Angry Chef Anthony Warner directs his ire at alternative food facts and Gwyneth

by Virginia Larson / 04 February, 2018
Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow.

The Angry Chef, Anthony Warner, is mad as hell about pseudoscience, alternative food facts – and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Thank goodness for Anthony Warner. His irreverent, food fad-busting book, The Angry Chef, turned up at North & South the same day as a new hardback from Auckland blogger Eleanor Ozich (The Art of Simple: Recipes and Ideas for a Calmer Way of Life) and an overseas cookbook called Sweet Nourish: 80+ Recipes to Nourish Your Body and Soul.

Sweet Nourish’s author, Louise Keats, smiles winningly from the cover – yet another thin, pretty young woman among the wave of thin, pretty young women churning out food and wellness books and blogs. Keats is holding a jam torte – but it’s berry chia jam, and you can bet any other sugar in the recipe won’t be plain old white. (I check: she recommends brown, rapadura or coconut sugar, all of which fatten us up just as effectively as the white stuff.)

Ozich’s book is one you want to throw at some calming, cream-painted wall. Friends tell me she’s a good cook, but The Art of Simple is mostly new-agey bilge. Like this line from the first chapter “Wake”: “Morning self-care is a beautiful way to fill up your cup, and allows good feelings to overflow into the rest of your day.” There’s a chapter titled “Embrace Napkins”, which includes this pearl: “Once you fall into the habit of using napkins, you might find you simply can’t dine without them.” Gosh yes, all those good hot dinners turned down for want of a soft linen napkin.

Ozich is also young and pretty, of course; and it’s no surprise to find her torte recipe asks for coconut, rapadura or muscovado sugar – little of which seems to have ended up on her slender hips. 

Ozich and Keats’ books would annoy Warner, but the prime targets of his gimlet eye are the more dangerous “purveyors of pseudoscience… the huge and unrepentant tide of nutribollocks” that floods the internet and bookstores. (The cover of his book is a collection of kitchen knives, one firmly planted in a diet book. Fair to say, it sets the tone.)

Warner takes no detox or paleo prisoners in his excoriation of celebrity diet gurus and self-appointed nutrition experts. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow comes under special fire for the food-related faddism and fake science promoted on her website Goop (and with 1.8 million readers each month, it’s influential). A roam through Goop finds nonsense like “wild blueberries – only from Maine – draw heavy metals out of your brain tissue…” and a post that suggested bras might be linked to breast cancer, in part because they restrict the flow of “toxins” through the lymph nodes. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, has been recast as a superfood on Goop; the site also suggests it could be used as a mouthwash and sexual lubricant. Warner jokes: “Separately, I hope.”

Paltrow pops up again in The Angry Chef, alongside the likes of Victoria Beckham, Robbie Williams and Elle Macpherson, as one of the celebrity followers of the eminently debunkable “alkaline ash” diet. It promotes a regime based on increasing “good” alkalising foods and limiting “bad” acidifying foods, even though the human body cleverly maintains a number of varying pH states in different organs. Warner calls the “theories” underpinning the alkaline diet a “huge steaming pile of imaginary bullshit”.

Paltrow, like so many celebrity gurus, has no medical credentials – although she might argue neither does Warner. However, he studied biochemistry at a UK university and was a scientist before spending 25 years working in the food business. And while he blogs colourfully at angry-chef.com, he’s also a regular contributor to both New Scientist and the Guardian.

Warner knows too much sugar is bad for you. He knows there are people who really can’t eat gluten. He accepts that the science around food and health is complex. But he fears the “wellness lobby” is taking over, “relegating the opinions of nutritional scientists, dietitians and public health officials to the sidelines.

“[The food faddists’] books dominate the bestseller lists, their websites receive millions of hits and their Instagram accounts deliver endless pictures of kale smoothies and quinoa bowls to armies of adoring followers.”

The Angry Chef promises no secret to healthy eating, besides the “not too much or too little” message, getting a variety of foods into your diet (including some oily fish) – and trying not to feel guilty about every pleasurable mouthful: “The only diets that can harm your health are diets of restricted choice, lacking in variety and devoid of joy.”

This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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