Believe it or not, Matt and I don’t watch a lot of prime-time TV. Especially not in the summer. But we have recently been seduced by the charms – or perhaps more accurately, the train-wreck aspects – of ‘Wife Swap.’
Do any of you watch this show? I was horrified when I first heard of the concept, but if you’re not familiar with it, it’s not what you’re thinking. The wives sort of swap entire lives, not merely husbands, for two weeks. For one week, the wife has to fit into the new fam’s routine as much as possible. Then, she gets to lay down the new rules that she sees fit (is used to in her ‘normal’ life).
The show’s brilliance is that the producers seem to go out of their way to choose opposites. So you have the rustic, meat-eating charm of, say, a farmwife from North Carolina, and the PETA-loving, vegan professional woman from Oregon butting heads. It’s awesome. And there are usually (always?) kids involved, as well.
We were treated to not one, but two! craptacular episodes on Monday night. We didn’t mean to watch; really, we didn’t! In fact, Matt turned on the TV only to find the Redskins game.* We both quickly agreed that the scene unfolding before our eyes would go down better than any first-half early-season NFL action, however. (they were reruns, by the way. In case any of you are avid fans and are confused that I’m describing something you saw in January or February.)
Now generally, the shows succeed in opening the eyes of the participants, as well as giving audiences something to utterly mock and be amused by. This one, though, was the first failure of that kind that I have seen. Because these families were just about as polarly opposed as it is possible to be in our great country. Without bringing in religious differences, anyway.
One family (white), from Iowa, were strict – and when I say strict, I mean STRICT – raw food dieters. They took the diet to extremes that most raw foodies (as I understand it) do not take it. They eat raw chicken and beef, sometimes letting the raw meat sit around for days or weeks before eating, for extra bacterial goodness. In fact, they almost never clean anything – including a washing of their hands – and they rarely bathe. They had two early-to-mid teen kids, a boy and a girl.The mom ranted many times about the hazards of “chemicals,” and declared that the only cleaning agent she would use was vinegar, and then only if SHE deemed it necessary. The family did not drink water. It was considered a solvent, as I recall, and would only wash the good things out of your body. “Bacteria are our friends,” they said. “Why would God put something on the earth that would harm us?” The mother spent an average of six hours in the kitchen, and the kids stayed home all day. They weren’t home schooled – they were “unschooled,” according to the mother. Why fill their heads with all sorts of facts they’d never need? They learn all they need to know by helping out around the farm. Milking the cows. Collecting eggs. Straining unpasteurized milk (“We don’t like to drink cow hair, after all!” chuckle chuckle). I’m not sure how that was legal; it’s my understanding that kids have to be schooled in some manner, and that there are standardized tests to ensure this … I’m unclear on that point. They brushed their teeth with a home-concocted mixture of butter and clay. Appearance and vanity were wastes of time, they believed. They ate plates of fresh raw chicken – slaughtered right there on their own farm, by them – and downed raw eggs. (the teen boy ate a dozen a day) The mother awoke the other three at 2 a.m. each night to consume a quick raw egg or yogurt meal so that their bodies wouldn’t go into … anorexic shock, I think it was? They had lived this way for a little more than a year.
The other family (black) was from San Francisco. They had two small boys – maybe 3 and 6? The man was very into fashion, and shopped for and dressed the entire family. The wife ran a business from home. They had intentionally chosen to live in the city to give their sons a cosmopolitan, educated upbringing. They ate out several times a week, and sometimes twice a day – “We live in one of the most international cities in the world, so why not take advantage of it?” They were obsessive about cleaning. Vacuumed, cleaned and dusted daily. And apparently the husband was still dissatisfied with the cleanliness factor. They were into some Asian-influenced orderliness rituals, as well – burning sage in the corners of their rooms, ‘clapping out’ the corners, feng shui. The man believed that you only get one chance to make a first impression; that appearance was everything. THE top priority.
As you can imagine, when the wives swapped, things did not go well. The San Francisco husband told the farmer wife to shave her legs and armpits for the first time in seven years, and they all went out to dinner. She spent lots of time giving them self-righteous lectures about knowing WHAT they were eating, and the damage they were doing to their bodies. She made much of the fact that her speech and thoughts were slowing down in her brain after her cooked meal; all the cholesterol, I believe she said. She tried to insist that the husband throw out his wardrobe (NOT gonna happen, he said), and she tried to get the man and boys to wear overalls for the week (her usual apparel), so they would realize that the important aspects of themselves came from within. And she tried to ‘rid the house of chemicals.’ She licked the kitchen floor to prove her point. The man refused to eat raw chicken. Or to participate in the slaughter of a chicken.
The other wife was pretty disgusted by the filth she perceived in the other home. “You live like the animals you farm,” she told them. Ouch. She took them all out to eat – burgers, chicken strips, etc. – then looked fairly unconcerned when the three were writhing in pain the next day. She was also full of the lectures about how horribly the couple were raising their kids, how much irreparable damage they were doing, what slobs they were.
