On food, fashion, and el Bulli hero-worship

El Bulli closes today. Zoe Williams weighs in at The Guardian:

‘The sticking point is that art and fashion last, whereas food is evanescent. You think of great acts of creativity, and their value is tied up with what they left to posterity. There’s something unsettling about seeing so much effort, intellect and expertise, lavished upon something that you’re just about to eat. The higher the esteem in which you hold the chef, the more abashed you feel by your own role in the proceedings. It’s like going to an exhibition in which you demonstrated your appreciation by kicking the art off the walls. I saw an argument once between Marco Pierre White and the journalist Pete Clark – it would ill-behove me to call anybody drunk in this exchange, but they were, and they were having a fight about mushy peas. Pierre White said: “What’s your opinion, anyway? Tomorrow’s chip paper.” Clark replied: “And what’s your work going to look like tomorrow?”

The values of the old-school Michelin system, and the distended excellence that has grown in its wake, can all look like an elaborate disguise where the heightened refinement is there to distract you from the worldliness of food. You’ll eat it. You’ll digest it. You’ll expel it. And that will be that.’

On writing, and not writing

‘As soon it’s inevitable that a writer must begin their first word, it becomes (almost) equally and conflictingly inevitable that the writer must do something else really quickly before scribbling breaks out. … Tell you what, I’ll just go and make a fresh beverage, then I’ll get down to things properly. Absolutely. Of course I will.’

A lovely piece on procrastination by Al Kennedy (Guardian, 5 July 2011). Read it here.

Stanley Fish on the Uses of Literary Theory

From The Chronicle, 15 May 2011:

“You do this kind of work simply because it’s the kind of work that you like to do, and the moment you think you’re doing it to make either people or the world better, you’ve made a huge mistake. There’s no justification whatsoever for what we do except the pleasure of doing it and the possibility of introducing others to that pleasure. That’s it!”

Read the full essay here.

Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health (Book review)

From Science-Based Medicine, 1 February 2011:

‘Dr. H. Gilbert Welch has written a new book Over-diagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, with co-authors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin. It identifies a serious problem, debunks medical misconceptions and contains words of wisdom.

We are healthier, but we are increasingly being told we are sick. We are labeled with diagnoses that may not mean anything to our health. People used to go to the doctor when they were sick, and diagnoses were based on symptoms. Today diagnoses are increasingly made on the basis of detected abnormalities in people who have no symptoms and might never have developed them. Overdiagnosis constitutes one of the biggest problems in modern medicine. Welch explains why and calls for a new paradigm to correct the problem.’

Read the full review here.

The Case Against Health

by Richard Klein, The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 21, 2010:

‘In the United States, health has become a commodity and an industry. We spend vastly more than any other country on health care, and increasingly our health is our wealth. Even in our down economy, health-care spending continues to grow. In 2006, Americans spent about $35-billion on diets and diet services, in large part under the illusion that they were improving their health. Yet we consistently fall behind Britain, not to mention France, in every measure of public health. Some place American public health just ahead of that of Slovenia.

We may be nearing a point where institutions of public health and the commercial interests that surround it, including the media, do more harm than good to the nation’s health. The official version of health peddled by our current system is not only venal but potentially noxious. In some instances, public health has been transformed into a kind of iatric disease, a medically induced assault on the health of society. Our minders trumpet the obesity epidemic even as epidemiological evidence suggests that “yo-yo dieting” (repeatedly losing and regaining weight over a period of several years) actively damages the immune system. At any given time, it is estimated that 50 percent of all women are on diets, and 95 percent of all diets fail. The more we diet, the fatter we seem to become.’

Do yourself a favour and read the full essay here, and then get the book in which (a version of) it appears, here.

You could do yourself another favour by reading Joe Jackson’s excellent essay on smoking here.

Twitter saga with The Awful Poo Lady (#TAPL)

In case you missed it, here follow accounts of the fascinating saga that unfolded over the last few days involving nutrition-nazi Gillian McKeith (“PhD”), and Ben Goldacre (actual PhD, and author of Bad Science). (Short of long, @gm accused @bg of telling “lies” about her in his book. Read the chapter in question for yourself here). This is a story of the great value of social media over bad science.

From Jack of Kent, (a blog “mainly about the misuse and misrepresentation of Law”), “The Integrity and Honesty of @gillianmckeith”

From Cubik’s Rube, “The Awful Poo Lady Loses her Shit

From David Naylor, “Gillian McKeith vs. Ben Goldacre

From BoingBoing, “Pseudoscience’s “Awful Poo Lady” can’t flush twitterings

Thank you for not expressing yourself

by Theodore Dalrymple, New English Review, March 2010:

‘Not every devotee of reason is himself reasonable: that is a lesson that the convinced, indeed militant, atheist, Richard Dawkins, has recently learned. It would, perhaps, be an exaggeration to say that he has learned it the hard way, for what he has suffered hardly compares with, say, what foreign communists suffered when, exiling themselves to Moscow in the 1920s and 30s, they learnt the hard way that barbarism did not spring mainly, let alone only, from the profit motive; but he has nevertheless learned it by unpleasant experience.

He ran a website for people of like mind, but noticed that many of the comments that appeared on it were beside the point, either mere gossip or insult. So he announced that he was going to exercise a little control over what appeared on it – as was his right since it was, after all, his site. Censorship is not failing to publish something, it is forbidding something to be published, which is not at all the same thing, though the difference is sometimes ill-appreciated.’

Read more here.

Thoughts on televising the revolution

Talking about the surprising popular success in 1988 of a near-700 page book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500-2000, Francis Wheen cites the New Republic’s comment that ‘When a serious work of history with more than a 1000 footnotes starts selling in Stephen King-like quantities, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’ (you’ll find this in Wheen’s very amusing – and sometimes scary – How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, p.66).

Let’s edit that a bit and apply it to Jamie Oliver’s American “Food Revolution” for a near-perfect description of what’s going on – ‘When a smutty work of Reality TV about a very serious issue gets the world talking ad nauseum, you can be sure it has touched something in the public mood’.

The ambiguity of “something in the public mood” is apt too, because even the fast-talking public can’t seem to figure out what exactly the issue is. The series is about “fighting obesity”. But the gamut of responses gives the lie to the possibility that it is about any one thing, which is exactly what most commentators seem to miss.

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