Magazine article The Spectator

Imperative Cooking: Gourmet Nutters

Magazine article The Spectator

Imperative Cooking: Gourmet Nutters

Article excerpt

WILL the new Food Standards Agency be hijacked by nutters? Can the ministers involved, Messrs Dobson, Rooker and Jowell and the academic whose report helped form the idea of the agency, Professor Philip James, maintain a firm line between serious concerns about food and the bizarre obsessions promoted by food cranks? They intend to put consumerists on the Agency as well as scientists. Are they aware that many of those who claim to speak for consumers simply speak for crank minorities? There is nothing wrong with food cranks, of course; their antics are highly amusing. But if the ministers naively let them join the Agency, it is they, the ministers, who will wind up with egg on their faces, which will also be amusing.

Food, for some odd reason, has always attracted more than its fair share of crackpots. Best known in the 19th century was Sylvester Graham, the `Peristaltic Persuader', who was against meat, coffee, tea, alcohol and the `solitary vice', which caused diabetes, jaundice, acne and bad teeth. He was a bran man. So was Dr John Harvey Kellogg, who advocated application of carbolic to the clitoris to allay excitement and circumcision without anaesthetic so that the pain would discourage vice. Graham's followers were mocked for their appearance: `Looking like a full-blown bladder after some of the air had leaked out, kinda wrinkled and rumpled like, and his eyes . . dim. He puts me in mind of a pair of kitchen tongs. All legs, shaft and head and no belly, a real gander-gutted creature, as hollow as a bamboo walking-cane and twice as yaller.' Dr Petr Skrabanek, from whose Death of Humane Medicine these examples are taken, shows the continuity in nutty food ravings from antique times to our own food fascists, the advocates of the 1,095 egg-sized potatos a year.

It is not lunacy to be a vegetarian, though you will miss the best dishes in the best cuisines in the world; it is manic to want to commandeer the might of the state to make everyone eat cardboard. Quite sensible people can dislike sweet things - I don't much care for them myself. One can even think, while remaining quite sane, that some children should eat fewer sweets. But it is barking to want Leviathan to engineer the entire population into eating no more than one and a half boiled sweets a week. Balanced minds can view the rise in the number of people gravely obese with some worry, but you have to have something missing to imagine state healthist propaganda is going to do anything to reverse it, especially since obesity has really taken off during the decade in which the propaganda has taken off. …

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