FOOD / Eat up, prune face: People on silly diets succumb to binges right afterwards: having been ever so virtuous, they find 'sin' doubly pleasureful

In case you have not heard, a lady called Faith Plotkin (now known as Faith Popcorn) is pretty big among the moguls of corporate America. Members of this cohort have the greatest difficulty in thinking for themselves. They are forever hiring gurus and jargonists, going on retreats, doing tacky feely sessions and generally sucking their psychological thumbs in search of new faith in themselves and a defence against the sheer boredom of saying their Brand X is better than somebody else's Brand Y.

But Faith Popcorn is a futurist, and for once she has come up with something that I know is dead right. This is Pleasure Revenge. 'Consumers,' she says, 'are having a secret bacchanal, and it will soon erupt big-time. Drinking, smoking, buying furs, eating butter, not running . . . Why the big change? We're mad as hell.'

Well, that's logic, isn't it? Tell people long enough they should not do something, really get on their nerves, spend their own money on trying to brainwash them, bore them to death with health as though that was all there was to life, and you are going to get what is coming to you. For instance, more kids are going to start smoking cigarettes, getting blind drunk, filling up on chocolate, eating chips, trying a joint, right? Stands to reason. Who wants to be perfect?

I know Faith is right because I am sort of super-resistant to authority myself. I do not like being told I cannot kill myself the way I want or that my life belongs to a wise, prudent, caring government (if such a thing exists). In matters of food, I have been in that corner for seven years now, doing righteous battle for common sense while surrounded by sterile acres of print telling me about the Peril of the Week.

I was, however, recently compelled to self-examination when I completed a dietary survey for a group investigating colonic cancers. They wanted to know everything I had been eating over the past few years, how often and how much, while curiously omitting salt, pepper and all herbs and condiments (how can they be sure rosemary is not carcinogenic?).

The breakfast part was revealing in that the only options offered on the form were breakfast cereals, breads, eggs and bacon. (What? No goose liver, no creamed salt beef, no bloater?) This was simple enough. I don't touch milk or cereals. I do, however, eat bacon, which in America is fat of the fat. (Bacon proper is called 'Canadian' bacon and actually contains a little meat.)

Well, God knows, eating American bacon (the congealed fat from five rashers will coat a frying pan to 3mm) is probably not especially good for you. But still I eat it sometimes. I eat eggs sometimes. I eat almost everything sometimes. I eat what I feel like eating, just about always. Cream, beef, caviare, goose liver and all sorts of other goodies. The moment of epiphany in this survey came with the realisation that the Food Police always refer to everything as though so much as touching a slice of fried bacon ('grill your bacon' say all the guides) will result in an instant heart attack.

It is this absolutist, unmeasured quality, of course, that renders Pleasure Revenge such a sure thing. People on silly diets succumb to binges right afterwards: having been ever so virtuous, they find 'sin' doubly pleasureful. The trouble with all such governmental diktats is that the Man on the Clapham Omnibus knows in his heart of hearts that they are gross over-simplifications.

Having completed the survey, which showed me that I ate almost everything on the list at one time or another, I concluded that one of the biggest scientific failings of our time is the inability to distinguish between use and abuse. If X got up every morning and ate fried bread, bacon in quantity and two eggs; if he always had hamburgers and French fries for lunch, and a dinner of fried fish fingers and more chips; then I would say he faced a health risk. And no doubt there are people around like X whose doctors should tell them to vary their diets.

But few of us are like X, although the Food Fascists and Government Health-Warners (Cassandras) talk to us as though we were. The concept of the Sin-Tax derives from that very absolutism. But sins (adultery, murder, envy) refer to behaviour that can corrode the soul, destroy civil society and corrupt the relations of like with like. Our food misdemeanours, like our occasional vices, are not in the same class.

I object to the banalisation of major crimes by the increasing prohibition of minor vices, and to the often fraudulent science which sets out to support public prohibitions rather than seeking out the truth. I will always vote for the Enjoyer over the Prune Face, and certainly for the first brave character who urges that we begin to engage in the serious study of Pleasure and its role in our life.

The guest at your (I hope richly laden) table who twitters, 'Ooh, I shouldn't eat this, but I simply can't resist', is a neo-Pleasure Revenger. The good things in life, which are many, varied and not all good for you, are in Nature for our delectation. Sometimes. Not every day. The Garden of Eden was supposedly nought but pleasure. That is what drove Adam and Eve out.

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