Diet Coke Will Make You Fat & Other Truths

So it’s not just your imagination, it actually is true. Those zero-calorie sodas people are popping left and right and up and down, ordering with their cheeseburgers and large fries and drinking instead of coffee in the morning or wine at night, actually lead to (or, as they say in medical-speak, "are linked to") metabolic syndrome, which is a fancy way of saying fat and all its attendant ills.

An article in the New York Times, based upon a study done partly at the University of Minnesota, states that people who drink diet sodas are 18 percent more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and abdominal obesity. Now, I have to admit, there’s a part of me that wants to lecture here because WHAT after all did you expect, drinking something that contains not a single natural ingredient (except water) and floods your system with something called Aspartame — which is, by the way, one of the most widely-tested "foodstuffs" in history because it has been "linked to" (again, those words) a variety of different cancers and neurological disorders?

Not that I blame you. I don’t mean to be churlish. Big advertising did a huge number on the population of the entire world. But come on, this isn’t rocket science. What it is is rocket fuel.

Moving on, after years of pushing decaffeinated coffee on us, calling coffee a vice, and putting it on the health questionaires alongside queries about things like seatbelt use and unsafe sex (How many sexual partners have you had in the past year? How many whose health history is unknown to you? How many that hung out in heroin parlors with dealers named Rufus or Big Mama and had a strange, yellow tint to their skin? Oh, also, how many cups of coffee a day do you drink?) — surprise!!

Coffee is good for you. Really good for you (unless, am I the only one jaded enough to think this?, Starbucks paid for the research). Scientists are now saying that coffee has more antioxidants than any other food: blueberries, green tea, even — you’re not going to believe this — red wine. It’s long been known that coffee prevents certain chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s and diabetes. Now, the news is, it also has cancer preventives and more fiber than Metamucil. You know, that beverage you’ve been eschewing all these years in favor of caffeine-free Diet Coke. . . .

Well, who could have known? Except, of course, those Abyssinian goatherders who used to chew on the berries from coffee bean trees back in the 5th century. Under no circumstances would you catch those guys drinking carbonated N-L-alpha-aspartyl-L-phenyl-alanine-1-methyl ester.

Now, to switch topics entirely, about that recession that isn’t coming? Funny thing, it seems to have arrived. (Quick, someone go break the news to W.)

Here’s what I don’t understand. I’m a lowly writer living in the Midwest, a Gen X’er who tends to be blasé about dire economic situations — I graduated from college and landed smack into one of the most humbling, after all — and is utterly distracted by the business of raising teenagers. Yet, I saw the signs.

Gas prices, layoffs, housing. Hmmm. I was prepared for this problem. The Feds, apparently, were not. Of course, they’re not living down in the trenches, gassing up their Saturns at places with security cameras that record the license plate numbers of those who fill up and fly. They haven’t scaled back their grocery budget from $200 a week to $175 in order to save up for the winter heat bill, which is going to be a beast this year. They aren’t talking to friends of theirs: service providers, mind you — people who own cafes and coffeeshops — who say they may have to close if the numbers don’t stop plummeting.

So are you ready for the good news? God, yes, I know you are.

OK, here it is: Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva 2004 (does it make you think of chemically-enhanced spaghetti sauce, too?). A $23-25 wine, available at Costco for somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. No Aspartame, tons of antioxidants, pretty much recession-proof. This is as smooth as a rugged Italian wine dares to be, made from mostly the standard Sangiovese grapes, but also Canaiolo and Colorino. Then it’s aged in Slavonian oak casks and French barriques.

I’m not even sure what Slavonian oak is, but the result is a wine with equal parts raspberry, chalk, and loam, as well as a sweet, mushroomy flavor that brought to mind the colorful, spotted toadstools of fairytales. (I imagine Slavonia to be a place where tiny gnomes frolic in the grass with pointed Italian hats on their hairy little heads.) The finish on the Chianti is clear and clean and oaky, like a single note drawn on the G-string of a violin.

The only downside here is that you must go to Costco in order to get the Monsanto at an affordable price. And this is a place where very unhealthy looking people, clearly suffering the effects of a nonexistent recession, are buying enormous flats of Diet Coke. Please be kind to them, for they know not what they do. And forge on, holding fast to these truths.