Neither family seemed to learn much from the experience, in retrospect. A healthy appreciation for what they had, I suppose, but all concerned seemed quite convinced from the outset that they were already living the Good Life.
Why on earth am I blogging about this? Have I lost my mind? (whatever made you think I had one??) Well, three days later, I’m still fascinated by this. Utterly consumed by it, especially the raw/bacteria Iowa family. As they’re arguably the most different from my own way of life.
I have so many unanswered questions about all of it. I’d like to know why this family chose to embark on the raw diet, and why they included meat in their raw quest. (I saw somewhere online that it was an attempt to ‘cure the daughter’s ADHD’ – and that it worked – but I can’t confirm that.) I wonder what the family’s religious affiliation is, if any. Their firm sense that God wouldn’t make no dangerous stuff is suggestive, but I’m not sure of what. I wonder whatever possessed them to do the show in the first place – an attempt to get the good word out about raw foods? Mostly, I wonder why the diet and lifestyle DOESN’T make them sick – they claim they never get sick, and they eschew doctor visits because ‘they’d only give us an antibiotic, anyway’ – and what WILL happen to those kids. Do they know anyone else? There was no indication that they had friends, or ever came in contact with anyone outside of that four-person immediate family. (the husband had some farmwork gig elsewhere, and the wife left every couple of weeks to drive 90 miles for soap, toilet paper and organic vegetables that they couldn’t grow.) How can they reasonably get by without a community of some kind? They had no education whatsoever, except what farmwork and a bit of TV-watching would teach them.
I wonder what the parents expect. That they all live there and farm together their whole lives? That the children stay on and take care of their parents in their old age, and never marry? It’s absolutely mystifying. The girl seemed pretty pliable – open to trying the new things that the other wife represented, yet not unhappy with her present lifestyle -- and the teen boy was openly disturbed by the criticism of his family and ways of doing things.
And I wonder – if I’m being honest – if there’s anything to this raw food diet.
My secret suspicion is that our bodies are amazing, adaptable, nearly magical machines that will deal with almost whatever we throw at it. And be very upset when that balance is thrown off, if but temporarily. Yes, some fuel is more optimal. Some activities are preferable. Some things will affect how long, and in what level of comfort, we live. But how much? And how much time and effort is worth achieving what level of improvement, especially since we can’t REALLY know how much difference it will make? At what point are you spending your ENTIRE LIFE beholden to a particular diet or lifestyle? Is it ever worth that?
And then there’s the matter of ‘live and let live.’ Of the two women being SO scornful of the others’ ideas.
It seems like that’s been a theme around me recently. Not only that, but more specifically – that there are two sides to every story. Two perspectives. Maybe more. And it’s just possible that neither one is strictly the truth – or perhaps that there isn’t a ‘pure truth’ to the situation. It’s all about perspective. So how am I to judge, so much of the time? By the evidence? And why do I feel the need to choose sides at all? The evidence I see here is that this family is thriving by not drinking water, not cleaning their house (their toilet bowl was a black hole – foul!), not showering much, and eating RAW MEAT. I assure you, I will not be picking up any of these habits. But was the cosmopolitan family who exposed their boys to lots of types of foods, cleaned obsessively and quizzed the boys on the order of the planets whilst playing classical music at breakfast “better,” per se? Or does their apparent obsession with appearance neutralize any of these points? Who am I to say?
I’m honestly not trying to make this episode an allegory for anything. I’m mostly trying to figure out why my brain won’t let it go.
Some good friends just went through a detox diet. And of course, being them, they did so in an utterly non-judgmental manner, and were open to talk or not talk about it, as others wanted. Yay for them, I say. Genuinely. It was inspiring to behold. I’m positive I’d be better off, in some definable way, if I followed suit. Or if I took some more minor steps. If I, for instance, stopped drinking coffee. I don’t NEED coffee. It’s more a habit than anything; not much of an addiction. A mental comfort. Or if I gave up sugar – a much harder thing for me, but my body does feel great and doesn’t crave naughty things on the rare occasions that I haven’t had sugar for awhile.
I just don’t know that I care enough to make changes such as these. Would it make much difference?
At heart, I’m such a lazy, status-quo person. When it comes to myself, the water has to get REALLY hot before I jump. I’m just generally okay with what’s up, and not eager to make long-term change. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s good, or bad. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s either.
Sometimes, I wonder if I should bother wondering at all.
* Side note: It always feels a little satisfyingly naughty to me to type the word “Redskins.” When I worked at the Seattle Times, that was a massive no-no. Keep in mind, I worked IN THE SPORTS DEPARTMENT. In, if you didn’t put this together, Washington state! So, to refer to the Redskins, we would have to make it “Washington of the NFL.” So as not to confuse with, say, the state of Washington, or the UW Huskies. Awesome!