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Cigarettes and Cruel Corvettes

Today’s edition of Eating to 100 will be, in a couple different ways, interactive. 

[ARCHIVE EDITOR’S NOTE: Please disregard the “voting” portions of Edition 44, as this process will be conducted only via direct reply to the email edition.]

The first kind of interaction is rather straightforward, but still unique and kind of fun. Because—without stealing too much of my own thunder—how often do you get to help name one of the ready-to-heat meals in the health-food freezer section? 

Today’s second section is interactive in a different, more indirect pair of ways: it will return you to a little parable you might’ve heard before, and it will prompt you to turn inward and do a little bit of “personal accounting.”  

Attentive readers of Eating to 100 will recall that, a few editions ago, I published my version of and commentary on the “Mexican Fisherman” parable that first bounced around the internet via chain mail a couple decades ago. I bothered to retrace such well-circulated material because it does an uncommonly good job of capturing something about the blue zones’ health and sanity—and my essential task was simply to make that connection for you.

This time around, the parable I’m sharing is less likely to be something you’ve read before. I would add that, compared to “Mexican Fisherman,” today’s parable doesn’t have the same degree of resonance with the blue zones’ teachings and themes… though that’s probably just as well, because today’s parable is not about how we get things right. 

It’s about how we get things wrong. 

To repeat something I said in a recent newsletter outside of Eating to 100

If you had told me 20 years ago that I would one day sell ready-to-heat meals in the grocery-store freezer aisle, I probably would have laughed in your face. 

Yet here we are now. Feel free to laugh in mine. 

Business is boomin’ for Blue Zones Kitchen meals and, if you wanted to see my 30-second sales spiel, it’s at the end of this section. 

First, though, I could actually use your help with something. 🙏

Long story short: we’re getting ready to introduce another ready-to-heat meal (in addition to the original four), but we’re a bit stuck on the name of that new meal.

I’ll share the four possible names we have in mind, and I would love it if you hit Reply to tell me which name you like best for this new meal option. If there’s a grocery chain where you’d like to see Blue Zones Kitchen next, feel free to mention that as well. 

Let me emphasize that it’s only the name in question, nothing else. The food is the exact same no matter what, as is every element of packaging and presentation other than the name. 

Here’s what the packaging will look like, with one of the four name options shown (I chose randomly):

And without further ado, the four name options in alphabetical order:

Adobo Mushroom Bowl (already shown)
Mushroom Ancho Bowl
Mushroom Birria Bowl
Mushroom Chili Bowl

This dish is inspired by birria tacos, but with mushrooms and black beans (not beef) in an adobo sauce made with smoky ancho chilis. So all four name options are descriptively accurate and, from this point, it’s mostly a question of which one “feels” or “sounds” best. 

Again, feel free to just hit Reply and let me know which option you like best! 

Last but not least, I promised a 30-second sales spiel, and it comes packaged into three tidy bullet points: 

  • We have four (soon to be five!) ready-to-heat meal options and all four of them are maniacally delicious. Even folks with a meat-and-potatoes, middle-American palette won’t feel like they’re missing out on anything.
  • All four of the meals are 100% plant-based and vegan, made with certified non-GMO ingredients, and completely free of artificial ingredients including added sugar. 
  • All four of the meals are naturally high in the protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates that nourish your body best—and all four of the meals (plus any others to come) are consistent with the dietary practices of the blue zones that have been scientifically shown to improve health and extend your lifespan beyond its original limits.

Now let’s switch gears and get into today’s classic American parable…


I’ve already given this parable most of its introduction, so the main thing left to do before it starts is give it a name, because I’m not sure it was titled in any of the versions I’ve seen before. 

I’m calling it The (Parable of the) Smoker’s Corvette. If this story does have a name that I’m not aware of, forgive me—because, to be clear, what follows is only my version of the story, not my story. 

Talking points come afterward. Here goes…

A middle-aged man (we’ll call him Frank) exits an airport terminal, walks to the corner of the building, and lights a cigarette. 

