to instill a major premise for a complete utopia-the vegitan diet?
The Handmaid's Tale, though a dystopia, addresses the future and has equally distressing approaches to one's dietary habits. Chicken, steaks, and butter are mentioned as common foods (Atwood 48). Breakfasts are mentioned with eggs as staple ingredients (Atwood 110). The question now becomes, "What is wrong with eggs?" Many things! Dr. Attwood explains to us that eggs are culprits of causing food allergies, as are milk and dairy products (Attwood 74). Also, Dr. McDougall explains the vices of eggs. Eggs are extremely high in cholesterol and do negatively affect one's blood cholesterol levels. Even the white of the egg should not be consumed because of its high protein content and high fat content (McDougall 56-57). Vegetables and breads are mentioned but only as side dishes to the meat courses. Thus, again the vegitan diet is not addressed.
Since, neither the past utopia or future dystopia here addresses the true concern for one's health, what is the present time doing about one's health in its relationship to food? Not much. Money is being thrown into research, surgeries, and studies. Yet, hardly anyone is informing the public that true health is up to one person-you! As more and more studies are being performed though, the general medical field is realizing that the fad diets of the past few decades are mine fields waiting to explode (if not already exploded). The medical field is slowly beginning to see the vegitan diet as the one true answer to optimal health. Dr. John McDougall, one of the few people focusing on advocating a healthy lifestyle, describes our eating habits this way: "Developed societies commonly use animal products as their meal's main course and, as a result, suffer from diseases caused by overindulgence in rich foods" (McDougall 37). He continues to explain to us: "A health-supporting diet contains no animal products. To recommend any meat or dairy foods would compromise the basic premise that will be developed in this book, which illustrates how rich foods-heavily processed, high in cholesterol, fat, protein and contaminants and low in carbohydrate, fiber, and potassium-are detrimental to our health" (McDougall 38). Thus, one major step toward having a utopia today in regard to health is to eat a vegitan diet-unrefined starches, grains, legumes, beans, vegetables, and fruits.
Another step in the right direction is what kind of vegetables one eats. Organic vegetables are much better for one's health over commercialized vegetables, even though commercialized vegetables are much better than any meat or dairy products. Dr. McDougall explains it as follows in The McDougall Plan: "Because flesh is high on the food chain, it often contains unacceptable levels of environmental contaminants. All over the world, poisonous chemicals are buried in the ground or dumped in lakes, rivers, and the sea. Pesticides and herbicides are used in growing food crops and accumulate in the soil. Growing plants absorb small amounts of these chemicals. Because they are highly attracted to and absorbed by fat, these chemicals are called fat-soluble. When animals and fish eat plants containing even low levels of contaminants, these chemicals are concentrated in the fatty tissues of their bodies. If we consume the flesh of these polluted creatures, we take in large amounts of potentially harmful substances" (McDougall 41). Thus, we can clearly see that organic vegetables are the best choice of consumption with non-organic vegetables following as the next best choice of consumption. Meat is definitely not even a choice of consumption due to the high levels of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and other damaging chemicals found in it.
Walden Two does not say if their vegetables are organic or not. Due to their being a community off by themselves and dependent only on themselves, I would assume that their vegetables would be organic. They grow their own gardens and foods. Thus, they would not be depending on the foods marketed by the general food suppliers in current cities. Also, their members seem to be in relatively good health-which could easily be explained by the pure vegetables they consumed. In fact, their health could only be improved by their elimination of meat and dairy in their dietary lifestyle.
Consistent with being a dystopia, The Handmaid's Tale, though also not explicitly stating so, leaves obvious signs that their vegetables are not organically grown. Though this book's setting is in the future, the grocery store from where all the food is bought certainly does not resemble anything close to a health food store. The vegetables bought from this store and served to the people in this book are then probably not organic. Also, the women mentioned throughout this book do not seem to be in the best of health. Childbirth is an important topic here in this society. Yet, many of the women are unable to have children, have miscarriages, and even have children with major deformities and problems. All of these conditions suggest that the proper dietary lifestyle is not followed here-that would include the lack of consumption of organic vegetables. Thus, it is fairly evident that this future society does not consume organic vegetables.
