Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Nobody Knows the Broccoli He's Seen

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Nobody Knows the Broccoli He's Seen

The broccoli on his plate almost reached the ceiling. Stir-fried, not shaken. Behind the mountain of greenery was a unique Canadian character, successful multi-media artist – as in paint, pen and song, not Internet, iTunes and iPods – and political shit-disturber, Mendelson Joe, aged 65. We met for lunch at the China House, one of Huntsville (pop. 20,000), Ontario's two ethnic restaurants, both Chinese, both very north-of-Toronto-Canadian.

Joe shovelled in the broccoli by the bucket-load because, nearly twenty years ago, he self-diagnosed diabetes — combined with the knowledge that George Bush hates it – convinced Joe that this was the way to good health in or out of sorts.

It must work because Joe appears to be not only of healthy sound body and of sound mind, but way ahead of the researchers and scientists who, that very morning, issued an amazing statement – amazing to everyone but Joe. He could have told them years ago.

There on the BBC Website sat not one but three stories of medical "breakthroughs" as journalists played chicken (stir-fried with soya sauce) with the truth and scientists played premature, underdone Peking – duck! before the drug companies cut off their funding.
The first dish on the BBC's hot, hot buffet of half-cooked facts exclaimed: "Vitamin C 'slows cancer growth."

Notice those quotes around the phrase: "slows cancer growth." They're meant to tell you that all is not quite what is says, but, damn! it looks great in a headline. You have to wade through another twelve paragraphs of scientific claims and evidence until you are told the real and only true fact in the entire story:

Dr Alison Ross, from Cancer Research UK said that much more work would have to be done to see if vitamin C could be a viable treatment. "This is encouraging work but it's at a very early stage because it involves cells grown in the lab and mice."

Hmm. A little less definitive that deadline: "Vitamin C Slows Cancer Growth." The second story was an equally misleading piece about a new AIDS vaccine.

Joe was chomping through his second mountain of broccoli when I mentioned the BBC's third story:

Broccoli may undo diabetes damage:

A University of Warwick team believe the key is a compound found in the vegetable, called sulforaphane.

Then nine paragraphs later came this revealing aside:

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, stressed that research carried out on cells in the lab was a long way from the real life situation.

Joe had heard of neither sulforaphane nor of the probably good Dr. Frame. But if the latter wanted to accelerate his research and get closer to that real life situation, I know a Chinese restaurant in Huntsville, Ontario, he should visit. Then, we'll all be spared the guessing game of hypothetical medical "breakthroughs." All he has to do is watch Mendelson Joe eat.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page