Frank doesn’t know that another guy (we’ll call him Percy) is standing just around the same corner, and that he’s in a particularly quarrelsome mood.

“You know that’s a filthy habit, right?” 

Frank turns to find the voice, then meets eyes with Percy and shrugs. “Yeah, you got me,” he says, taking a courteous step away.

“Honestly, though, never mind the ‘filthy’ part. How much has smoking cost you in your life?”

Frank figures that indulging him (as little as possible) will be easier than arguing. So he says: 

“Dollars and cents? Two packs a day for twenty years. You can do the math.” 

So Percy does. “Okay. Call it five bucks a pack, sixty packs a month, twelve months a year, twenty years…” His eyes drift upwards as he does (and re-does) the math in his head. 

Finally, his eyes widen and he splutters: “That’s, like, s-seventy grand! MORE than seventy grand!”

Again, Frank just shrugs. 

When it becomes clear that Frank has nothing to say, Percy tries again. “That’s enough money to buy a brand-new Corvette! Wouldn’t you have preferred that to spending it on cigarettes?” 

Yet again, Frank just shrugs. “Maybe. Hard to say,” he says before taking a drag. He exhales and then adds, “I’m guessing you don’t smoke.” 

“I don’t,” Percy says. 

Frank takes another drag, exhales, and locks eyes with him. 

“So where’s YOUR Corvette, then?”

First things first: this parable does contain an interesting line of argument against smoking, but that’s not really the point here. Like any other, this parable is about much more than it claims to be about—so remember to read between the lines and think about what else “smoking” could represent, like unhealthy habits and addictive vices in general.

In any case, it’s also clear that this parable is about problems, not solutions. In other words, it’s not meant to tell you how to do something right; it’s meant to illuminate some of the things we’re doing wrong. Ultimately, we should strive to be like neither of these characters (because, tellingly, you won’t find hardly anyone like either of them in the blue zones).

Having said that, my first two takeaways are relatively straightforward: 

1️⃣ Know what your proverbial “cigarettes” are. It might be sweets, it might be coffee, it might French manicures or any of a million other things. Don’t feel bad when you put a finger on yours, because everybody has their proverbial cigarettes—and some of them aren’t even proverbial! 

Once you do put a finger on yours, skim over the parable again, swap in your substitution(s), and do enough math to get a similar sense of the long-term stakes. This is not meant to be a feel-bad exercise, but a quick calibration with reality, because… 

2️⃣ Try to realize that your proverbial “Corvette” is an illusion, and a cruel one. In other words: if you do the math and add up what certain habits have cost you over your lifetime, some of the numbers are bound to be big—simply because life is long and because little things always add up. Say what you will about him, but Percy clearly understands this. 

Something else Percy is right about (not that Frank would disagree): Frank and his surroundings would have been healthier and wealthier if he’d never started smoking in the first place. That certainly would have been ideal. 

Then again, that’s also part of Percy’s problem here. Percy not only assumes the very best possible (and counterfactual) outcome for his math, but he also holds Frank to that standard of perfection. In effect, Percy is passing $70,000 worth of judgment on a 25-cent cigarette. 

This is not to say Frank shouldn’t quit smoking. He absolutely should. But the Corvette’s worth of money already lost shouldn’t be too much of his thought process, because there’s nothing that can be done about it. Like any of us, he can only change from the present moment forward. 

If Percy’s line of thinking is useful for anything, it’s only for the Corvette (literal or figurative) that Frank might want to use as a reward for quitting. That is, if quitting isn’t reward enough, and it often is.  

Now then! One last takeaway, and this one is a little more complex:  

3️⃣  In matters of health, if you can’t mind other people’s business well, just stick to minding your own. I’ve worded this one carefully because I am aware that “minding one’s own business” is a cultural construct whose interpretation and application will vary by place and by person. 

New Yorkers, for example, tend to be masters of minding their own business (until they’re not), and that’s silently expected of everyone in the city. But in other places and cultures, there’s less personal space; some behaviors that Americans would consider nosy or meddlesome are acceptable in other cultures, basically because there’s more perceived overlap between “my business” and “yours.” 

