Book review: The Angry Chef

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Food writer Anthony Warner, also known as The Angry Chef on his blog, has written a book in which he debunks various detox diets and wellness fads. And boy-oh-boy, is it a good read.

Warner is an experienced chef and qualified biochemist as well as a prolific food writer, with a career spanning over 25 years in various commercial kitchens, who has a very obvious passionate love of food. He writes on his blog, “Insult anything you want about me – my looks, my wife, my children’s looks, my mother’s morality. Just don’t insult my cooking.”

The blog he writes is normally laden with profanities, especially when writing about advice from Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop.com, which amongst other things advises its readers to ‘steam their vaginas’ or drink water with bleach to lower Ph levels in their body. You can clearly see where his rage comes from here, I’m in complete agreement with him.

The book itself debunks many theories, such as the link between weight loss and not eating carbohydrates, and in it, he even invents his own fad diet based on few basic principles just to show readers how easy it is to invent a fad diet of your own.

Warner claims that the reason such diets are popular can be explained using a theory by psychologist Daniel Khaneman which claims humans are brilliant at creating a narrative from minimal evidence. And it’s around that, which most of the book centres.

The book brings up the problem that humans struggle with uncertainty, where we look for simple yes or no answers to problems in our lives. And it’s for this reason where many diets’ health claims are minimal in the evidence they offer to prove their efficacy, as there is very little of it.

Is there a link between sugar and cancer? We don’t know, can you lose weight by not eating carbohydrates which Warner says are an important food group? We don’t know. You get the drift…. There may be some evidence to suggest either way, but modern fad diets are normally backed by science which is either old (see Paleo Diet), or out of date. Science has moved on significantly since the 1800s.

But the book is bigger than that. Despite many opportunities to throw cheap shots at the Hemsley Sisters, or “Deliciously Ella” Mills, who could be seen as chief pseudo-science peddlers in our modern lives, there’s a bigger point that isn’t at all based in scientific studies of food, biological knowledge of the human body operates or even cooking.

What such celebrity chefs would have you believe is the fact that any time you eat something processed or from a factory, you’re essentially putting many toxins in your body which could cause it harm. As the saying goes, “If you’re grandma wouldn’t recognise it, you probably shouldn’t eat it.”

All of the above chefs encourage the use of coconut oil, a once cheap processed oil which has been reborn as a super-ingredient with miraculous, health-giving properties. The same goes for avocados, hemp seeds, quinoa……

But the problem is that with such lifestyles, undoubtedly comes a hefty price tag, and the resulting alienation of those who simply cannot afford to live in this way. And that nails the issue on the head in my opinion.

Warner says toasted bread is just one of the many ‘processed’ foods which are said to be harmful and filled with toxins. He comes across as reasoned and logical, as opposing to his sweary blog persona, when he asks whether or not this is good enough reason for people to stop eating bread, which when toasted and slathered with butter he hails as one of mankind’s greatest inventions.

Not only does such advice harbour disdain for the love of simple comfort foods – there is no evidence to show that there is a direct link between not eat carbohydrates. And even more annoyingly, if there really is a drive to want to want people to understand nutrition, food and what they are eating – which should lead to a healthier person – surely such alienation is going to push people away from food.

If we want to engage people on a level which speaks to them and encourages them to investigate the world of food and understand it better it’s clear we cannot continue to allow such celebrity chefs to be the purveyors of health advice in our modern world. And that I think is one of the key messages from the book.