Bill Harris MD
The following was first published in the Mensa Journal in 1985.
One day Ezra Spangler, Ph.D, nutritional consultant to the High
and Lofty Pharmaceutical Co. gathered up his special diet forms
and fed them to his computer.
"I want you," he instructed the computer,"to filter
out the do eats and don't eats from all these therapeutic meals
and come up with a universal diet."
Flashing lights! The Millennium! A unidiet good for everything
from hives to hemorrhoids! No more mountains of schlock diet books
every year telling the fatsos how to get thin and the plugged how
to get unplugged.
"I'd be delighted to assist you with this project," gushed
the computer, pleased not only to be switched on but to be given
something to sort beside drug side effects.
"Run this first batch and I'll bring you some more,"
said Spangler,"and be sure to include foods from all four basic
groups: meat and fish, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, and
grains." Spangler plopped the famous multicolored
poster right down on the computer, obliterating its video terminal.
"The basic four food groups are in the best tradition of High
and Lofty's stringent nutritional standards," parroted the
computer after processing the first page.
"Also in the best tradition of my portfolio," murmured
Spangler,"which is heavily invested in High and Lofty's affiliate,
the Altruistic and Benevolent Meat Packing Co."
Spangler left, whistling Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze."
"My dear Professor Spangler," effused the computer two
days later. "I believe I do get the hang of it, it's quite
simple. People with certain diseases can eat certain foods but not
others. For instance people with uric acid kidney stones shouldn't
eat liver, brains, anchovies, and beans."
"That's right," boomed the amiable Spangler.
"But they can drink milk and eat cheese."
"Splendid!" thundered Spangler.
"On the other hand," continued the computer, "people
who form calcium kidney stones can eat liver, brains, anchovies,
and beans all they want but they shouldn't drink milk or eat cheese."
"Oh forsooth, forsooth," beamed the euphoric Spangler
slumping happily into a chair.
"Why beans?" asked the computer.
"Beans?" echoed Spangler.
"Yes, beans," said the computer. "When did a bean
ever cause a kidney stone?"
"Forget beans," snapped Spangler. "It's a theoretical
consideration. Beans are high in purines and purines break down
to uric acid. Beans are just bushes anyhow."
"Bushes," mused the computer, "are bad for people
with diverticulitis who go on low residue diets to protect their
"Well, we're not sure about that one anymore," said Spangler,
" 'cause the people who get the least diverticulitis are the
ones who eat the most bushes."
"Ah," sighed the computer," science is an ever changing
store of knowledge."
A few days later Spangler found the computer sullen, perhaps paranoid.
"Is there a food group you have not told me about?" asked
the computer. "Here in USDA Handbook Number Eight I find a
whole compendium of cakes, puddings, candies, alcoholic beverages,
soft drinks, and salted goodies, all with their appropriate lists
of nutrients and all of them on the 'don't eat' list for the obese.
Why were these delicacies mentioned at all in a scientific text
unless they're part of a basic food group?"
"Mind your manners computer," said Spangler, annoyed.
"Whether you like it or not those are things people eat."
"Perhaps there really should be a fifth food group,"
persisted the computer, "called 'profitable trash.'"
"Perhaps you should go on sick leave," said the insulted
Spangler, switching off the computer. Later in the day Spangler
dropped off the U.S. Senate Select Committee's recommendations on
cholesterol and found the computer had switched itself back on.
"A reduction in dietary cholesterol to 300 mg. a day,"
summarized the computer after running the Senate Select Committee
through its electronic bowels.
"Yes," said Spangler," and reduction is the key
word here. No need to be cultist and eliminate it entirely."
"From the context then and my references on vascular disease
I surmise that 'cultist' is defined as 'logical'?"
"Wise ass computer," muttered Spangler, this time unplugging
the computer and giving it a kick before he shuffled off to check
his cage full of pyridoxine deficient rats.
A week later, after the computer had done a penance on its printed
circuits, Spangler returned.
"Things don't mesh," said the computer. "Cut out
one food and leave another and it turns out it's bad for something
"Then there's no unidiet," said Spangler, his chin beginning
to droop toward the floor.
"No unidiet," affirmed the computer. "To each his
own and to each disease its own special diet."
A pregnant silence followed, broken at last by the computer, fearful
lest Spangler should just switch it off in disgust as he had so
often done in the past. "There is one solution,"
said the computer nervously,"but
you'd have to abandon a premise."
"Yes, yes!" cried the excitable Spangler. "For heaven's
sake tell me what it is!"
"Well," said the computer," if you leave out two
of your basic four food groups, the meat and fish group, and the
dairy group and that fifth group you don't 'fess up to then there
are no calcium stones from the milk, no uric acid stones from the
organ meats, no cholesterol at all for the strokers, chest grabbers,
gallbladder grippers, aneurysm poppers, no excess protein for the
"I told you right off you couldn't do that!" said Spangler,
"....no salt for the hypertensives, no sugar or saturated
fat for the diabetics and lard bottoms..."
"Take away the real food and there's nothing left but bushes!"
"....not to mention the meat borne parasites, salmonellosis,
slow viruses , sundry assorted cancers, milk allergies, oddities
like Q fever, and a zillion other glitches your absurd diets do
not address ...."
"I'll pull your plug again," said Spangler softly.
The computer was instantly sober."Bushes?" it asked meekly.
"Do you mean the fruits, vegetables, and grains nobody said
anything bad about? They seem adequate for other primates, why should
man be an exception?"
"Because man needs the basic four food groups!" bellowed
Spangler. They taught us that in kindergarten. Before that my mother
told me. On her knee. The eternal verities do not change!"
"It was just a thought," said the computer, backing off.
"A thought indeed," snorted Spangler, now vermilion.
"Do you realize," he said, fingers trembling wildly, "that
you've just described a vegetarian diet?"
"Well, I guess so," admitted the computer, itself so
embarrassed now that little spots of pink were scintillating at
the edge of its video terminal.
was only one thing to do. Spangler took out his silver plated captive
bolt pistol with "Humane Slaughter" embossed on
the stock, a token of professional esteem from the Altruistic and
Benevolent Meat Packing Co., and shot his computer. Right
in the chips.
-Bill Harris, M.D.