everybody got a gris gris

Years ago, on Showtime’s Penn & Teller Bullshit, Penn introduced me to the concept of a gris gris (pronounced gree gree). I’d never heard the term before. It refers to an idea that a person so wants to believe in that it may be next to impossible to get them to accept the idea is wrong. It was on the show demonstrating how recycling is bullshit that Penn talked about the gris gris and how everybody got one.

(Clarification 8/26/15: It was pointed out to me that a gris gris is a “talisman, a physical object.” This is true, if a minor quibble. The definition I lay out in the previous paragraph was from my memory of the show I mention. I have re-watched the program and what Penn says is as follows:

“A gris gris is a voodoo amulet, something you carry or wear to bring good luck and ward off bad vibes. We have a saying around Bullshit: Everybody got a gris gris. What we mean by that is everyone believes in some crazy thing they just can’t quite give up yet.”

It appears my memory was pretty good.)

As you may be aware, Penn has lost a lot of weight in a very short time. 105 pounds in about three to four months, to be somewhat close to exact. He and his co-hosts of his podcast Penn’s Sunday School had all gotten involved with trainer Ray Cronise and, with Cronise’s strict assistance, they all lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short amount of time.
Thin Penn. From People Magazine.
In fact, Penn’s next book will be, in large part, about this miracle weight loss and he recently had Ray Cronise as a guest on the podcast to discuss this amazing feat. My skeptical red flag kept waving as Cronise kept referring to one source as the innovator of this weight loss program. (Penn calls it a cult.) He kept talking about a Dr. Fuhrman and his book “Eat To Live”.

Now, one source for a weight loss program might be perfectly fine, but my red flag kept waving as I was reminded of the interview of cartoonist Neal Adams on The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe​. I forget the name, but Adams kept justifying his crackpot ideas (e.g. a hollow and expanding earth) to one specific scientist. A scientist who Adams believes has proven virtually all science disciplines to be wrong.

So, just today Derek Colanduno, host of Skepticality, linked to a blog taking Dr. Fuhrman to task on his seemingly crackpot ideas. Derek cryptically voiced his disappointment in a “prominent, well-known skeptic” who has bought into this “nonsense.” Judging by what I’ve written so far, I’m certain you can guess to whom I think Derek is referring. But, I could be wrong.
Here’s the blog post that Derek shared. It’s written by Adele Hite. Hite is a registered dietitian who holds a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In her post, she demonstrates how Fuhrman is wrong as she explains essentially that eating like giraffes, elephants, and gorillas makes sense… if you are a giraffe, an elephant, or a gorilla. (Kind of reminds me of when I heard someone say that socialism works just fine, if you’re an ant. But that’s politics, so I won’t mention it.) She also shoots down the idea the broccoli has more protein than steak, explains how it’s the essential amino acids we get from protein that we need in our diet, and that gorillas eat their own poop. (mmmmhhmm!)
Her post is a couple years old, so the information may have changed as science learns new things, but to this layperson (I’m also a cartoonist, but nearly as good as Neal Adams) what Hite has written and the sites she links to make sense. Penn’s amazing weight loss appears to be based on quackery. Sure, he’s lost the weight, but is he getting what his body needs?
To be fair to Penn, he has always been more than willing to admit when he’s wrong. He can change his mind when given good evidence on which to base that change. And he would probably have no problem admitting this just might be his gris gris.
After all, everybody got one.

One thought on “everybody got a gris gris

  1. I have been a huge fan of Penn’s for about 10 years now. And (although there’s a small niggling feeling that I might have outgrown him) I listen to PSS each week. As a fat guy I’ve been listening to the journey of Penns weight loss with keen interest. And for the most part I’ve been willing to give Penn the benefit of the doubt. I took the word “cult” as good natured ironic banter rather than “Yes I’ve actually joined a cult”. But last week Penn had Dr Furhman on his show. And I got REALLY uncomfortable. Now look I always say that you can’t argue with results and it’s entirely possible that Penn really needed a radical change in his diet. And it’s hard to also argue that eating more fruits, nuts, wholegrains, seeds and vegetables could be a bad thing. It’s also possible that he ate entirely too much sugar and fat. His diet may have been contributing to his high blood pressure. It’s possible that the diet that Penn now eats is a much healthier and moderate diet than the one he was eating. It also seems that the diet did indeed promote radical weight loss. I’m willing to give them all that. What made me uncomfortable was Dr Fuhrman making unbelievable statements that seemed to be completely unsubstantiated and without any stated supporting evidence from the scientific or medical community and having Penn only offer half-hearted resistance or in some cases no resistance at all.Some of the statements that I had an issue with were: Fuhrman stated that people do not live longer than we used to and the only reason for this belief is that infant mortality rates were mixed in with figures of adult mortality and the mean average was taken since infant mortality rates have dropped significantly in the last 100 years it looks like we live longer. Penn initially said “That can’t be true?” to this but essentially let it ride. I would dispute this strongly. Fuhrman stated that “If everyone ate his diet then 98% of cancers would disappear” this was humorously rebuffed at first but then once again not challenged as thoroughly as it needed to be. Both Cornice and Fuhrman agreed that meat was essentially a poison and that eating meat created a hormone that has been linked to cancer *citation needed. This went unchallenged. Unless “Ah!” is a challenge that I missed. Fuhrman stated that not eating a diet like he eats leads to DNA damage and complete cellular degradation as the organism aged. He stopped short of saying that his diet would allow you to live past 90 and that your hair would turn back from being grey to its original colour. OH WAIT no he didn’t. That’s exactly what he said. The whole bit about Doctor Oz made me uncomfortable too. I can’t be the only fan who found this whole thing difficult to swallow. (Pardon the pun). I know it’s important to kill your hero’s. But it seems that Penn is doing it to himself.

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