There have always been diet volumes and theyve always been stupid. But now they have added a moral dimension
Every Sunday in the centre of Brixton, a group of Afro-Caribbean women of a certain age, collect on Atlantic Road to sing lustily about Jesus while wearing big hats. As a diehard atheist I am meant to have no time for organised religion. But the fact is theyre not harming anyone and they look very happy indeed.
If merely all religions were so benign. If merely all religions were so cheerful. But they are not. Lately a new various kinds of religion has arisen; one engineered for a godless age and specifically designed to make its devotees feel worse about themselves more often than they feel better. Like all religions it is based on hocus-pocus, misdirection and hallucination. This new religion is called The Diet.
Yes of course diets have been around for centuries, promoted just as they are now through books. And for the most component they have always been stupid: the grapefruit diet, the red wine and steak diet, the kitten and stilton diet. I may have invented one of those. But generally the latter are functional. Do thing A and thing B and you are able to get outcome C. They didnt work because like, pyramid investment strategies, they never do.
What the modern diet volumes have that the previous plenty didnt is a moral dimension. They are not merely instruction manual. They are secular catechisms. There is an implication in these titles, written by young person with glossy hair and clear eyes who look like they guess their farts smell only of peaches and peppermint, that if you dont follow their plans you will not merely be fat. You will be bad. You will be a flawed person who through, absence of insight and moral fibre, has failed to reach their full potential in the way the authors have.
Well I wonder if I might be permitted to make a learned intervention into this noble discussion of the human spirit, by saying this: sod off! Actually, go forth. Find something else to do. Take up boxing; it may involve hurting people but at least there are rules. In saying this I am only adding my voice to a growing choir. The brilliant Ruby Tandoh lately examined the speciousness of some of the faux-scientific guessing underpinning various of these works. A new blogger called the Angry Chef has been laying waste in wonderfully forensic style to the flaws in dietary advisory opinions and a general failure to understand the social sciences of food and cook. And Nigella has had a stab at the use of the phrase Clean Eating. Food does not have a moral aspect. Only the people feeing it do.
But we need to go further and argue against one other component of all this: the use of remorse as if it were a weapon being wielded by a 14 th-century pope. I am often asked what my guilty food secret is. I respond that I dont have one. Because if I started feeling guilty, where would I stop? There are some foods that I like but which I know I shouldnt eat too much of and thats what I try to do. Guilt corrodes. Instead I go to the gym and watch what I eat, like any responsible adult. But I also make a point of enjoying what life has to offer. Food is just too much of a pleasure to be sullied by the idiocies of a bunch of swivel-eyed hucksters whose only real credential is the size of their Instagram following. Set that in your nutribullet and drink it.
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