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The Fast Supper

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“But they are such complete opposites,” April insists. “The focus of CR is health. Nobody here is trying to figure out how to eat less and disappear. The constant thought is, ‘How can I pack more nutrition into my calories?’—and that’s not something an anorexic is doing. Anorexia is slow suicide.”

It’s a heartening distinction, but I soon find myself wondering if there isn’t more truth to it than April herself, perhaps, realizes. For if anorexia is suicide, and the opposite of suicide is to fly from death, then what can its complete opposite be but to leave death behind completely? The quest for immortality doesn’t figure prominently in the official literature of the Calorie Restriction Society, to be sure, but it’s funny what people will get around to talking about toward the end of a good long meal, when the dessert plates stand empty and all the tamer topics have been worked through.

“Kurzweil thinks we will reach actuarial escape velocity pretty soon,” says Don. “What do you think, Michael?”

Michael pauses to collect his thoughts, and while he does, let’s fill in a blank or two. Ray Kurzweil is an occasionally best-selling futurist, given to flamboyant but well-researched predictions about the “transhumanist” century ahead of us, in which hyperbrainy artificial intelligence, fiendishly intricate nanorobotry, genome-twiddling Frankentech, and other incipient techno-marvels combine to reinvent humanity in the image of the machine. Swirling in the midst of it all is the key concept of “actuarial escape velocity,” a transhumanist term for that moment in the acceleration of biomedical progress when, for every year you live, technology adds another year or more to your maximum life span. It’s a tipping point that, theoretically at least, never stops tipping.

“I would like to hope 50 to 100 years,” says Michael, speaking carefully. He’s well aware what kind of weight that his day job, assisting the maverick life-extension theorist Aubrey de Grey, gives his words with people like Don. “Fifty to 100 years,” says Don, chewing thoughtfully on his lip. “That may be too late for me.”

“It may be too late for me,” says Michael. But the truth is, once you accept that actuarial escape velocity is out there waiting for you, a single point in time that marks the gates of immortality, it’s never too late to hope your life will intersect with it—and there isn’t much you wouldn’t do to minimize your chances of missing it by so much as a day. With stakes like that in play, even a lifetime of hunger seems a small price to pay.

And in the end, after the dishes are all cleared and Adam and I have waved good-bye to all my calorie-restricted dinner guests, it’s the adrenaline burst of that final proposition that still buzzes in me. The sure-bet benefits—the lowered risks of cancer, diabetes, heart attack, the very probable addition of several years’ peak performance to my sex life and my mental life—these all sweeten the pot, to be sure. But I’d be lying if I said it’s not the straight, long shot at immortality I have uppermost in my mind as I shut the door, walk back into the kitchen, and turn to Adam, one eyebrow raised, for confirmation that a calorie-restricted life might be worth living.

I’m just about sold myself. But Adam is an independent observer, his judgment far less likely to be compromised by traces of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and he has seen all he needs to see of CR. He’s heard the many arguments in favor of Calorie Restriction and the few that carry any weight against it; he’s met some of its smartest and most likable practitioners. He’s even tasted and declared “not bad” the best of its cuisine.

“So, whoa,” says Adam. “I have got to say that that was probably the blandest-tasting meal I’ve had since, like, ever.”

I’m confused. “But you said—”

“I was being nice.” An awkward silence reigns until at last Adam puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye, and says, “Dude. It was bad.”

Late in the morning on the first day after my dinner party, I awaken hungry, go downstairs, walk into the first McDonald’s I encounter, and consume, for breakfast, an entire Quarter Pounder with cheese and a 12-ounce chocolate triple-thick shake. Later, at the cocktail hour, I drink several Cuba Libres and eat cheese-laden canapés to my heart’s content. For dinner, I stop in at Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street and ingest one half of a two-inch-thick pastrami on rye, half a corned-beef sandwich just as massive, several pickled tomatoes, and a cream soda, and only after eating a slab of chocolate-coated Häagen-Dazs ice cream on a stick at bedtime do I begin to feel the first, light pangs of queasiness. For the first time in 63 days, I end the day without the slightest idea how many calories I ate or the least desire to know.


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