Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 18: Truth and justice

Battle Ground to South Raub. 16 miles/248.9 total
I’m heading south on Indiana 43 from the intersection of that road with County Road 600N, near Battle Ground. I’ll be going through the Lafayettes, then south a few miles to a spot near South Raub. (South Raub is described as a “small town,” but I think that’s a considerable exaggeration. It appears to consist of a house and a feed and grain supply company, with the railroad running alongside.)

Today will be my last day in the vicinity of the old Monon railroad line, which doglegs southeast out of Lafayette toward Indianapolis. I took the photo of the sign at the railroad museum; I think this is what you saw, Billie Bob.

It’s raining and the weather is generally miserable. I’m just hunkered down under the poncho, hood up on my sweatshirt, rain dripping off the bill of my cap, putting my head down when trucks go by to keep the spray off my face.

Would you believe it? The very first dead animal I see today is another hairy woodpecker. Then a cardinal, and later on a swallow. Lafayette, Indiana, where the birds go to die.

Just a little north of the Indiana Veteran’s Home is a little roadside park with a historical marker. This one says this spot was called the Tecumseh Trail. It is the site of a trail used by Tecumseh prior to the defeat of his warriors by General William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Well we know all about that, don’t we? And we know also that it may have been Tecumseh’s warriors, but they were being led by his brother, the Prophet. Anyway, it's a nice shady spot. On the banks of the Wabash, not so far away.

I see an ad for a $1 double cheeseburger from Burger King. It puts me in mind of the fact that calories are getting cheaper all the time. It’s far less expensive to eat high calorie food than it is to eat low-calorie food (the stuff people are always trying to tell you is better for you). I suppose all that has contributed to obesity, and explains why obesity is most prevalent in the poorest parts of the country. I think Taco Bell has really succeeded in selling the most calories for the least, overall. But that Burger King double cheeseburger probably contains at least 500 calories. And not empty calories either. No sir! There’s meat and bread and lettuce and tomato and other good stuff there, and anything the body can’t use right away it will store. That’s an amazing amount of food value. It means that the average-sized person could maintain their weight for just three dollars a day, plus tax. That’s a tribute to the efforts of agribusiness and agronomists everywhere, including here at Purdue University. I know you think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not.

Actually, there is no such thing as an “empty calorie." That’s some bullshit someone's mother made up. That would be like an “empty piece of firewood,” or an “empty gallon of fuel oil.” A calorie is just a unit of energy the body burns. A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from lard or sugar or tree bark.

I was listening to public radio not long ago, and a guy was on there talking about how the progress of the human species probably owes itself to the fact that we began cooking our food at some point. It caused our brains and bodies to grow. It turns out that cooking food reduces the amount of energy the body needs to process the food, and allows us to pull more nutrition out of the food while spending less time digesting it. Other great apes, like chimps, have considerably longer intestinal tracts than we have, because they digest less efficiently. But even so, they get less nutrition out of the raw food they eat than we do out of cooked food.

The bottom line (and I love these things that run so counter to the perceived wisdom of the finger-waggers out there) is that the more processed food is, the better it is for us, nutritionally, rather than the other way around. Think astronauts eating paste out of tubes. A woman called in to the show and said she’d been on a raw food diet, and had lost a lot of weight. The guy said that made sense, because the body needs to use more energy to digest raw food. Once food enters the large intestine, it’s essentially waste, and the body has derived what it can from it. In fact, he said, we’ve been measuring the nutritional value of food the wrong way. We measure it by what it consists of when it enters the mouth, when we should be measuring how much nutrition is left when it leaves the body, then netting the two numbers. (Any volunteers for that job?)

All this supports a theory I’ve had, as an amateur know-it-all, for many years. And that is that morbidly obese people actually have more efficient digestive systems than non-obese folks do. They can draw more nutrition, and calories, out of food than the rest of us can, and they excrete less useful nutrition as waste. Also, their minds and bodies tell them to consume more, and their natural preference (as for most of us) is for refined food.

There’s a great deal of disapproval directed at morbidly obese people. Some people consider morbid obesity to be a condition that can somehow be changed through will power, or is a result of indolence or moral turpitude. That goes beyond mere snobbery. It's a prejudice that is as deep and erroneous as any other, including racial prejudice. As a result, the obese, like other persons who are the objects of prejudice, tend to be defensive, hypersensitive, and somewhat paranoid.

In fact, under the theory that the ability to use food efficiently has helped us evolve into what we are, it may be that morbidly obese people are more highly evolved humans than their thinner brethren. Of course, evolution brings with it pluses and minuses. We’ve become omnivorous, which has allowed us to adapt to just about any living condition on earth. That’s a plus. But eating too much of any one thing, or too much of all things, brings health problems that eventually shorten our lives. That's a minus. (Or is it? Once we've reproduced, what good are we anyway?)

I’m passing down into the outskirts of West Lafayette. Student apartment complexes, buses. Then, at 6.1 miles, I begin my ascent onto the bridge that will take me across the Wabash from West Lafayette to Lafayette. Lafayette’s slogan, on its sign of welcome, is “Purpose, Progress, Pride.”

Whereas West Lafayette is a university city, Lafayette is just a plain old city, with the incompetent, the impoverished, and the marginally sane getting on and off buses and standing around on the sidewalks looking strange.

