Porc LeClerc was one of my very first best friends. We met in kindergarden back in what seems now ancient history, but I remember Porc like it was all yesterday. He was a cute little bugger, I suppose we all were back then, hiding under our desks whenever the black-robed matrons (the nuns) entered our classroom. But one thing that really caught your attention about Porc was his immensity — even at the tender age of seven. His white-skinned face shone like a large, bulbous moon under the mat of red hair that framed it on three sides. His cheeks always bore a red glow, and he was forever laughing. Everything was funny to Porc, and that accentuated his enormous belly, which rose and fell with each chortle.
Porc didn’t seem to mind that all of the children in the class found him amusing (abusing would be a more apt term). He told me on more than a few occasions that he really didn’t mind the laughter and whispering, since he had experienced it since he could first remember. I recall, though, that the expression in his eyes betrayed those words of acceptance. And that hurt me. I tried not to laugh at Porc’s rotund appearance, but being human and fallible, I found myself chiming in with the other kids when Porc’s size gave us reason to tease another child.
Porc and I remained friends through the first several years of elementary school, and we were planning to attend the same high school. But that was not to be. Porc died from an angina attack at the ripe old age of thirteen. He was the first close friend of mine who was taken from me by death, and the experience made a profound and lasting effect on me. At his death, Porc stood just five foot three, but he weighed in at nearly three hundred pounds. Even today, decades later, whenever I read or hear the word “obese”, my mind’s eye conjures up a picture of Porc. Such a waste!
Porc’s premature departure from life’s stage set my own life in a new direction. Well, actually, it had a profound effect on me in several ways, but in this blog I will concentrate on the issue of obesity, fat, health and heart health. For Porc’s death opened my eyes to the irrefutable truth that being overweight can lead to all sorts of health problems, and ultimately, to death. And in a vast number of cases, so preventable.
I’ve never been thin. Today, at age 56, I stand six foot, 2 inches, and weigh 250 pounds. My build is classified as “athletic,” and I feel fairly fit, since I try to exercise regularly and include weightlifting and bicycling in my regimen. Most people would say I carry my weight well. Back in elementary and high school, though, I would say I was always overweight, and did not really care about exercise. We played outdoor sports a lot back in the late ’50’s and 60’s, and didn’t realize we were exercising all the time. I was always overweight because I loved to eat — and still do. I just haven’t been eating healthy until relatively recently.
Growing up in New Orleans, it’s very difficult to eat healthy. I was raised in a culture of Puffed Potatoes at Antoine’s Restaurant, Oysters Mosca at Mosca’s, Eggplant Josephine at the White Pillars in Biloxi, Mississippi, Lobster Bisque and Caesar Salad for lunch at the Sazarac Restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel, and of course the Ferdi’s Special Po-Boy at Mother’s Restaurant. No date was ever complete without a late night visit to Cafe’ du Monde or The Morning Call for beignets and cafe au lait. And the seafood, crawfish and shrimp boils most weekends with family and friends were to die for. In New Orleans, everyone is a gourmet. Even the corner and local mom and pop restaurants are platonic. The creole fare at Dooky Chase, served up lovingly by Leah Chase herself is Heaven on Earth.
My mouth is watering right now, just thinking about the fabulous restaurants I frequented in my youth and earlier iteration. Brennan’s, Broussard’s, Elmwood Plantation, Maylie’s, Ruth’s Criss Steakhouse, Fitzgerald’s, Chateau Phylmar, Corinne Dunbar’s, Emeril’s, and on and on and on. It’s nice (and tasty) to take a little trip down Gustatory Memory Lane. But that’s not the real purpose of this article.
Porc LeClerc’s premature death shook me to my roots. All of his friends knew why he had died — his body was too big for his heart and other internal organs to properly maintain. I knew, right then and there, that if I wanted to have a relatively moderate to long life expectancy, I would have to amend my eating and exercising habits.
One of the changes I made to my life was to slow down, and smell the roses. We live in a world which has an incredibly fast pace. Our stress levels are killers. The pressures of modern life and the everyday hit or miss decisions which affect entire lifetimes put such a strain on our psyches, and our hearts, that it’s amazing to me I lasted in that environment for so long. Oh, yeah, I forgot to say I became a trial lawyer and practiced that profession for 22 years. Talk about stress! You have your clients’ lives, businesses, and futures literally in the palm of your hand. The slightest miscalculation can lead to disaster for them. Forget about the fee. If you lose a case, you can be destroying someone’s life, and that of his family. Many lawyers felt the empathy for our clients, and worked extremely hard to benefit them. Others just didn’t care and were in it for the quick buck. That also played upon my emotions and stress level.
To make a really long story short, I got out of the lawyer business some ten years ago and slowed the pace of my life down considerably. I forced myself to take the time to smell the roses. Do they smell sweet!
This serialized article, “Eschewing the Fat,” will contain personal discoveries and reminiscences along my journey. And, since this is a mushroom-oriented site, will concentrate on my appreciation for the mushroom in its natural state. I love to wander through fields and forests, occasionally stumbling upon entire colonies of wonderful mushrooms. I just wish I could identify the ones which are safe to eat from the poisonous ones. Caveat: I am NOT an expert in mushroom identification. Far from it. On those many occasions I would find some delicious-looking mushrooms and prepare to savor their delicious properties, I have always been halted by that nagging doubt that this could be a poisonous mushroom that could do me serious injury or even death.
Frankly, that’s why Cherie and I have taken to growing our own. That way, we can be sure of the safety of the shrooms we produce. And that’s why we also began selling the mushrooms to the public. Many of our outdoor friends also love the delicious taste of fresh wild mushrooms, but are, like me, afraid of the poisonous ones. But more on that later.