Monday 21 August 2017

Meet Anthony Warner aka The Angry Chef who takes issue with food bloggers and self-proclaimed health gurus

You won't like me when I'm angry!… that's the warning from Anthony warner - aka The Angry Chef - to food bloggers and self-proclaimed health gurus promoting Fads over facts, writes katy McGuinness

Anthony Warner, aka The Angry Chef
Anthony Warner, aka The Angry Chef
Blog standard: Ella ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills Woodward, one of the healthy-eating bloggers The Angry Chef takes aim at
The Angry Chef, bad science and the truth about healthy eating by Anthony Warner, published by Oneworld

Move over, Lean in 15, LCHF, The Whole 30, LBD, GAPS, The 5:2, Paleo and every other diet that you've heard of - and perhaps tried - over the past few years.

The diet that everyone's going to be doing this time next year is the Karyotype Diet, and it promises to address health and weight issues on a long-term basis, with rules that are easy to follow and will soon become a way of life rather than a diet.

It goes like this: "It is based on the principle that the best way to eat is governed by our natural place in the food chain. As a species, humans have rapidly developed technologies that give them superiority over other forms of life, thus moving us beyond our natural positioning.

"For instance, we have developed different ways of catching many types of fish… and created guns and traps to hunt or snare a number of other creatures that would not have been available to our ancient ancestors. For this reason, we are regularly eating many species that we are not genetically predisposed to consume.

"How can we tell which of earth's creatures might make suitable foods for us? The answer is simple. It lies within our chromosomes… our natural place in the food chain is clearly defined by the number of chromosomes contained within our cell nucleus. Certain 'higher' animals and plants are unsuitable… because they occupy a place higher than us in the food chain… Eating them interferes with our meta- bolism at a deep molecular level and studies have shown that consuming large quantities of products made from these species can cause metabolic problems such as obesity and diabetes.

"Other 'lower' creatures or plants with a small number of chromosomes are more suitable, so if we stick to eating only these, our health and wellbeing will be dramatically improved. The lower the chromo- some number, the more appropriate the food. I have seen people lose weight after starting on this radical diet programme, as well as improve their general health, develop a natural glow, become full of vitality and have perfect shiny hair."

Blog standard: Ella ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills Woodward, one of the healthy-eating bloggers The Angry Chef takes aim at
Blog standard: Ella ‘Deliciously Ella’ Mills Woodward, one of the healthy-eating bloggers The Angry Chef takes aim at

Sounds like the answer, doesn't it? Who doesn't want to avoid metabolic problems and have a natural glow and perfect shiny hair?

Only problem is the foods that fit best with this theory are rice, snails, beans, cabbage, radish and kangaroo. Peas and barley are good, as are female Indian muntjac deer, and male jack jumper ants.

If you hadn't already guessed, the Karyotype Diet is a joke - one dreamt up by The Angry Chef, aka Anthony Warner, when he was out running one day. But it's scarcely any more bizarre than some of the other diets and theories around eating, popularised by a cohort of wellness advisers and bloggers, many of them with no qualifications in the sphere in which they write.

Warner, 44, is a British development chef working in the food industry for a large food manufacturer that makes grocery products such as pasta sauces, gravy granules, stock cubes and the like. Before he became a chef, he studied for a degree in biochemistry.

Warner has been blogging as The Angry Chef - initially anonymously - since 2015 and he has come to prominence in recent years with his no-holds-barred tirades against quackery and pseudoscience.

He has taken plenty of pops at the likes of the Hemsley sisters and Ella 'Deliciously Ella' Mills Woodward, challenging the 'facts' behind what food writer and restaurant critic Jay Rayner calls "food faddery, hack science, nutritional fakery and clean-eating cobblers".

Now he has written a book in which he does his best - using insights from psychiatrists, behavioural economists, food scientists and dietitians - to unravel why sensible, intelligent people are so easily taken in by the latest fads, and gives readers the tools to spot pseudoscience for themselves.

First, though, let's hear what he has to say about healthy food bloggers.

"The Angry Chef health blogger template goes like this: I was living my impossibly glamorous life as an INSERT GLAMOROUS OCCUPATION HERE at a hundred miles an hour, eating all sorts of junk and not caring what I put in my body. My health was really suffering. It was only when I started to take control of the food I was eating that my health improved. I started my INSERT NAME OF MADE-UP DIET PLAN HERE and it revolutionised my life. All my friends just begged me to share my recipes with them and that's how my blog was born."