Even at the present time, few people are realizing the importance of organically grown foods. However, there are a few doctors and others who are realizing their contributions to one's health. Dr. Charles Attwood describes one's concerns for pesticides on plants as follows: "If you are also worried about pesticide residues on your vegetables and fruits, peel or wash them. Generally, the benefits of eating vegetables and fruits far outweigh any negative effects from pesticide residues. Of course, organically grown food would be best, when available. The only thing you can't control is the air you breathe. But, let's face it, the greatest pollutant is animal fat and protein. Avoid that and you will overcome the less serious effects of air pollution" (Attwood 20).
The third step one must take in implementing a utopia now concerning one's health and well-being would be to incorporate exercise into one's lifestyle. This is something that has existed ever since man's existence. Years ago people would laugh at you if you had asked them if they had exercised that day, replying, " What in the world are you talking about?" Yet, they had probably exercised more that day than many of today's population have done combined in one whole week. Physical labor was an essential ingredient of the past. Now, this modern age has "improved" conditions to the point that we can avoid steps via elevators, walking via vehicles, and strength-building activities via all kind of newfangled gadgets. Yet, more and more people are now reviving this long-forgotten practice of physical labor with a new term for it-exercise.
Walden Two did not mention "exercise" per se but it did mention that every one in that community was expected to complete four "labor hours" per day. While those credits were their means of "paying" for the services they received, those credits also served to give them the physical exercise they needed. Frazier argues, "One or two hours of physical work each day is a health measure. Men have always lived by their muscles-you can tell that from their physiques. We mustn't let our big muscles atrophy just because we've devised superior ways of using the little ones" (Skinner 52). He clearly understood that even the brilliant people who exercised their minds had need of physical exercise for their overall health.
The Handmaid's Tale also incorporated exercise into their society. A daily walk to the grocery was mandated for the women's health. This mandated walk was greatly needed since most of the women's days were spent in sedentary activities if any activities at all. Brief reference is made to the fact that the women were also required to do daily floor exercises and breathing drills (Atwood 26). Thus, these daily exercises provided the much-needed utilization of energy and work that is required of every person.
Today, the general public is realizing the true benefits of exercise more and more. The different programs and methods are as varied as is the human species. Yet, exercise is realized to be important and vital for one's health. Dr. Ornish points out in his book that exercise has been proven to reduce one's body fat, increase one's bone density, reduce one's blood pressure, decrease the formation of blood clots, raise the level of HDL ("good") cholesterol, and lower one's triglycerides (Ornish 320). All of this without the side effects of some "wonderful pill." Dr. McDougall explains that exercise causes one to have a more appropriate appetite, developed muscles, shaped physique, stronger heart, slower pulse rate, decreased heart disease, circulation at the joints, and increase in one's mineral content of bones (McDougall 176-177).
"A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" is the definition the World Health Organization gave health as shared by Dr. Ornish (Ornish 316). The physical aspect and to some degree the mental and social well-being is attainable by first incorporating the three steps shared here-vegitan diet, organic vegetables, and consistent exercise. It is only when one is at his best that he can do his best. Now, are we ready to begin a utopia now? It is up to us! We have the tools within our reach to so reach a utopia. And what a utopia it is! Many individuals across the country today have sought these various doctors who are truly concerned about their patients' health. When the patients would incorporate a vegitan diet and exercise, the results have been astounding-overweight people have lost weight, people with autoimmune diseases have been freed from such dehabiliting conditions, and even those with minor health problems have been relieved to better live life and create of it what we desire it to be in the here and now.
When our country was torn apart by war in late 1862, President Lincoln addressed the state of the Union with this quote, "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise-with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country" (Israel 1084). Today, we are not in a civil war. Yet, are we not in a war for one's health? Every day is a war with at least three battles fought within it (daily meals). The past will not help us in our fight and neither will the future. Only when we begin to think anew and then to act anew today will we win the war on health. Now that we know the strategies to beginning to win this war, we can presently begin to combat the unhealthy habits of the past and embrace the healthy lifestyles of today. Each day, we can come closer to a healthy utopia for us until one day it will no longer be a dream, a hope, a wish. It will be a present day reality. So, here's to the present utopia and one's health!
Attwood, Charles R. A Vegetarian Doctor Speaks Out. Prescott: Hohm, 1998.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.
Israel, Fred. The State of the Union Messages of the Presidents Volume II. Chelsea House: New York, 1967.
McDougall, John A. The McDougall Plan. Piscataway: New Century Publishers, 1983.
Ornish, Dean. Dr. Dean Ornish's Program For Reversing Heart Disease. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
Skinner, B. F. Walden Two. Prentice, Upper Saddle River: 1976.