There is a man who I work with whose sole purpose in life (apart from singing very loud and very high) is to say controversial things. For the purposes of this post, lets call him Frank. If I say black, Frank says white. If I vote remain he votes leave. Firstly, I would like to say that Frank isn’t a person I dislike. I actually have a bit of a soft spot for him. When work gets dull, it is exciting to anticipate which ridiculously controversial statement will come out of his mouth at the most inopportune moment. As controversial as Frank is, he creates a sense of camaraderie amongst his colleagues. It is nice to have someone at work who we can tut about and raise our eyes to heaven. During a particularly dull moment at work, I heard Frank discussing The Angry Chef with a colleague. Said colleague is forever trying new diets and eating fads. Atkins, gluten free, pale, clean eating. She has tried them all, presumably because none of them have provided her with the results she was needing. Frank was telling her very loudly that ‘diets were all bollocks. You should read this book and you’ll see.’
I have never been someone who has dieted. Not because I have the body of a goddess….I could definitely do with losing a bit of weight, but mainly because I love food. Interestingly, I work in an industry where how you look is important. No-one wants to stand on a stage in a costume you have been made to wear and feel hideous. The world of opera has often been associated with fat singers with horns on their heads. Although there definitely are overweight singers, it is important to singers to be healthy and to be able to move about the stage with ease. Gone are the days of stand and deliver performances. That being said, working anti social hours does lead to unhealthy eating habits. I always have a bag of haribo on my desk, and a quick sugar hit is the thing I usually crave. A lot of my colleagues are looking for that quick fix diet that will help them lose a bit of weight whilst maintaining the energy to do a demanding job. Warner speaks about how all these diets work on the assumption that if we make black and white choices regarding our diet then we can be in control of illness and obesity. He says companies work on the idea that ‘cancer. type-1 diabetes, mental-health issues, obesity and the common cold are all neatly blamed on the individual, all wrapped up in a neat package of self loathing, designed to inspire us to change our behaviour.’ The point Warner is making is that it is not that simple.
I decided to take Frank’s advice to see if it was all ‘a load of bollocks’ so I got the book out of the library. There is no denying Warner has the knives out. Indeed the cover of the book is emblazoned with knives and endorsements from respected cooks and chefs written on the blades:
Thank God for the outspoken, intelligent, well informed Anthony Warner. Someone had to say it (the Clean Gut cult is tosh) and he does – forcefully, amusingly and convincingly. Prue Leith
Anthony Warner is a professional chef and blogger. He has a degree in biochemistry from Manchester so he is qualified to debunk the ‘dangerous dumbfuckery that has come to dominate the discussion of food and health.’ I must admit, I often found the science bit in the first half of the book, difficult to follow. It often felt slightly like being back in chemistry class when we had a young, hip supply teacher in who used words like bollocks and fuck. Peppering chemistry with expletives still makes it chemistry in my book and it took me back to double chemistry last thing on Friday when I just wanted it to be over. Like double chemistry however, I persevered and although I’m sure a lot washed over my head some things did remain.
For me, Warner’s most important point is that diet companies play on the vulnerable. This resonates with me hugely. As a mother of two young daughters, I am terrified of my children hearing the latest ridiculous diet fad and thinking that because it is endorsed by a celebrity then that is the way to be beautiful. Indeed, it happened only the other morning. Having finally wrestled my 4 year old into her chair to eat her cheerios before school, my mother in law breezes in and tells me she has just read online that eating breakfast is bad for you. “Why mummy?” says Edith. “I don’t want to eat breakfast if it is going to make me fat.” Slow hand clap for Grandma and the idiot who put that on the internet. Worryingly, this exchange has an influence in my 4 year old and also my 65 year old MIL who is constantly on the quest for skinny. In my opinion this is where Warner’s book is so emphatic and utterly brilliant. He says:
These thoughts of toxicity, sickness and danger are driven by the media, by the diet books, clean-eating blogs, detox gurus, by sugar-shaming, fat-phobic bigots, selling us lies and ascribing morality to perfectly normal dietary choices. No food should be feared, no choices deemed ‘wrong’. We should be free to embrace the huge variety that the world of food has to offer us, not restricted in our choice based on the moral values and pretensions of others. The end goal of all eating should not be a good-looking Instagram shot. The pleasure of eating should be embraced for what it is: variety, joy, precious moments shared.
This book should be a must read. I am making it my mission to spread the word of the Angry Chef. Thank you Anthony Warner for this brilliant book and thank you to Frank for once saying something that I completely agree with. I am now off to buy this for my MIL.
Thanks for reading.