Food paranoia – feel free to ignore it…

The Guardian is bitching and whining – dear god, are they ever!** – about how unhealthy cheese can be, and why we should seek out healthier versions. Well, here’s a thought – no, we bloody shouldn’t! Because no normal person eats enough cheese to be at risk, and even if they did, metabolisms differ widely, as does any risk.




All from today’s paper.

Cheese – fatty, salty, cheese – is just the latest target of the food fascists – the people who would strip every last scintilla of pleasure from eating but, like their previous targets, processed meats, smoked meats and fish, sausages, butter, eggs, pickles,  – you name it, at some point some bugger will tell you it’s going to kill you – there isn’t a problem. For example, I’ve just laid in some very nice Long Clawson Stilton for Christmas. Stilton is notoriously salty and fatty but, here’s the thing, I don’t eat it every day, so it’s not going to harm me.

The fact is that no normal person eats these so-called dangerous foods in sufficient quantity to put themselves at risk. You would probably have to eat an insane amount of bacon, for example, before the potentially carcinogenic nitrites did you any harm. If, indeed, they ever did.

All these health panics so beloved of the Daily Mail are, all too often, simply half-arsed research, based on test populations that are far too small to return statistically valid results, or they’re based on studies involving force-feeding lab rats and mice the “suspect” food in entirely unnatural quantities, then spreading alarm and despondency  when – almost inevitably – they die.

For years I’ve been preserving chillies in olive oil. I mentioned this on Twitter on one occasion, and then had some bloody woman pounce on me saying I was going to die of botulism poisoning! Despite the fact that I obviously hadn’t!

In the Guardian, today, a commenter mentioned that they bottled their own antipasti in olive oil, only for someone to pop up and tell them they were at risk of botulism. This, despite the fact that Italians, for many years, probably for centuries, have produced the stuff in vast quantities, both domestically and commercially, and have conspicuously failed to die in noticeable numbers from botulism poisoning (their air-dried salamis carry a higher risk of botulism – no-one panics about that).

It’s a fact that, no matter what you do that’s food related, or what you eat, some bugger will pop out of the woodwork and tell you you’re going to die horribly.

Take me, for example. I love cheese, and for much of my working life I’d take cheese sandwiches (on buttered bread – oh, the horror!), for lunch. When out walking on Sundays, in the winter, I’d be sustained by a slab of fruitcake, sliced and interleaved with butter – high-energy food, low weight. In 1996, when I had an angiogram, despite having eaten a a typical, and allegedly unhealthy, diet for most of my life, my arteries were pristine.

And what does that prove? It proves you simply cannot generalise about what is or is not unhealthy, and some people metabolise fats better than others.

It’s a fact that pretty much all the unhealthy foods that, according to the Mail, all too frequently, are going to turn on us and kill us, are perfectly safe eaten in moderation. Take salt. It’s a given that salt is best avoided if you have heart problems, but I have only one meal a day, so I don’t bother worrying about salt because my consumption is far less than the norm for people who eat three meals a day.  If I, too, ate three meals, then I might have cause to worry. But I don’t.

The same with bacon. The salt and nitrites** are claimed to be potentially lethal, but I could count the number of times a year I eat bacon on my fingers, and still have a few left over, so my risk is vanishingly small.

**Sodium nitrite gives bacon and ham its traditional pink colour.

Some years ago, there was a coffee scare – drink coffee, and you might as well order your coffin with your espresso. When examined closely, though, the data referred solely to a small population somewhere in rural Scandinavia who routinely put ground coffee in a saucepan, with water, and let it boil for hours, extracting a whole range of undesirable chemicals that people who drank normally-made coffee would never even encounter (in an espresso, for example, the water is in contact with the ground coffee for just a few seconds). Didn’t stop papers like the Mail running horror stories about it, though.

Traditionally-smoked fish – which is to say fish that’s been brined and hung in a smokehouse, not just dunked in a bucket of dye and pretend smoke flavour – has been claimed to contain potentially life-threatening toxins but who, really, eats smoked fish in sufficient quantity to be at risk?

What the Guardian, and all the other dreary, killjoy, alarmists completely ignore is that people simply don’t eat enough of the suspect foods to be in any danger – moderation and variety take care of the problem.

Doubtless, there is still a small population of upper-clarss numpties insisting on kippers for breakfast every day, along with their bacon and eggs, but I haven’t seen any headlines screaming “Lord Numbnuts of Moronshire dies of kipper poisoning!”. And that’s mainly because people aren’t lab rats, and they don’t, as the unfortunate  rodents are forced to do, eat ONLY kippers, or anything else, until they expire.

And, by the way, my pickled eggs are excellent, thanks for asking. 😉 And later today I shall be starting the first phase of curing my own Spanish panceta, which I am quite confident isn’t going to waylay me with botulism, further down the line.

Mind how you go…


5 thoughts on “Food paranoia – feel free to ignore it…

  1. I have never taken any notice of what the media say about foods that can “harm you” – if I did I’d have died of starvation by now! I find the worse thing to take is tablets – as you know yourself Ron – it’s all the side affects that are the big problems. I have put on loads of weight, due to a lot of inactivity with my disabilities – but also with the drugs I am on. The steroids in the inhalers, the different drugs that involve weight gain and the drugs that cause my ulcer to flare up but I can’t stop taking them or the pain would be indescribable – and then the drugs to help with the ulcer that also give side affects. I hardly eat anyway so no food is going to kill me – just make my stomach bad and them foods I avoid anyway.

    • The devil, as always, is in the detail and, with food scares, almost no-one looks beyond the sensationalist journalism to find the truth – which is almost always different.

      The Chinese, allegedly, have a proverb “Enquire three times about everything”. Whether it’s true about the Chinese or not, it’s a very good policy, especially online where there’s so much rubbish.

      If I’m researching something for a blog post, especially if it’s medical, I’ll go to Wikipedia first, as they almost always cite their sources, so I can chase down the original research. Even if I can’t get the full paper, there’s always an abstract available free of charge which sums up the aims and the the conclusions.

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  3. You are so right, especially on the unreliability of studies and the inaccurate reporting by tabloids, of which the Daily Mail is the worst offender. Like you, I find the actual study if I’m really curious, and read the abstract, which is usually much more restrained. For cancer, there’s a great American website ( that analyzes new studies and gives an expert’s opinion.
    We are surely omnivores and can handle most foods in moderation. Apart from grapefruit, for some strange reason, which interferes with quite a few meds.
    Good luck with your panceta!

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