A Parable/Greek Tragedy
There was a large, extended family most of whose members were (and many are) intensely interested in health food and alternative medicine. Their underlying interest was health. But this family (and most of their friends) were intensely interested in organic foods, alternative “medicines” and “healthy living”—in a fairly extreme way that marked them off from most other people around them.
The children were not allowed to eat many ordinary foods and were sent to school with “special lunches” because the food in the cafeteria was considered unhealthy. The family tried to grow their own food as much as possible and went to grocery stories reluctantly, trying not even to look at processed and sugary foods and certain other foods that, for reasons not apparent to others, they considered unhealthy.
The households of this family and others like it in the same far-flung network were full of books about health—all written by “experts” in alternative foods and treatments for diseases. Television programs that featured restaurants (think “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives”) were never watched. Much conversation centered around health related to organic and “whole” foods and alternative healing methods that bypassed traditional science-based medicine.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
One boy in the family became almost obsessed with studying this lifestyle and wanted to learn more about it—the whys and the wherefores. As a teenager he was fairly fanatical about this lifestyle and “bought into it” whole heartedly—almost more than his parents, siblings and friends. He went out of his way to attend meetings of other people (outside the circle of his family and friends) who grow their own food organically and practice alternative health and medicine.
Then he went to a special college where this healthy-living and eating lifestyle stood at the center of the campus life and curriculum. But there he began to hear some strange things—from teachers and fellow students alike. And he began to think about some points of possible contradiction within his own family and their large circle of alternative health devoted friends. He suffered a serious illness and was hospitalized because of malnutrition.
He began his own, relatively independent, study of health and nutrition and began to discover that his family’s (and their friends’) alternative health lifestyle was not quite right. He wanted to help them and others like them discover a possibly more balanced way of healthy living that would never lead to malnutrition. Something was missing from his family’s diet and aversion to modern medicines and he began to discover that and make a study of a more science-based nutrition.
His desire for this better way of eating and treating illness led him to attend a somewhat more traditional nutrition school and eventually he earned a doctorate in science-based nutrition from a major university. He became a licensed nutritionist and taught nutrition and science-based health. He became a public advocate for a balanced lifestyle of eating and avoiding sickness and treating illnesses that combined much of the alternative health lifestyle of his upbringing with modern science of nutrition.
Through all of this he discovered that he had violated some unspoken rule of his family and large circle of friends—the alternative health lifestyle community and network in which he grew up. He noticed that when he was with them they never asked him anything about health or food or treatment of illnesses. None of them ever expressed pride in his study or accomplishments.
During one discussion of malnutrition he attempted to tell some of his early mentors what he had learned about how to avoid malnutrition from his study and education and practices. In the middle of that, they all got up and left the room, leaving him alone.
He had become an outsider to his own family and community of relatives and friends. His original intention was to help them and others discover a balanced healthy lifestyle combining their alternative views of food, for example, with modern, science-based views of food.
During his journey he came to realize that much of what his family and community believed and practiced with regard to health was based on traditions handed down through the generations and was simply not true. But he never went among them “preaching” that they were wrong; he simply shared his new knowledge with them occasionally, when it seemed relevant and important. In every case they listened politely (except the one when they left him alone) but didn’t respond. After he shared, it was as if he didn’t say anything at all. Nothing he ever said made any difference. It was like they were impervious to his expertise and knowledge. They even treated it with some disdain and suspicion. Sometimes when he was talking he noticed some of them looking at each other in strange ways that communicated bemusement at what he was saying, even though what he was saying was perfectly correct by all standards outside that tradition, community and network.
He found that many people around the world appreciated his research and patted him on the back with praise and he believed he may actually have helped a lot of people who grew up in families and communities like his. He led tours of interested people through large grocery stores and pointed out the healthy and the not-so healthy foods. Many of them were surprised to learn that some of the foods they were taught were deadly can actually be healthy if eaten in the right proportions and combinations.
But in spite of all that approbation by strangers, many of whom become his friends, he was all but ostracized by his family and community—even as they themselves slowly came to some of the same conclusions about health he came to. He wanted to say to them “But I told you that years ago” but he knew that would not be helpful to his already strained relationship with them.
Finally, he came to accept that this was his own fault for stepping outside the form of life he grew up in. If he could go back and do it all over again, he’s not sure what he would do.
Over the years, however, some relationships with his family and community of birth and youth improved, but he’s still always treated as the prodigal son when he attends family reunions or meetings of that community. And that only because he pretends to fit back in and shuts his mouth when he hears them talking nonsense about health and food and alternative treatments for illnesses.
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