Nutribooz: A Portent of Things to Come
By now everyone's heard of the ideas recently put forth by respected scientists, proposals advocating the fortification of alcoholic beverages with vitamins, folic acid to prevent megaloblastic anemia, and thiamine to ward off Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Well, why not, I mused, haven't they vitaminized candy breakfast and other junk food snacks? Why not alcohol?
Scientists and food technologists have made powerful arguments, presented cost-benefits worked out with baroque arithmetic, and came to the ineluctable conclusion that the fortification of ethanol was indeed prevention that paid for itself.
Feeling in need of an in-depth professional interpretation of these studies, I quite naturally sought out modest scientist Lemuel Quark at the now-famous Lower Umpqua Addictive Conundrum Institute.
"Fascinating work, marvelous, absolutely top drawer," Quark stated in an uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm.
"But," I demurred, playing the skeptic, "won't some people think that ethanol is not a food and therefore not a proper carrier for nutrients?"
"Not a food! My goodness, man, think of the calories. The energy, lad, the energy."
Caught up by his buoyant mood, I said, "And the liver, the fatty liver!"
Quark scowled. "Well, of course there's sometimes that, too. Anything can be used to excess." And here he launched vigorously into a lengthy explanation telling me much more than I wanted or needed to know about the Killers in the Kitchen: salt, beans, coffee, nutmeg, and even water when used to excess.
"But back to nutrified alcohol," said Quark. "They've merely scratched the surface. Here at the Institute we're light years ahead of them. Thiamine and folic acid fortification are --how shall I put it? -- too obvious, mere child's play, a project for high school sophomores. The real challenge lies in the nutrification of ethanol."
"Do you mean --"
"Of course. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and anemia are just the tip of the iceberg. Look-- Alcoholics suffer protein deficiency, therefore, add protein," he said triumphantly with a flourish of Cartesian logic. Then he went on talking about adding magnesium to circumvent magnesium depletion, calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and osteomalacia, zinc to prevent pancreatitis, niacin to avert pellagra, and he went on and on and on.
I yawned ostentatiously, and Quark's keen clinical intuition once more became evident: "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, sure, it's easy to prevent those diseases. But what about cirrhosis? What about central pontine myelinolysis and Marchiafava-Bignami's disease? And fetal alcohol syndrome? That's where we're on the verge of a breakthrough with Nocohol."
It was something we had talked about before: an alcoholic beverage with the toxic factor technologically extirpated or neutralized so that the drinker experiences a harmless intoxication. I wanted to know more about Nocohol, but he thrust a bottle of vile looking fluid into my hand. "There it is," he said proudly, "our latest innovation."
Overcoming my revulsion, I read the label: "Nutribooz?"
"Nutribooz," he intoned prayerfully. "Not only for the prevention of alcohol-induced nutritional problems, but think of it as a new nutritious fun food, a breakthrough in the battle against malnutrition and ennui."
"Let them drink Nutribooz," I quipped, tweaking Rousseau's well-known misquotation of Marie Antoinette.
"Precisely," said Quark. At that moment, a man in a lab jacket came scurrying down the hallway, briskly brushing us aside I raised my eyebrows at the rude intrusion. "My associate," Quark said of the departing figure. "Hartford Smegma, MIT, '68. A bit of an alchemist, but deep down a no-nonsense Yankee realist."
"He certainly looks like he's preoccupied with a problem," I remarked, noting Smegma's twitching, pinched face as he scurried past, slightly bent as if suffering from a cramp.
Quark gazed after him thoughtfully. "A genius, perhaps, a real benefactor to mankind. Smegma's work has an excellent chance of winning the annual National Science Foundation prize. Can't lose. Prevention, that's where it's at." I believe Quark actually gloated.
Before I could ask, Quark gushed on. "We've branched out into other drugs besides alcohol, NIDA grant and all, and we've stumbled across a very serious medical problem affecting all chronic narcotics users."
"Yep," he replied, "constipation. But my man Smegma's made a big breakthrough. He's developed a mildly narcotic beer, actually comes with your favorite narcotic or methadone. It's fortified with fiber."
Lemuel Quark then smiled that villainous smile I have come to love and fear, the unctuous, unbridled smirk of commercial success. He said, "We're currently negotiating with a major distillery for the rights. Dietary fiber in beer. Gonna call it Fybeer," he chortled. "Get it? Fybeer?"
I got it, and from far off down that immaculate tile-lined corridor came a curiously incongruous sound, a harsh, wet, unnerving gurgle as a toilet coughed and flushed.
A Portent, I thought, of Things to Come.