The aggressive pursuit of pleasure

Pleasure is not an ‘extra’ in life. It’s not something to be doled out in a miserly fashion. It’s not something to be avoided, made to feel guilty about, or worst of all, ashamed of. Pleasure is what makes life worth living.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the thing is, most of us don’t get that kind of message very often. Eating chocolate and butter, drinking wine and just digging our toes into the dirt are activities most of us consider a rather indulgent deviance from practicality, diets and ‘to-do’ lists. We look at hips and thighs and tummies in absolute shame, rather than just enjoying life and letting ourselves be happy.

So I’m about to give you permission–in fact insist–that you eat that extra bit of truffle with relish. Screw the diet today. Go plant a garden instead of filing that report. Hug a honeybee (uh, gently.) Or drink a glass of wine at lunch. I won’t tell your boss.

Why? All I can say is that a doctor, a scientist and a really beautiful woman told me it was okay.

Let me back it up. Over the last two days, I attended Taste3, this insane conference of big thinkers from the music, art, science, food and wine worlds. Each big thinker talks for 20 minutes, making their case. And those of us in the audience try to take as much of this information in, process it, write about it and try to make the world a better place for it. No pressure, right? So after listening to all the big ideas, here’s my take-away. Eat, drink and be happy, dammit. It’s not only your right, but your obligation. Just do it sustainably and like you mean it.

Still need convincing, so chew on this-

Justification One: French doctors say it’s true
Georges Halpern, a distinguished professor of pharmaceutical science and a pretty darned sexy guy of a certain age who says pleasure is something we need often to be healthy. Using medical studies, lots of charts and, a French accent that refused to be denied (hey the French practically invented pleasure), Halpern comes to the undeniable conclusion that we’ve all known instinctively, but refused to let ourselves acknowledge: eating chocolate, having great sex, listening to music, tasting a bit of fat on the tongue and drinking red wine make us better, healthier, happier people. Diet Coke doesn’t. Nor do sugar-free cookies or salt-free diets. So, indulge. Immediately.

Justification Two: Chocolate makes you sexy
Katrina Markoff has a sort of Nigella Lawson quality that makes men and women throw themselves at her. The sort of quality that makes watching her talk, smile and most of all, eat, a deeply satisfying experience. I don’t care who you are. It doesn’t hurt that she makes chocolate studded with the most exotic products imaginable–curry, wasabi, hemp seeds, sea salt, chili peppers. She makes maple caramel paired with bacon, for god’s sake. She has a passion for love, beauty and culture. “Chocolate is a medium to tell stories,” she says. Plus, it releases hormones that make you feel like you just had sex. Yeah. I’m sold.

Justification Three: Make new friends with your zucchini
Yeah, who doesn’t like a nice fresh basket of yielding tomatoes or crisp cucumbers from your backyard. SF’s Victory Garden program is thrusting the hands of urban dwellers deep into the dirt. “It’s a relationship with the unknown,” says Blair Randall, director for its parent program, Garden for the Environment. Backyard gardens are not only good for you, they’re great for the environment. Not to mention how hot you’ll be handing out those giant zucchinis.

Justification Four: Half a bottle a day is okay
Procyanidin is your friend. It’s the tannic stuff found in varying degrees in red wine. Roger Corder, professor of Experimental Therapueutics at William Harvey Research Institute in London (as I mentioned yesterday, but bears repeating) has found that drinking a half bottle a day keeps the doctor away. But only when drinking lower-alcohol red wines rich in procyanidins. Want to know what’s best? Check out his forthcoming book, The Wine Diet.

Bonus Justification: Feeding your lover honey gives you good karma
Okay, I kind of made that up. But honey really is the most carbon-efficient sweetener you can eat. And, hey, using it creatively sounds like fun to me. Because we all need to support bees right now, because they’re dying off in massive numbers for some unknown reason. An environmental canary in the coalmine? Check out for more details. Don’t forget about the feeding your lover thing, though. Dr. Halpern would really approve.

Find out more about the conference at

Stay tuned for BarberQ in Napa. Fries worth the trip?