Last week we took our visiting relative, a vegetarian, to the local vegetarian restaurant, where she was delighted at being able to choose anything from the menu. Still, I thought, it's a bit restrictive, despite the chef's imaginative ways with celeriac. My own - brief - adherence to vegetarianism, back in 1972, has left me with one, overarching memory - cheese sandwiches. I recall bread refined to the point of nutritional neutrality and cheese processed into bland, rubbery, indigestible irrelevance. Such was the staple fare of the itinerant vegetarian of the day and it was responsible, in part, for my abandonment of the diet. And none too soon, as it transpires.
Latest scientific research into human gut microbiota - the microbes that live in our gut and which are essential to our well-being - should, it seems, be taken into account when choosing from the menu. Microbes come in many different types, all of them interdependent, but each with specific dietary needs. If we restrict our diet, we restrict theirs too and deprive some of them of the energy they need to do their work, maintaining the balance of our systems. A diverse diet, therefore, is more beneficial to us than one which is restricted.
One of the great anomalies of modern-day wealthy societies is that we have plenty of food, yet much of it does no good. The ubiquity of foods such as pizza or burgers, for example, actually disadvantages the human digestive microbiota by limiting variety. Not only do we eat too much of them relative to other foods, but also they contain a high proportion of ingredients which have been processed specifically to eliminate diversity. It is this narrowing of our diets, combined with overindulgence in junk food, that may best explain the dramatic increase of obesity, allergenic reactions and auto-immune diseases.
If this is true then there are some other issues to re-think. You can't get fit through exercise alone. Last weekend the city centre was turned into an athletics ground, with pole-vaulting in Albert Square, sprinting down a temporary track laid along Deansgate and long-distance running up and down surrounding roads. The stated purpose of holding such events in the city centre is to give sport a high profile and emphasise its importance in countering the effects of sedentary lives spent eating and drinking too much. The unstated purpose is to entice customers to the surrounding businesses: the irony is that those businesses are predominantly bars, cafes and restaurants.
Not to worry, though: Fitbit comes to the rescue. Fitbit is one of those companies that make wearable fitness-monitoring devices - bracelets that look like "beam me up Scotty" watches. The sales pitch for these - once they have persuaded you it's cool to wear one - is that they will help to keep you fit and healthy. This is accomplished by automatic monitoring of heart-rate, paces walked, blood pressure etc. The idea is that you can then up your game (or slow it down) to meet your desired targets. Since, however, I already have a biological system which tells me when I am feeling either lethargic or hyperactive, I won't be buying one. Which is not to say that others won't find them useful: apparently they are capable of sending your data to subscribing retailers who will then offer to sell you all the stuff you need to keep you fit - things like running shoes, lycra shorts and energy drinks packed with sugar.