Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: Deadly Diet Coke, artificially-sweet lies, and blinding me with ‘science’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.

Your essay on the fickle nature of dietary guidelines reminds me of a question regarding my caffeine delivery vehicle of choice. I don’t drink coffee (denying myself society’s most convenient means of expressing misplaced superiority) or tea (denying myself soda’s most convenient alternative) and energy drinks, of course, are for dim people. But I am a Coke guy. Formerly the real thing, now the wretched diet version. I’m not one of those worriers, compelled to wear a crash helmet for anything more adventurous than sitting atop a bar stool, but I suspect that on balance I’d be better off without all the aspartame and whatever else they put in there to make it taste like metal shavings. Since the medical community has a harder time making a decision than Sir Galahad at the Bridge of Death, I’ll ask you: Concerned about artificial sweeteners? – Muhtar in Atlanta

First of all, I’m flattered that you assume that everyone, like you, follows my essays that appear in places other than in this space. Or as I prefer to call them, “pieces,” since my primary objective in life is to not be the kind of finger-sniffing tool who insists on calling his pieces “essays.” (Also, these  “word pictures” as a twee essayist might call it, tend to reflect little “pieces” of me. Though I strive not to be as pretentious as self-identified essayists, I am clearly every bit as solipsistic.)

The piece/essay you are referring to is one I wrote a few months back for my home pub, The Weekly Standard, in which I questioned the reliability of the schizoid health-science that comes down your homepage pike each day in the form of take-it-to-the-bank health squibs announcing new medical studies, the intended purpose of which seems to be to scare the bejeezus out of us. That is, until a future health squib touting a new study tells us that the polar opposite is true. (Alcohol kills! No, alcohol prolongs life!)

I don’t mean to suggest I’m anti-science. It’s not that I’m some kind of mouth-breathing denialist, immune to the charms of fossil records or carbon-dating. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as being descended from higher forms than monkeys. (I like to think I’m fashioned in the image of a deity – due to my Messiah complex.) But I’m completely prepared to admit that Darwinian-style evolution isn’t such a stretch either, since plenty of people I could name clearly have ape-like properties – Ben Stiller, for starters. (And please do not write in to lecture on the differences between apes and monkeys – those are the kind of pedantic fine points essayists might appreciate, but we piece-writers will delete before reading.)