Magazine article The Spectator

Fantasy Food

Magazine article The Spectator

Fantasy Food

Article excerpt

BEFORE the thunderbolt struck, I too had the feeling that we were being overwhelmed by cooks and cooking, that there were a tad too many restaurant reviews and food articles in the Sunday broadsheets and weeklies, altogether too many celebrity chefs famously stirring their sauces.

Had the chattering classes lost their marbles when their principal food for chatter was food itself? Workaholic music millionaires and frenetic political commentators miraculously made time to reflect on this or that eatery. How long would it be before our revered PM himself was joining the 45 other television cooks and showing us all how to make risotto con funghi and bollito misto?

But, as I said, that feeling was before the thunderbolt struck. For me, entering the state of neutropenia as a leukaemic patient, food became a subject of huge and consuming interest - mainly because I couldn't eat most of it. When the chemotherapy given to a leukaemic patient blasts the white cells out of existence, that patient becomes neutropenic - in other words he or she no longer has a natural immune system; no way, therefore, of fighting the common cold or the tummy bug, or indeed any infection, without resorting to life-saving antibiotics. Food is full of bugs and bacteria friendly to the healthy person, but not to those of us languishing in Ward 5E.

So the rules were absolute and the temptations greatest when the patient was allowed home for a few days: no pink lamb or soft cheese, no prosciutto crudo or softboiled eggs, nothing from the delicatessen counter, everything to be vacuum-packed in small amounts, not a single lettuce leaf or raspberry or fresh herb in those three months of summer, not a squashy fig off the tree or a tomato off the vine or a plum freshly picked, just when they are all in their prime. In short, everything had to be cooked almost to extinction so that bugs and bacteria were no more. The dietician's explanatory leaflet called it `safe eating', but one could be forgiven sometimes, as one toyed with another plate of grey minced beef and overcooked cabbage, for thinking that safe eating meant boring eating.

In these new circs I soon became hooked on reading about food, and, yes, watching every one of those 45 television programmes of which Michel Roux complains so bitterly. …

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