Why would anyone drink powdered protein? I just can’t stomach the idea

There's something grimly utilitarian about the protein drink

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The Independent Online

My attentions was snagged yesterday by a news item which told us that the market for protein drinks grew by 17.4 per cent over the course of last year. At first glance it strikes one as very much one of those stories that prompts the response “so what?” But 17.4 per cent is quite a large figure for that kind of thing, and my second thought, after “so what?” was “hang on”.

For protein shakes are, I gather, the kind of product that is consumed by people who have been on a three-day crystal meth binge, and yet who retain enough common sense to realise that they are going to have to consume some nutrition, but do not feel quite up to solids. So the explanation was surely that the nation had been turned on to the drug by watching the hit American series Breaking Bad, which, my children tell me, features crystal meth quite heavily; certainly more than my preferred law and order TV series, Heartbeat.

Although something of a libertarian in social matters, not even I can see the benefit to a society in which half the members are off their heads on methamphetamine. A rigid free-marketer who could direct the energy of methamphetamine addicts towards a productive activity, like delivering packages from Amazon, might see some good in this, but I suspect that it doesn’t work like that.

It then turned out I was barking up the wrong tree: this increased use of protein shakes has got nothing to do with prolonged drug use and everything to do with increased gym use, decreased free time,  and the perverse human propensity  to find a quicker, nastier way to do absolutely anything.

One shopper, interviewed in a branch of a well-known “health” food store, was quoted as saying: “None of us has enough protein because we mostly eat salads and sandwiches from Pret — we need more and this is one way of getting it.”

I’ll deal with these issues in order. First, the gym. Like Homer Simpson, I pronounce this with a hard “g” and to rhyme with “time”, to indicate mild derision. Why anyone would shell out good money to run on a treadmill or pump weights while exposed to the scorn of others when paved surfaces, stairs, and floors (for push-ups)  are not really that hard to find is beyond me. Here, the protein shakes are part  of a culture of narcissism that gym membership betokens; they’re about bodybuilding, really.


But it’s the way that people also drink these drinks as an actual food substitute that really is sad. The undernourished worker picking at her Pret salad during the fifteen-minute interval that now passes for a lunch break has my every sympathy. That she, or he, has to supplement their miserable diet by drinking something that, for all most of us know, is made from dried and ground-up worms, makes me weep.

I know we don’t all want, or can’t all have, oysters fresh from the sea if we feel the need of a protein hit, but isn’t there something grimly utilitarian about the protein drink?

I considered trying one of these protein shakes (although don’t let that “shakes”  fool you into thinking they’re fun, or indulgent) for the purposes of research for this article. Maybe they’re delicious. But I doubt it, rather. (That gag about dried, ground earthworms didn’t come from nowhere.) Also, I don’t know what I’d be putting inside me if I drank one. I’d feel happier, I realise, with a nice plate of  crystal meth. At least you know what you’re getting with that.


A chink appears in Paxman’s intellectual armour

I love University Challenge. Loads of my friends love University Challenge. We revel in Jeremy Paxman as questioner. Whoever gave him the gig deserves a medal. And yet, every so often the curtain is pulled aside, and we see the great magician of Oz as he really is: that is, not as clever as we think. It’s always about pronunciation.

This time he pronounced the surname of the great biographer of the Renaissance artists, Giorgio Vasari, with the accent on the first syllable; like “pessary”. He’s made the same mistake before; and he once insisted that there is a German word “heues”, meaning “new”, when the word on the card was a misprint for “neues”.

Not everyone, not even Paxo, can be expected to be omniscient. But no one on the set of the show, at least eight of whom at any one time are guaranteed to have been in tertiary education, picked him up on either mistake.

I suppose it is all very well correcting  him from the safety of a newspaper column. I did a little thought experiment in which I corrected him in person, eye to eye, and I began to understand why no one piped up. But still.