I arrive in front of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, an enormous building with an elongated dome, and formal portico entrances on the second floor. Inside, it is appointed with lots of marble, intricate woodwork and gigantic oak doors. There’s a rotunda, with niches containing busts of William Henry Harrison, Tecumseh, and a couple of local founding fathers. Also, paintings on display in the hallways of the second floor, presumably by local artists. One I particularly like is by Henry Bell, called “Empty Chair,” somewhat reminiscent of the style of Andrew Wyeth. Down on the first floor are large murals of Indians and white men.

Outside, I find the cornerstone. It says, “Erected by the People of Tippecanoe County and Dedicated to Public Use. Commenced A.D. 1881. Completed A.D. 1885. May Truth and Justice Ever Prevail.” All in all, it’s a monument to the public architecture of its time. Sort of late Victorian high kitsch American public architecture. Lots of cornices, arches, columns, and statues of various virtues personified, looking down on the good people of Lafayette. It's not a whole lot smaller than some state capitols.
The only thing that mars the experience of visiting a courthouse is the fact that it is full of Seekers of Justice, meaning hapless slobs of all kinds who are there because they have to be in court. They got into trouble, or they’re getting sued, or they’re trying to sue somebody. Going up against the system in some way or another. They shuffle around looking lost and unhappy, while the lawyers move sleekly to and fro with their briefcases.

And pretty quickly, I’m on my way into the south end of the city, heading uphill and away from the river. Past a few pre-Civil War buildings. Up on 4th street are a couple of large Greek Revival houses, built perhaps in the 1830s.

I pass a place called the Ben Hur Tavern. I come upon another historical marker. Camp Tippecanoe was on this site from 1861 to 1865. In May of 1861 this area, on a high bluff overlooking Lafayette, quickly became an induction center for enlistees in the Civil War, until its end. That was when Indiana considered itself part of the North. More recently, I'm not so sure. In the 1920s this state was run by the Ku Klux Klan, from the governor on down.

The road I’m on now has turned into Old U.S. 231, as differentiated from new 231, which is a semi-expressway that slices down between the twin cities, bypassing both of them. I’m in the suburbs now; relatively new subdivisions with nice English-sounding names--Buckingham, Sheffield, Stratford Glen--such as you find just about everywhere you go in this country.

This place called South Raub, where I’m headed, reminds me that one of the prominent names in the Chalmers Cemetery the other day was Raub. I wonder if Raub was a railroad man who got a stop named after him?

At last the blue and white beacon of the truckster comes into view, my home away from home.


Anonymous said...

The Subway across from the Courthouse would be reassuring to a couple of young fellas that I know and Google Earth has a picture of a snow-covered Honey for Sale wooden stall where it says:
"Please honk your horn for service"in case you need healthy sugar calories!

Anonymous said...

Honey for sale stall is in South Raub...

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Saw those winter photos of South Raub, too. Maps will hold on to place names long after the places (train station, maybe) have disappeared. Just like my home town Drayton Plains, which still appears on Michigan maps, but no longer "exists" except in peoples' memories. It used to have its own p.o. and zip code, but they eliminated both. Of course, Drayton Plains is huge compared to South Raub.

Anonymous said...

How can Drayton Plains no longer exist ? I went there! Actually, whole countries have disappeared, Yougoslavia and others. Some people even predict that Belgium will some day disappear. Now we know a few who will turning around in their graves if that should ever happen!

Michael Roberts said...

The $1 burger riff ("...the more processed food is, the better it is for us.." and "Once we've reproduced, what good are we anyway?") is worrisome. What are you munching on out there in Indiana? Astronauts eat paste like hikers eat freeze dried, to save weight on the trip. And there is a difference between cooking versus processing food, as cooking can enhance natural chemical reactions involved in nutrition, processing usually kills them. You might enjoy the China Study (http://tinyurl.com/yblz5bd), a confusing title on an otherwise excellent book about nutrition and food. Can we send a batch of apples your way? Wouldn't want you taking the Twinkie defense there in the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.

Anonymous said...

Hey Pete, you probably know that the house where you grew up in Drayton Plains no longer exists, either; is just an empty lot next to the church. The house across the street (Hazelett's) blew up several years ago (gas explosion), but a new house was built there. My younger sister still lives only a block from Monroe St.-Sister #1 in PaintItBlack

Billie Bob said...

Well, you really opened up a can of gummy worms with that entry...

Yes indeed, that was the Monon sign I saw.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Thought I might get someone's attention with this one.
Michael, sometimes I don't think you know me very well. Guess we've been apart for too long. But thanks for worrying. I stand by my theory on the morbidly obese, though. I've detailed my own eating habits on the road in a previous blog.
As for Drayton Plains, I guess it's a state of mind.
Congratulations to the Twins for making it this far. I predict Yanks in 4.

Anonymous said...

An article was published in Nature of December 2006 I believe about the differences in the gut flora between obese and thin mice. The team was able to make a thin mouse obese by transferring to it the flora of an obese mouse without added food intake. The extraction of calories from food is higher in the obese mice and their feces contain less energy material than the thin ones. Peter, your theory is correct. We also know, it's not the cheeseburger, it's the fries and the milkshake with the burger that are bad!

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Oh, I don't know about that; the fat content of that burger is probably pretty hefty.