I don’t mean to presume one way or the other, and that’s why my takeaway is phrased in two parts. To return to the parable, I would suggest that there are two valid ways of reading its lesson for Percy: 

🅰️ This parable is about how people still need to mind their own business, even—perhaps especially—when they’re right and they know it. I’ve met plenty of smokers, but I don’t think I’ve met a single one who defends the habit, certainly not on health grounds. Percy is “right” insofar as he’s proceeding on the sound premise that smoking is bad for you and the people around you… but that’s an argument with no serious opposition.

So Percy started in the right place, but quickly ended up in the wrong one, mostly because he chose to approach the situation in a closed, argumentative, ungracious way. In other words, he was “right” until he started talking and made a fool of himself… and he could have avoided that entirely by observing his limitations and minding his business.   

🅱️ This parable is about the wrong ways to mind other people’s business (but that doesn’t mean it’s always wrong to try). Simply put, a lot of our health issues are collective health issues in need of collective solutions… and that does require us to be able to approach and talk to one another. 

The Percy character isn’t wrong to think of Frank’s cigarette as “his business,” at least partially, because smoking does affect more people than just the smoker. If we imagine him in a much better mood, making a much better approach, perhaps we’d learn that he’s truly concerned for his and his fellow citizens’ health.

But health issues don’t just require collective, collaborative solutions when they affect groups of people (as with secondhand smoke). Smoking is also a good example of everyday addiction, a complex psychological phenomenon that’s best untangled with support from others, however formal or informal. Again, though, that requires us to be able to talk to one another, even if it’s awkwardly or haltingly or uncomfortably. 

* * * * *

I could probably write another version of the parable where Percy is exactly the right kind of angel, but it would lose everything that’s interesting about it. There would be no wit, no conflict, and no punchline, and it would be way longer. 

Arguably worse, the alternate version would be less believable. Small miracles do happen between strangers sometimes (especially at airports), but they often seem one-of-a-kind, like they might never happen again. Meanwhile, I could see the original parable playing out at any big American airport, any day of the week.

So if you worry about your health AND our health collectively, and if you don’t always know what to do with those worries, that’s okay. I like to think that’s the better boat to be in and that Percy was in it, too… he just didn’t know how to get rowing in the right direction. 


Uttapem (Savory Lentil Cakes)

It’s a family affair in New Orleans, where the Vilkhu family, owners of Saffron Nola, invited Dan Buettner to a dinner of traditional northern and southern Indian cuisine.

Saffron Nola is a Vilkhu family business that incorporates local New Orleans ingredients and flavors into traditional Indian cuisine. It received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2018.


1 ½ cups basmati rice

½ cup urad dal

2 tablespoons chana dal (split chickpea lentils)

½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon oil


½ cup diced onion

½ cup diced tomatoes

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 or 2 green chilis (such as jalapeños), chopped

Coconut chutney, for serving


The Method

  1. To make the batter, rinse the rice, urad dal, chana dal, and fenugreek seeds in cold running water. Cover them with cold water and soak overnight. 
  2. Drain most of the water, and using a high-speed blender, blend the soaked ingredients with enough water to make a thick, smooth, pourable batter; the rice will make the batter slightly grainy, which is okay, but make sure to process it until the grains are very small.
  3. Add the salt and set the batter aside in a warm place to ferment overnight, or until the batter rises. 
  4. To cook the uttapam, return the batter to a pourable consistency by adding additional water a little at a time—up to 1 cup—stirring after each addition until you reach desired consistency, adding more only if needed.
  5. Heat the oil in a flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Pour or ladle about ½ cup of the batter into the skillet, and then tilt and turn the skillet to spread the batter out a bit to a circle about 6 inches in diameter.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and scatter half the toppings over the batter. Add a little oil around the edges if needed to prevent sticking, and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until the top looks dry and has lots of little holes all over. Using a thin spatula, carefully flip the uttapam over and then cook it 1 to 2 minutes more, until the underside is cooked. 
  7. Repeat with the rest of the batter and toppings.
  8. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with the coconut chutney.


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