Last month, I learned, belatedly, of the death of K. Dun Gifford in May. Most of you will not recognize his name, and, indeed, I did not immediately. I had to read further into the wellness column of that Thursday's Washington Post to learn that he was the founder of Oldways, a think tank proponent of a Mediterranean, slow-food style diet. After reading about Oldways on the blog 101cookbooks, I purchased a copy of the Oldways Table last year, and have read a bit about Oldways Preservation Trust since then.
What is one to think, or rather, what am I to think, after the death, by sudden heart attack of a 71 year old man who had promoted healthy eating for years? Kind of like when Jim Fixx died so young.
As with Jim Fixx, maybe Dun Gifford's genetics were working against him. Heart disease is a complicated illness and often, a quiet one. Turned out, Jim Fixx's dad had died of a heart attack in his thirties. Perhaps Jim Fixx would have died at an even younger age than he did if he hadn't become a runner at 35. Maybe he bought himself twenty or so years by running and quitting smoking and losing a ton of weight. Likewise, maybe Dun Gifford gained some years by following a healthier diet for the latter ones. I just don't know enough about his habits to make any generalizations. Maybe he didn't combine the healthy eating with some exercise. Or, maybe, he just couldn't control his portions, or had too much stress in his life or too much alcohol or not enough. Or, he could have had bad habits for too many years earlier in his life. Or maybe he added to the quality of the years he did have. Or...maybe life is just random that way.
We'll never know, so it's hard not to let the doubts creep in and wonder if it just doesn't matter what we eat. I've thought about this quite a bit since I learned of his death, and have decided that I still think that eating a healthier diet is a definite hedge. I'm sticking with my plan of eating mostly fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, some meat (mostly grass-fed), poultry and fish and limiting, but not completely eliminating, saturated fats, processed sugar, sodium and white carbs. Certainly, I understand that I can't control my universe and make everything perfect with whole grains and olive oil. I am going to continue to hope, however, that in conjunction with exercise, I can rewrite my genetics just a little. Maybe "just a little" is all we can hope for and maybe, that's enough.