Food & Drink: Lies, damn lies and health statistics

YOU MAY have noticed that a large part of our information on food and health comes, these days, from statistics. In just one week, I have learnt - if I believe any of it - (a) that the price of pork in France is set weekly, by computer, (b) that 43 per cent of the French have their evening meal (not the main meal) with the television on, and (c) that smoking (reading the headlines, not the small print) takes 20 years off your life.

This is all passed off as 'information' and is supposed to be both useful and instructive: (a) tells me that while I am in France I am not going to get a cheaper pork chop by shopping around, and that the small producer with a few choice pigs is getting rooked, as usual, by the agribusiness combines; (b) tells me nothing I need to know, but arouses a certain curiosity, first because, French television being what it is, I cannot imagine what it is they watch, and second because it is my belief that all audience measurements in television and radio are purely mechanical: that is, they register the gloomy presence of the various boxes and the fact that they are on, not whether people are really watching or listening; and (c) tells me there are still messiahs out there trying to save us from ourselves by means of shock/horror headlines based on little evidence that has not been shown to be based on the pursuit of a predetermined conclusion.

These statistics are part of a general sociological bias, in which our behaviour as social animals is studied in rather loose form. Sociologists are great propagandists for their 'discipline'. Not having completed a 'social science' requirement at university (I found the field intellectually impoverished), I was asked to take an exam in lieu of the course, on which the first multiple-choice question ran something like this: 'The following disciplines most advance humanity: (a) sociology, (b) religion . . .' Anyway, you know what any sensible person would answer.

I think much of this field is bunkum, and that is as true of 'studies' of our food behaviour as of any other subject. People engaging in any activity are complex individuals and eating, or sharing food with others (eg, a meal), is a particularly complex subject. It is layered with historical connotations; it is richly layered culturally; it depends on our moods, our state of being; it varies daily; and for all these reasons one should eschew generalisations on one's food habits or those of others. The number of variables is too great to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.

I introduce this subject because I have lately wondered whatever happened to the glutton. I know gluttons exist. I have even known some, and on occasion been one, but they are not easy to find. A sort of opprobrium rests on the breed. Gluttons are ashamed to show their gluttony, and it has become a secret vice. I have no sociological insights to report on gluttony, a sphere that makes some therapists rich. I can, however, observe myself, since on two successive days this past week I have reached satiety and beyond. Why? I ask myself. As the two occasions were vastly different in nature (and as, begad, I ought to know better), most of my theories about my over-

indulgence were in conflict.

For instance, the first orgy - a vast paella offered me in the foothills of the Pyrenees by a kind reader of this column - was, I concluded, due to two factors: waiting and watching the dish cook for too long and a nervousness that overtakes me when I meet a dozen people I do not know. I have over-eaten (and drunk) at every conference I have ever been to; as if the engine of conversation would die without extreme stoking.

The second, among intimate friends, was a couscous prepared by their Moroccan maid, which was excellent. There, I think, the eating of several large helpings was meant to absorb an excellent gigondas and to keep up with the retired British doctor who kept us all vastly entertained. Also to flatter the cook?

The point is that I know, without sociology, what gorging is. It is a form of sin for which you pay right away. A statistic could be devised which would show that almost all of us have the occasional binge, but it would not be particularly informative. Grateful to be alive after a dodgy operation, I once demolished four dozen oysters and a great deal of Moet. In exceptional circumstances one may well do without prudence.

The glutton, of course, is a different beast: his excess is consistent; his digestion must be nonpareil; and if some celebrated cases are taken into account, his longevity is unaffected. The occasional pigger- out is different; he - I - will almost certainly suffer the consequences. But to follow the Spanish proverb that has pride of place in our kitchen, En la cama y en la mesa es inutil la verguenza - at table, as in bed, shame is of no use - I think we probably should not inquire too much, and certainly not pseudo- scientifically, into our food (or other) habits. They are ours, we are stuck with them, and they harm no one but ourselves. I have recovered from my double orgy, am grateful to my hosts for the opportunity, and do not like to think of myself as a statistic.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne celebrates after salvaging a point with the Southampton equaliser
footballAston Villa vs Southampton report
News
peopleJack Monroe accuses David Cameron of 'misty-eyed rhetoric'
News
Tana Ramsay gave evidence in a legal action in which her husband, Gordon, is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to “forge” his signature
peopleTana Ramsay said alleged discovery was 'extremely distressing'
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Windsor and Aljaz Skorjanec rehearse their same-sex dance together on Strictly Come Dancing
TV
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Group Financial Controller

    £50000 - £55000 per annum: Investigo: A growing group of top end restaurants l...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible