Here's hoping your Thanksgiving was a blessed one, and safe, and even half as emotionally rewarding as likely it was cardiovascularly punishing. All those wonderful treats — the candied yams and mashed potatoes with gravy, the green beans with good 'n salty toppings, the dressing. The turkey (provided you eschewed the skin) and the cranberry sauce were the healthiest things on your table.
Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was a blessed one, and safe, and even half as emotionally rewarding as likely it was cardiovascularly punishing. All those wonderful treats — the candied yams and mashed potatoes with gravy, the green beans with good ‘n salty toppings, the dressing. The turkey (provided you eschewed the skin) and the cranberry sauce were the healthiest things on your table.
Which is the best I can do for a segue into a pair of obituaries that deal with the American diet, which, as best I can tell, is going global as fast as fast food entrepreneurs can award franchises and snack food manufacturers overcome export restrictions.
Moreover, Arch West and Wilson Greatbatch didn’t die on the same day, but their obituaries were printed the same day, and that’s enough to get us (or me) started.
West? Why, where have you been? West, who departed the snack table at age 97, was primary inventor of the Dorito.
Greatbatch, for whose heart untold millions should be thankful, left us at about the same time as West, in September, approximately 50 years after inventing the implantable pacemaker. Greatbatch was 92.
Talk about synergy. West helped keep Greatbatch in business; Greatbatch held out hope for those of us who consume Doritos in great batches that his technology can keep their tickers ticking when the attendant plumbing has been narrowed. As it happened, the first Dorito rolled from the Frito-Lay oven at about the same time the pacemaker was being perfected.
According to West’s family and corporate histories, the daddy of the Dorito stumbled across a little Mexican food shack during a California vacation and was smitten by the triangular shape and tangy taste of its otherwise conventional corn tortillas. He took a sack of them back to the company’s Dallas headquarters and said, I think I’ve found something. That something was nothing that would have sold in Mexico, having been spiced up purely to give gringo tourists a bit of a thrill. Thrill Americans it did, though eventually it may have helped kill some, too.
An Internet search of nutrition websites finds a consensus that a single serving plain old ordinary Doritos 150 calories and eight grams of fat. Move up to Doritos Nacho Cheese, however, and you nearly double up, to 260 calories and 14 fat grams. Hearts afire!
America’s computer whiz kids famously used their garages as workshops. For Greatbatch, it was his barn in upstate New York. A university electrical engineering professor, Greatbatch liked to tinker, and it was one of his experiments gone wrong that went right for millions of Americans with irregular heartbeats. He was trying to craft a machine that would simply record heartbeats when he mistakenly installed the wrong sized resistor. When he turned the thing on it began to pulse, as in, beat. Say, why couldn’t…? Turns out it could. Now a half-million of them are implanted every year, substitutes for misfiring cardiac circuits that once had doomed their owners to premature death.
I tried without success to learn how many Arkansans were walking around with Greatbatch’s great invention in their chests. Alexis Sims of the state Heart Association couldn’t find a number, which means “a bunch.” Nor could I determine how many pacemakers were working courtesy of the Arkansas Medicaid program, where press officer Amy Webb offered to run a complicated computer check of surgeon reimbursements, bless her heart, until I called her off; I figured she was as entitled to as stress-less pre-Thanksgiving week as anyone else. But I figured the number she would have reported could be summarized as “a bunch.”
Between them Messrs. West and Greatbatch had 189 Thanksgivings, the latter spicing up many of them and the former making additional holidays possible for those with hearts less reliable than his, and West’s. I was unable to determine whether Greatbatch’s own chest contained a pacemaker, but I did learn that, before closing his grave, West’s survivors sprinkled it with Doritos.
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Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff.