Sunday, April 19, 2009

Paula Poundstone thinks Ring Dings make life worth living

I'm a middle-aged woman, a stage in human development that can be cross-indexed to conditions like "I no longer sleep," "I can't see for squat," and "My thermostat is busted." Although I'm mostly aggravated by these changes, I've found a happy byproduct of insomnia: In the early morning hours when I'm not sleeping, I listen to podcasts of interesting programs, interviews, and books that wouldn't otherwise fit into my busy days. (And when I don't find these interesting, they often put me back to sleep.)

A few weeks ago, though, my husband (who has no problem in the "sleeps soundly all night" department) is awakened because the bed is shaking and I'm laughing out loud, listening to an exchange between Paula Poundstone and Michael Pollan on Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me, NPR's weekly news quiz show.

Michael Pollan is a well-known food and food economics expert, who describes a reasonable approach to eating as, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Attempting to spread this message to an untapped constituency, Pollan agreed to be interviewed by Wait, Wait's host, Peter Sagal and a panel of celebrity comedians. Here's a link to the audio exchange between Paula Poundstone and Michael Pollan. (You'll get a brief ad that supports NPR programming, then cue the next recording to 2:20 and listen until 4:40. But do this only when you have time for a good laugh.)

If you can't access the audio, here's the gist of the exchange:

Pollan: It's very hard for people to know what food is these days, because there are so many edible food-like substances competing with food in the supermarket.

Poundstone: One of the things that has made my life worth living is, uh, Ring Dings. Are you going to tell me that's not food?

Pollan: Well, there's a few simple tests to figure out if a Ring Ding is food or not. How many ingredients does a Ring Ding have....

Poundstone: (interrupting, and sounding optimistic) Devils food cake, one. A creamy filling, two. And a rich chocolate outer coating, three. What's the matter with you?

Pollan after an exchange that suggests Ring Dings are not, in point of fact, food, moves on, offering Poundstone middle-ground advice: There are things that could be characterized as "special occasion food."

Poundstone: And what part of, 'Ring Dings make my life worth living' did you not hear?

The conversation ultimately concludes with an aggresive-sounding Poundstone telling Pollan, "You may know a lot about food, but you don't know the first thing about living, buddy!"

This conversation is instructive for anyone who has ever tried to tell anyone something they simply didn't want to hear. It's a window, an opening that shows how culture influences health, health-defining choices, and why the need for health care in the U.S. looks the way it does. Who knew so much rested on the answer to the question, "Are Ring Dings a special-occasion food or an edible food-like substance?"

I hope you'll stop back at Florence dot com again this week for more commentary about barriers that prevent people from engaging in health-promotion and disease management, plus some useful links to resources for managing them.

Bon appetit!


Kim said...


I love Paula, and I can so relate! LOL!

Then again, my niece makes organic, vegan cupcakes to DIE for, so perhaps there is a happy medium! It isn't a RingDing, though.

In my case, if there were no Cheetos in the world, I might have to check out. Antidepressant food substance, right there in the chip aisle! : D

Reality Rounds said...

When I worked night shift we would raid the vending machines for "chocolate cakey things" and Rings Dings was often an option. I can't live without NPR and chocolate cakey things. I guess I need an intervention.

SeniorCare said...

I'm so glad you shared this because when I heard this on NPR I laughed for days. And even more to your point about health-defining choices was when Poundstone chastised Pollan for waking his child up at 3am to eat the freshly ripened cantaloupe instead of allowing him to have sugar cereal in the morning. Talk about influencing the future…

Creative Commons License
Florence dot com by Barbara Olson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.