Eat Well, Die Anyway: Life Expectancy and the Pleasures of Living

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

Mark Twain

Over the years, my diet has transformed. Raised in Cumberland, Rhode Island during the Howdy Doody/Captain Kangaroo/1950-1960s era in a primarily Irish Catholic household, we fully embraced the modern miracle of post-War technology, canned goods and frozen food.

While we were always well fed, one just has to look around for the dearth of restaurants featuring Irish cuisine (other than Guinness, Fish & Chips, or Shepherd’s pie) to appreciate the somewhat uninspired nature of such food.

Once I became independent, I embraced the wonders of drive-thru fast food, pizza delivery, and, as many of my friends will attest, beans and Kool-Aid when I had to cook or lacked funds for even a hamburger.

Once I was married, my wife began the slow, arduous process of introducing me to fresh vegetables, salads, and other items I had heard of but never consumed.


To put this in perspective, on one of our first Thanksgiving dinners together, my wife made cranberry sauce. I didn’t recognize it. Cranberry sauce, in its natural state, has symmetry. It is shaped like a tube and has grooves circling it. This looked like a pile of half digested berries, something one would see along a trail in the woods of New Hampshire.

It was black magic.

“Not how long, but how well you have lived is the main thing.”

— Seneca

But after several years, I began to tolerate (the alternative was starving) then almost enjoy fresh vegetables. I started to cook something other than with a microwave, a benefit of attending some cooking classes at Johnson & Wales. The culinary world opened up.

The primary purpose of a healthy diet is, of course, the prolongation of life. Thinking of this got me wondering when does one reach a point where this goal is mitigated by the inevitable conclusion of all life.

In a nutshell, when is eating well an exercise in futility?

So I looked at life expectancy and actuarial tables. (That there are people in the world who write and work with such statistics terrifies me. That they can survive without being bored to death—thus skewing the numbers—is amazing.)

 Without getting into all the mitigating details and differences by country (see risk above) based on the Social Security Administration table, a male child born in 2017 has a life expectancy of 75.97 years, a female child, 80.96.  But the number that intrigued me most was death probability.

At birth, a male child has a 0.006304% chance of dying before their first birthday, females 0.005229%. From then on, your chances of survival increase until you reach the age of 10. Then it begins a long slow decrease toward the final curtain. I’m sure there are mounds of research studies explaining this, but I suspect that it involves two things, the first hints of adolescence and making one’s own food decisions.

At ten, there was never the slightest chance I would select an apple or banana over a Peanut Butter and Marshmallow fluff sandwich. Or a salad over an Anchovy Pizza. (For those of you who just grimaced over the word Anchovy, you are heathens and infidels and have zero appreciation of fine food.)

If one looks at the chart ( you would see the decreasing number of years remaining at various ages. All of which leads me back to my original point.

At twenty-one years of age, eating Anchovy Pizza and a gallon of ice cream every day, no matter how tempting, would likely knock one’s life expectancy down a notch. The old adage about not buying any long novels to read might apply much sooner.

But what about at, to pick a random age, sixty-four? What effect might a dish of ice cream a day cost in life expectancy? At sixty-four, which by coincidence is my current age, I have eighteen years left according to the chart (although I plan on taking advantage of some Irish lineage in my family from my great grandmother who lived to ninety-three and drank  a bit of Irish Whiskey and a beer almost every day.)

So a dish of ice cream a day at twenty-one has a serious potential cost. At sixty-four, it is a much-reduced cost and I think it worth the risk. In the interest of full disclosure, I have always enjoyed Spam and Deviled Ham, not to mention anchovies, which I believe can be a fountain of eternal life so I have some built in reserves more than adequate to support my ice cream diet.

Now if I can only find a way to convince my family this is a sound and necessary course of actions to make my progression on the actuarial table more enjoyable.


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An Omnivore’s Dishonesty

I am not a hunter. I often say I have no opposition to those who hunt, but it is unenthusiastic support. There is some resistance or insincerity to it.

Now, after reading several interesting books, I have to wonder if those who hunt are more supportive of a humane treatment of animals than those who try to stop them.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind describe the world of food production in all its cruel and mechanistic gory. From dairy cows restrained in pens, forced into continuous pregnancy to increase milk production, to conveyor belt chicks being sorted by gender and physical quality (the males and malformed are destroyed to maximize egg output) the food most of us consume comes from concentration camp levels of horror.

No one would argue that animals experience joy and sadness.  Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this to be true. The animals we have bred or, more accurately, genetically modified, are enslaved in a world devoid of any joy or happiness. They are the raw material of production to satisfy the needs of one race of beings, humans.

Now there are exceptions to this. The small family dairy or beef farms that care for their animals. Cage-free poultry farms that raise their birds in a more open environment. But the overwhelming amount of dairy and beef and pork and ham come from an Orwellian world of total control to maximize growth in the shortest amount of time with high yields.

Devoid of any opportunity to live.

A hunter pursues a creature born into its natural environment. It has the opportunity to live a life for which the species evolved. And, if it is ultimately harvested by the hunter, it is then used in a much more natural way than mechanized food concentration camps.

The end result may be the same. The creature is still dead.  But I can’t help but think there is something infinitely more natural about this.

I have to wonder how many of us who enjoy a good steak or ham or chicken dinner would be able to dispatch one of these animals, gut it, clean it, and then eat it.

My guess would be not many.

Perhaps we need to redefine what humane means. Change the sign to “Billions and Billions executed to satisfy your appetite.”

I do not have the answer.

The overwhelming demand for food at low cost is hard to ignore. But maybe, if we understood the cost to those creatures we consume by thinking about such things, we might realize that because something is affordable does not make it without some great cost. To ourselves and our fellow creatures.

Next time you feel revulsion about seeing a deer strapped to the roof of a car, think about this.  The only difference between you and that hunter is he or she had the courage to go out and face the creature, kill it, and bring it home to eat.

You hired mercenaries to do your dirty work, wrap it in plastic, and conceal it in the grocery bag in the trunk of your car.