People have long yearned for a “fountain of youth” that would provide endless life. All who have sought it have failed, but that doesn’t stop people from making up new, unfounded ideas about how to live longer.
Sure enough, we see another in today’s New York Daily News. A British television doctor—and T.V. docs are never wrong, right?—claims that eating 600 calories per day is the key to long life. Yes, this doctor thinks that after only one serving of Mark Bittman’s chicken fajitas, you’ve apparently signed your own death warrant. We think he’d say it’s better to eat like Christian Bale did before his role in The Machinist than to exercise like Bale did for the Batman film series.
Does this sound like a familiar claim? It should. Michael Jacobson, Food Police Chief at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, once said, “With animals, hundreds of studies show that if you give them 80 to 60 percent of their normal calories, they live much longer.” He even praised hard economic times for encouraging “healthy” eating.
If only there was some way to examine these bold assertions. After all, 600 calories a day is far fewer calories than government authorities recommend or than most Americans eat. Perhaps we could look at history, in times when people were deprived of calories rapidly and for a prolonged period of time. Sure enough, there are such times — Ireland suffered a potato blight in the 1840s that ruined the island’s staple crop. With low calorie intake, and by being forced to avoid the Walter Willett-derided potato, shouldn’t this have been a healthy time for the Irish people?
It certainly wasn’t. A million people starved to death and a million more fled to the United States. Small wonder that the Irish call the period the Great Hunger, not the Great Health Spa. And the record of recent history provides compelling evidence that extreme hunger is more often a death sentence than a fountain of youth.
That is why people like the late Norman Borlaug, who worked to improve crop yields and fight malnutrition, are celebrated, and those who peddle junk science to stop agricultural progress are not. The “latest study” has nothing on the terrible lessons from 10,000 years of human suffering. People need food to live, and the fountain of youth still doesn’t exist.