Anthony Warner’s The Angry Chef has its origins in his science blog of the same name: a site dedicated to the sweary, rage-filled mythbusting of fad diets and food-related pseudoscience. This book, subtitled, clickbait-ily, “Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating”, is more of the same: a look at some of the most harmful and ill-founded modern diets, from GAPS to paleo, an examination of a few of the most pervasive myths about food (“evil sugar” features prominently), a handy guide to spotting bullshit in the world of food and a hard-hitting conclusion discussing some of the abuses perpetrated in the name of food pseudoscience. Young autistic children being put on heavily restricted diets in the hope they’ll be “cured”; cancer patients turning away from Western medicine, only to die in agony having put their trust in unscientific diets; these, Warner argues, are the eventual end point of the detox salad you choose for lunch.
Which seems a slight exaggeration, and indeed that’s the biggest flaw in the book. Warner isn’t a scientist – in fact he’s a development chef, which I’ll get to in a minute – but his whole schtick revolves around the Power of Science, and particularly of the scientific method. The pseudonymous Captain Science (who I believe is a real scientist who doesn’t want her name splashed all over the internet) is a regular visitor to his blog, supplying neat precis of scientific papers – an approach that’s carried over into the book, which is meticulously referenced. Warner also covers common psychological fallacies like regression to the mean, confirmation bias and mistaking correlation for causation – all things the scientific method can protect us from. In other words, a lot of the material in this book is valuable and well-sourced; it’s just a few eyebrow-raising arguments that let it down. Such as Warner’s assertion that looking down on convenience food is sexist, because convenience food has freed women in particular from hours of labour preparing meals from scratch.
There’s a good point in there somewhere. It’s true that, pre-convenience food, people spent A Lot of time preserving, baking, boiling, salting, chopping, pickling, churning and generally making sure their households had enough food throughout the year. And that those people were mostly women. It’s also true that convenience food has made many, many people’s lives easier and more viable: pre-chopped vegetables and ready meals are lifesavers for disabled people, people working three jobs so they can feed their families, carers, busy professionals and the like. But none of this addresses the actual problem at hand, which is that convenience food – by which I mean Dolmio’s sauces, ready meals, supermarket cakes and the like, not relatively innocuous things like tinned tomatoes and diced carrots – generally contains vast amounts of fat and salt and sugar, all of which have been shown to be bad for you in large quantities, and all of which are addictive when they’re present in large quantities, especially together. No, demonising convenience food is not the answer. But saying it’s specifically sexist to do so is a distraction.
A distraction from what? This is where Warner’s own biases come in. You’d think the answer to making convenience foods healthier and better for the people who rely on them would be to regulate the food industry. As a development chef working for a large food manufacturer (presumably looking at ways to make convenience foods more delicious and more addictive), this would, I suppose, make Warner’s life a bit more difficult. So: sexism!
I dwell on this example not because it’s a hugely important part of Warner’s argument (his general stance is that people should feel free to enjoy food without guilt or unnecessary restriction, which I am in wholehearted agreement with) but because it’s representative of the book’s overall pro-industry bias and the odd leaps of logic Warner tends to take when he’s straying outside the realms of scientific evidence. It is not by any means a bad book: I’d recommend it to anyone who likes food unashamedly, and anyone who’s thinking about dipping a toe in the dieting pool. If you’ve already a reader of the Angry Chef blog, though, I don’t think you’ll find anything new here.