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No Impact Man and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sep. 14, 2009

In dieting, I learned early on, exercises in extremes do not yield good results. Starve yourself of chocolate, and you can be sure the first thing you’ll do when no one is looking is dive into a kiddie pool of chocolate, roll around in it and then lick your own arms. I once even tried to give up bread. After two weeks I sat down and ate an entire baguette, crusty end-to-end. Walk the middle ground, I decided, in food and all things.

Maybe it was this hard-earned (and hard-learned) lesson that led me initially to avoid Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me.” It reeked of gimmick, and seemed on the outside to offer no takeaway lessons. Nobody eats fast food all three meals (right?) so what could be the point?

I did see the movie later and had to admit that I was wrong. It turned out that the parameters of his experiment were more rigorous than I expected, and it also turned out that setting an extreme goal yielded behavioral and biological results that could be extrapolated for meaning in the not-so-extreme. And it turned out that, in truth, the way many Americans were/are eating is extreme. And I was forced to confront that extremity.

Similarly, I was wary of “No Impact Man.” I admired the gesture, and appreciated its Thoreauvian allusions (did I just make up a word?), but I wondered if there was anything of merit for me in there. Again, similarly, I had to admit I as wrong.

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