An Open Letter to Anthony Warner, The Angry Chef by Dana Segal

Dear Anthony,

I've just read your article in the Guardian which reads both as a nice advert for your new book, and an advertorial for your employer Premier Foods. In 2015, Premier Foods generated £767 million. In the same year, the number of deaths from diabetes increased by 66% and 2.8 million people died from being overweight or obese.

I'm not a food blogger, I'm not a scientist, and I'm not trying to make money out of this. I'm what your employer likes to call a 'consumer', but I prefer the term 'human being'. I wanted to share my personal experience and respond to the article as someone who switched to a 'clean' diet 18 months ago as a mark of respect to my body, as an apology to the sentient beings I previously devoured because 'I needed protein', and as a quiet protest against mass consumerist, profit-hungry, health-starving companies like Premier Foods.

The main thing that unites all us clean, raw, vegan, plant-based, paleo, macro-biotic and GAPS foodies together, is that none of us want to look at a packet of food and see a long list of absolutely pointless synthetic gunk on the back. It's that simple.

Since I made that choice I have lost two and a half stone, I've been ill just three times (and recovered far quicker than I have in the past), and my heart-rate and stress levels have significantly reduced. I have experienced the positive effects of a fresh food diet. Have you ever tried it so you can feel the benefits yourself?

“I don’t think any of them are lying, they are just stuck in this strange world of false belief, which is fascinating. How can you look at NHS guidelines on how to eat healthily and go, ‘Well, I know better than that’? Maybe if you were a professor of dietetics or nutrition, you might disagree with some stuff. But how as a 19-year-old blogger you can look at it and go, ‘No, that’s wrong. This is right,’ I don’t know.

There are a few points I'd like to make about the above:

  • Why are you critisising people who you say 'aren't lying'? Are you under so much pressure to promote convenience food that you feel there is no space for any other approaches, lifestyles, diets etc? Why are you creating a binary choice between the convenience food you produce and all/any diet that uses fresh ingredients? 
  • Why should I take the NHS advice as an absolute? It was formed in 1948, whereas the Indian medicinal practice of Ayurveda was founded in 3300 BCE. Ayurveda essentially says the same as the NHS and you: eat a sensible and varied diet. The problem is that whilst you may personally understand what a 'sensible and varied diet' is, many people do not. Why? Because all they are confronted with to consume is the gunk you and your employer produce.
  • Despite my boyfriend being only a 35-year old normal person, he contacted the NHS with recommended scientifically researched corrections to their page about following a plant-based or vegan diet. Guess what? They amended the page. So they seem to be listening to us 'crazy clean eaters'. 
  • If a 19-year old food blogger has reached the same conclusions about their diet as a professor of nutrition, and say that professor is 83-year old T Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, then they should be supported and commended, not patronised. 
  • Interestingly, your degree makes you an expert in chemicals, not nutrition. That makes you well placed and experienced to do your job, which is synthesizing chemicals into food shaped compounds, not in giving me nutritional advice.
  • You can't criticise people trying to make an educated choice about what is in their food, because the people you are appealing to don't necessarily consciously choose to eat gunk. It's presented to them already inside the 'food' and makes them feel like they have no other choice. It's about deflection. You deflect attention away from what is actually in the gunk you produce with tag lines, colourful cartoons and endorsements. The 'Instagram Movement' attempts to show me the true colour, beauty and majesty of real, fresh ingredients that haven't been tampered with. Sure, that might come with a photo filter or two, but that is nowhere near as dishonest as the gunk you are producing and the imagery you use to promote it.

Take for example, this:

Please tell me, Anthony, has the palm oil inside my tin of custard been growing on the rolling hills of Devon for over 50 years? Or is it in fact, like so much palm oil, harvested from the vanishing rain forests of Indonesia?

I'm not sure my granny's custard used globally shipped palm fat from dying forests in the 'good old days'. Which brings me onto your point about home made food:

''Home-cooked food is always best
It’s linked to wanting women to get back into the kitchen: “Natural home-cooked meals are the only way to be healthy … Things were better before women went to work.” Underlying the demonisation of convenience food, there is a lot of misogyny. “Things were better in our grandmother’s day” – were they?''

This riled me beyond belief. Modern misogyny is not about trying to get women back in the kitchen. Modern misogyny is about the pressures on women to excel in their careers, have children, maintain a beautiful home, have a slamming body AND feed their family every night. When there's that much pressure on one woman's shoulders something has got to give, right? And you know what can really appeal? Using a pre-made gravy mix, getting custard out of the tin, or ready made cake slices... the convenience food you produce has been targeted at women since the 1950's. Now, women and men alike are reclaiming cooking, fresh ingredients and produce, and you don't like it. It's your living to avoid getting people to make everything fresh, from scratch. So don't pull out the misogyny card as a way to distract us from the financial interests of you and your employer.

In the spirit of evidence-based science, I'd like to do a comparative study of a Premier Food staple vs my inferior 'clean' version:

Oxo Vegatable Cube: Salt, Potato Starch, Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium 5'-Ribonucleotides), Flavourings (contain Celery), Palm Oil, Dried Glucose Syrup, Yeast Extract (contains Barley), Dried Tomato, Dried Herbs (Parley, Thyme, Bay), Sugar.

Dana's Vegetable Stock: Carrots, Celery, Onion, Fresh Herbs (Parsley, Bay Leaf), Dried Spices (Cumin, Turmeric), Rock Salt.

Why are there two types of sugars, E numbers and palm oil hiding in a humble 'stock cube'? How are people ever meant to control their sugar and fat intake if its hiding everywhere in the things you make? You are the ones who control people's intake, so stop putting the onus on them to do more, whilst actively selling them things that will make it more difficult. It's not convenient to be obese, or have diabetes. Going to the hospital, taking daily mediation, and in some cases having a leg amputated is an extremely difficult and traumatic way to live as a result of eating too much sugar and fat. Oxo cubes are only convenient for Premier Foods' bottom line.

You are not an angry blogger who happens to work for Premier Foods. You're a long term employee of Premier Foods, who happens to write a blog damming anything that doesn't favour your employer's business plan. You're an angry former chef. And you've made me feel like an angry human being. 

You've pitched yourself as this middle-of-the-road every-man who is a food scientist but also doesn't know everything about food. You can't just disarm people by saying you're always going to be accused of being a 'shill' for the food manufacturing industry. Of course people are going to point to that - it's what you dedicate your working life to. If you don't believe in what Premier Foods do, why do you go to work there everyday? 

You sound just like the tobacco executives of the 1960s, tirelessly peddling the benefit of smoking cigarettes as part of a healthy active lifestyle. You couldn't be more of a puppet for the commercial food industry if you tied your arms up with Cheesestrings.

I feel really saddened by the fact that you've chosen to use your knowledge, experience and position to put such a negative viewpoint out in the world, and to take down people who are trying to live more healthily, consciously and ethically, and helping others to do so. You've taken airtime away from those who are trying to curb the pending humanitarian epidemic of obesity. 

What would it be like if you worked with the 'clean eaters' to explore a healthier future in the work that you do? You said yourself we aren't lying, so why not find some common ground and help make the world a better place?

I would be absolutely delighted to invite you round for a freshly made, home cooked meal to continue the discussion. Get in touch and we'll fix a date. 

Yours sincerely, 

Dana