While the rest of the world is busy hailing the benefits of kefir and the risks associated with red meat, cigarettes, and alcohol, Spain is eyebrow-deep in pretty much every prohibited pleasure; everything immoral, and everything that makes you fat and gives you a heart attack or stroke. Spaniards not only derive immense pleasure from everything that nutritionists and the wellness crowd deride, they also deride immense pleasure in flouting all the rules.
From Madrid to the smallest Medieval village in Galicia, everyone smokes, eats and drinks without shame or guilt or fear. You’d be hard-pressed to find a table that doesn’t have hunk of morcilla blood sausage, an overflowing ashtray or an array or drained wine glasses and bottles. Spain is a cautionary tale for any Health Ministry; an affront to Michelle Obama’s healthy snacking campaign; a punch in the gut to Jamie Oliver. It’s also an enigma for doctors, researches, and fortune tellers, given that between what they eat during the day and what they do at night, just about every Spaniard should be dead and buried by now.
In Barcelona, organic groceries may be popping up like mushrooms, but they appear aimed exclusively at the foreign market, as suggested by a sign outside the a sensational restaurant in the Gracia neighborhood that reads “hipsters and vegetarians are not welcome.” But even the blond clientele of the organic grocers don’t take long to succumb to the pleasures of the (pig) flesh on offer in the city. Even the Danes soon become addicted to jamón Serrano and chorizo.
Spaniards, in any case, don’t look likely to give up their poisonous diets any time soon. And why should they? According to the World Health Organization, Spaniards are the third longest-lived people on earth, with a life expectancy of 82.8 years. (The Japanese live to be 83.7; the Swiss,83.4.) So, how does that little fact fit into the Granola Generation’s world view? Calling Brooklyn, Copenhagen and Berlin: It isn’t chorizo or jamón or cigarettes or gin and tonic or vermouth or morcilla or botifarra or chistorra that shorten our lives. So put that in your pipe and smoke it (ha!)
Perhaps the secret to Spaniards’ longevity is getting anger our right away so it doesn’t fester. They speak at shouting decibels, wash their dirty laundry in public, fight, argue, and make up. Those high-drama days seem to fill them with love, peace and light—leaving them utterly zen as they chain smoke, hammer back tintos de verano and close down the bar, which, by the way, only closed in the first place because an 82.8-year-old woman neighbor eventually called the cops. (Surely that neighbor is one of the hoards of 82.8-year-old women who go to the Mercado Santa Catarina everyday to buy a lovely slice of that jamón ibérico that just arrived from Salamanca.)