Sound familiar? Yes, thought so. He goes on: "Why do all the successful health bloggers seem to come from glamorous, well-connected backgrounds? How come they all seem like ready-made new-media stars, all photogenic and tech-savvy? … I am sure that for every Insta-blogging star, there are a thousand other misguided clean eaters who have been through the same life-changing dietary health discovery. It is only the media-savvy photogenic ones with a good set of contacts that will be able to effectively project that discovery into the wider world."

Whatever the bloggers' claims about the health-related motivation behind their epiphanies, and the language in which these are couched, Warner believes that the restrictive diets and dysfunctional way of eating which they promote are linked by something much more straightforward, and that they are geared towards one thing and one thing only.

"In recent years," he says, "there has been a lot written about weight-related health issues. Anything that promises weight loss is accepted. There seems to be a real need to oversimplify, and it seems to me that a lot of what is being sold is hope, and that's disingenuous - the selling of a very easy solution when there isn't one."

Warner was one of the first to write about his dislike of the language of guilt, shame and stigma around food choices; he has since been echoed by many food writers, including the widely respected former Great British Bake Off contestant Ruby Tandoh.

"Generally, the Hemsley sisters ignore me, at least publicly," he says. "But within that community, it seems to me that there is a distancing from the rhetoric of clean eating. How much of that is to do with me, I don't know. I know that a lot of the people blogging and writing in the area have changed wording and removed stuff from their blogs.

"Yes, they have a role in encouraging people to eat more vegetables… but the current language seems to be towards 'just eat real food', which I find equally troubling. These days, it seems that 'fake' is the worst thing that you can be on social media. But what is 'fake food'? What does that even mean?

"There is real underlying snobbery. Is it just a way of selling more expensive ready meals from nicer shops? People on lower incomes can't afford those and they are harangued for not spending more time cooking and for spending their money on sugary things and soft drinks.

"Of course, too much of those things is bad, but for some people that's a pleasure in their life and I don't think we should take it away from them. A glass of wine on a Friday night is more middle class and more acceptable. Expensive ski holidays are risky for health too, but people aren't berated for taking those."

Joanna Blythman, investigative food journalist and author of Swallow This, a book about the "darkest secrets" of the food industry - is another writer who comes in for some flak from Warner. "Joanna is very intelligent and a good writer, but she slips into scaremongering and snobbishness and an irrational fear of chemicals in food with a lack of scientific understanding.

"Our bodies don't distinguish between where and how these chemicals are made; they are just chemical compounds. I'm not saying that the food industry is without fault, but there is an underlying and irrational fear of big business and of food made by corporations rather than artisan manufacturers, and a wanting to return to the past - a shaming of convenience as inherently a bad thing.

"But things were not always better in the past. Generally, our food supply is safer than it has ever been in history; everything is highly tested."

Warner has been vocal recently on the subject of ketogenic diets, about which there has been some controversy in Ireland. Claims made about the impact of such diets on cancer by nutritional therapist Patricia Daly were rubbished by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI), which stated that they had breached its code and should not be made until evidence is available to substantiate them. Domini Kemp, who co-authored The Ketogenic Kitchen with Ms Daly, rejected the ruling, saying that the ASAI was trying to silence emerging science that supports the diet.

"A lot of what is written sells on fear - of cancer, autism, auto-immune conditions," says Warner. "The anti-toxicity rhetoric around cancer is one example. Science is complicated, and quackery comes in because people want to believe what sounds simple and straightforward.

"The theory behind the ketogenic diet is that sugar feeds cancer. But cancer is very complicated: it is not one disease. There are many types and reasons why. Something that sells itself as a universal cure is very tempting.

"I am worried about it, and the more I look, the more it worries and concerns me. Every single serious researcher who has looked at it says that, at best, it's not effective and, at worst, it's harmful. It's potentially very dangerous."

But couldn't he, too, be wrong? Warner says that having a science degree means that he understands the extent of his own ignorance and takes a lot of trouble to get to the facts, do extensive research and frame everything he writes scientifically.

With so much contradictory information out there, and new food scares reported daily, has he come to any conclusions about what constitutes a healthy diet?

"I would not eat hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans-fats; they are really not good for you. There are not many of them around; they are not in many manufactured products any more, but some non-chain fast food restaurants, fried chicken shops and takeaways use them in their fryers.

"The best advice is not to eat the same food all the time.

"We are naturally omnivorous, and dietary patterns undoubtedly influence health. It's important not to damage our relationship with food.

"A varied diet with lots of vegetables and oily fish - that's as prescriptive as I could be."

The Angry Chef by Anthony Warner, published by Oneworld, is out now

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life