Want to share in the secret of long life? Arise, light up - and tuck in

War has been declared on `Healthism' - the theology of the Nineties. David Aaronovitch eats caviar with the generals
Click to follow
The Independent Online
What would you expect from a new organisation called "Arise"? That it was a relaunch of Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party under a new, snappier moniker? Wrong. It involves scientists, medical folk and right-wing philosophers. So, perhaps, you might think, it's a self-help group for males suffering impotence; "Can't get it up? Arise!"

Wrong again, if closer. In fact it is an acronym for "Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment", who last night came together for a seminar and - more importantly - a dinner. Earlier some of Arise's luminaries had briefed 20 women's magazines and myself on the seriousness of their intentions. For the organisation has a real mission - to combat "Healthism", described in the press handout as " a new religion".

As Professor David Warburton, Head of Human Psychopharmacology at the University of Reading argued, Healthism (a particularly American disease) is apparently responsible for an explosion of guilt about pleasure. And guilt, as he pointed out, causes stress. And stress leads to death. Thus (I inferred) healthy living can only result in an unexpectedly early bath.

Professor Warburton had lots of very impressive charts and diagrams (with lines) to illustrate his thesis, involving endorphins, lymphocytes and decreased killer-cells. For a start there was the one showing that - under laboratory conditions - smokers enjoyed having a cigarette. Yet more new ground was broken with his findings on booze. At the bottom of one slide was the word "beer" with a line leading to "talkative, happy" and the words "fruit juice" connecting with "morose". Furthermore, in a study of 34 sufferers from senility, the substitution of lager for their usual cocoa had had dramatic effects on their communicativeness and cognition. Suddenly I wondered whether Gazza and pals knew something the rest of us did not.

Just as scientific, we were told, was the dinner that seminar participants would be enjoying.

It had been specially created by chef Albert Roux to exemplify the joys of guilt-free pleasure. The menu was circulated, each course explained thus: "Gourmandise au Chocolat. The practice of eating a sweet dish after a series of savoury dishes reflects our understanding of sensory specific satiety". And so on for the beef, scallops, souffle, foie gras, petits fours and aperitifs.

Greed? Excess? A load of self-indulgent middle-aged men troughing at the expense of (amongst others) Courvoisier, Dunhill Cigars, Nestle and J&B whisky? Not at all, said Dr Digby Anderson, who describes himself as a sociologist.

The sleek and tanned Dr Anderson seemed at first an odd choice for a seminar on "guilt-free pleasure". A regular contributor to the Daily Mail, he is the editor of a book devoted to the need to reintroduce shame and stigma into society, entitled This Will Hurt. Personally I have always suspected that he is a sociologist like I am a footballer; watching from the terrace, shouting expertise too often ignored by ignorant players and managers.

Clearly I underestimated the man. There were, he insisted, "good reasons for the meal", adding: "It is built on sound principles". It was not to be a swinish free-for-all, but a civilised occasion.

"Eating is a socially policed activity", he explained. One governed by useful rules and norms. I presume he believed that - unlike the activities of homosexuals and teenage lovers, of whom he so disapproves - he and his colleagues would be doing themselves and society good as they gratefully shovelled back the copious quantities of food and drink.

But (dreadful thought) what if he were wrong? What if, last night, at the end of this exquisite meal and an evening's delightful socially policed pontificating, Dr Anderson had been struck down on Park Lane with a massive coronary?

Where would be the pleasure in that?