Review Blog

Oct 25 2017

The angry chef: Bad science and the truth about healthy eating by Jay Rayner

cover image

One world, 2017. ISBN 9781786072160
(Age: 16+). Recommended. Diets. Nutrition. Scientific thinking. Jay Rayner is the angry chef - he is angry about the false claims and misconceptions peddled by the fad diet industry. He begins the book with the story of the Easter lapwing. He describes the spring-time discovery of hares often alongside scraped nests of colourful eggs - giving birth to the medieval myth of the Easter bunny. However the eggs had not been laid by the frolicking hares but by the elusive wetland bird, the lapwing. People were fooled by the correlation of hares and eggs and jumped to their own conclusions. It is human nature to see correlation and assume causation - overlooking the many possible confounding factors.
In his explose of fad diets, Ray presents many examples of mistaken beliefs and pseudo-science, examples of mischievous hares sat next to a pile of colourful eggs. He exposes the false science behind each diet: from gluten-free, alkaline, detox, sugar-free, carbohydrate-free, paleo, to the promotion of the wonder foods of coconut oil and antioxidants, the dangers of the facile ideas of clean eating, GAPS diet and cancer cures, the demonisation of processed foods, the simplistic concept of good vs bad food. He rants with anger at the false claims, the bullshit, and the fake gurus that people seem to blindly follow, but his anger is tempered with a good dose of humour that often made me laugh out loud.
And if there is anywhere to lay the blame for all this - it is our education system. Instead of teaching scientific facts, he argues that our science courses should be teaching the scientific method - the need to look for and respect evidence and an understanding of what constitutes proof. Science should teach children to doubt and to question, and to learn about concepts such as 'regression to the mean'. He says
'We should be trying to produce children who understand that correlation is not always causation, that anecdotes are not evidence, that a theory is not something dreamed up in a pub, and that interesting results are often wrong.'
If you are curious about the food theories, he lays it all bare, in an easy to read manner. I could imagine any of the chapters being taken as a case study for a science class to examine the theories and test the evidence. Rayner presents the statistics, the theories and the laughs, and above all he promotes guilt-free enjoyment of one of the great pleasures of life - food.
Helen Eddy

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