I have decided to eat more butter.
This decision coincides with some reading (Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee) and thinking I’ve been doing lately about death. After long study and poring over actuarial tables, I have reached the conclusion that I will die at some point in the future. Further rigorous analysis has revealed that I will die of something.
And if I had to choose the method of departure I’d go for old age, but a particular kind of death by old age. Rather than a long, slow decline, I’d prefer many years of good health followed by a very rapid descent. Not unlike the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2014 season.
This is what leads me to butter. I like butter. Butter makes everything taste better. And, while butter has gotten a bad rap, actually, the studies on the health impacts of butter are all over the map. The most recent stuff seems to indicate that butter might even be good for us. My favorite food writer, Mark Bittman, recently wrote a piece in praise of butter. His conclusion is that rather than eschewing butter and other fatty foods, we’d do better by just avoiding processed foods. “Eat real stuff” is basically his advice.
But even if more butter in my life would shorten it (note pun), I am okay with that. So much of what I’ve read about diet just assumes that what we want to get out of what we eat is a longer life. But one of the great joys of living is eating good food. Is it really worth the sacrifices we’re supposed to make so that we can eke out a few more years of questionable quality? What’s the point of living a life made up of nothing but kale and light beer?
An obsession with longevity is a very American thing. It’s about more of everything. We love big houses, and most of us are willing to sacrifice a better location or quality of craftsmanship for more square footage. The F-150, a massive, overpowered pickup truck whose size and force is needed on the farm but wasted in normal American life, is the most popular selling vehicle in the nation.
And it’s the same with life itself. We seem to want more of it regardless of its quality.
I’m 56, and according to the Social Security Administration, the odds are that I can expect to live another 24 years. With about a third of my life left, it’s a good time to think about and plan for the inevitable. Rather than pretending we’ll live forever or just avoiding the subject altogether, it seems to me that some actual thought and planning given to the time between now and our eventual demise would be effort well spent.
By planning I don’t just mean wills to help sort out what we leave behind or instructions on which medical procedures we want employed near the very end. No, I mean some thought given to how we plan to live in whatever time we have left.
As to our health in the interim, it appears that all the confusing studies and common sense (often mutually exclusive things) continue to point to a few simple suggestions. Don’t smoke. Get some regular exercise. Move away from processed foods. Take all other things in moderation and you should be good to go.
And that’s just the personal side of the equation. The social considerations also suggest that we’d be better off with happier, somewhat shorter lives. Many of us consume an ungodly amount of medical resources in our final year of life, when the quality of that life is horrible — often made more so by that very same expensive medical treatment. If my people — baby boomers — continue that pattern we’ll crush the system. So, in that sense, we have a social obligation to live healthier and then die faster.
It’s possible that acting like an ascetic might allow us to live longer, but what’s the point? I’ll take two decades of tasty food and a couple glasses of good beer over three decades of tofu and water. Because it’s not just the number of days we get, but how much we get out of them that matters.
Pour on the butter.