How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years

by Howard J. Ruff
Warner Books, 248 pp., $2.75 (paper)

The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise

by Nathan Pritikin and Patrick M. McGrady Jr.
Grosset and Dunlap, 425 pp., $12.95

As nearly everyone in the world with a dollar to his name must know by now, American currency, like so many other once trusted values, has fallen into a long and agitated decline relative to gold, Swiss francs, bottles of wine, rare books, barrels of oil, old Mickey Mouse toys—nearly anything so long as it doesn’t bear the Great Seal of the United States. Howard Ruff, the Mormon author of How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years, thinks that “much of the American wealth is an illusion which is being secretly gnawed away and much of it will be completely wiped out in the near future.” Ruff’s book, published a year or so ago, has been one of the decade’s great best sellers—it has sold some 500,000 copies in hard cover and there are now more than a million paperbacks in print, many times more than all the books written in the same period by all the economists in America combined and nearly as many as Dr. Tarnower’s no less premonitory The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, last year’s number one self-help best seller, which has now been published in a huge paperback edition of 1.75 million copies.

Dr. Tarnower says that our typical American diet of refined sugars and starches, animal fats and dairy products, is killing us. It causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gall bladder attacks, arthritis, and high blood pressure. It makes us look and feel awful. He tells us that Navy pilots captured by the North Vietnamese left their dungeons in better shape, according to a US Navy study, than pilots who stayed home. Nathan Pritikin, a nutritionist, has written a more rigorous diet book, which also includes an exercise program. It has sold nearly as many copies as Dr. Tarnower’s and it lists among the author’s satisfied disciples Twiggy, Cesar Chavez, Peter Sellers, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. It is even grimmer than Dr. Tarnower’s book.

The typical American diet, Pritikin says, quoting the McGovern Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, “may be as profoundly damaging to the nation’s health as the widespread contagious diseases of the early part of the century.” Pritikin wants to “declare war on processed foods, fats, sugars, proteins, salt, caffeine and non-foods.” Though he and Dr. Tarnower disagree on proteins and carbohydrates—Tarnower thinks we should eat three times as much protein but only 6 percent more carbohydrates while Pritikin wants us to skip protein and eat twice the carbohydrates—they agree that the American diet is a plague arising from our feed lots and dairy farms, from mom’s apple pie and the coke machine in the school lunchroom—a plague as deadly as the one according to Howard Ruff that rises on the stench from the United States Treasury.

That so many Americans have chosen, in the past year, to concentrate their minds on three such gloomy diagnoses while so many of them are also flinging themselves around in discos and reading in the food columns of The New York Times, presumably…

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