‘Moralists in lab coats’. It’s a nice phrase, from Rob Lyons of Spiked, who was the first to demolish yesterday’s claim by the Food Standards Agency that overcooked chips, browned and fluffed roast potatoes, crisps – and let’s not forget biscuits and cakes – ‘can give you cancer’. (And if you don’t trust Lyons, then check the science on the achingly right-on The Conversation.)
Of course, heads should roll for allowing public money to be spent promoting this sort of spurious nonsense. But one can’t help feeling that, when the FSA chief executive sees today’s press backlash – from the Telegraph’s Toast Liberation manifesto to Heat Street’s classist critique, he will buy the rationale from his Marketing Director, Grilling and Bakery: ‘But it’s getting people talking about the issues.’
We know what issues it gets us talking about: the erosion of trust in any public pronouncement being caused by this kind of misinformation. You would think someone in central government would get some grip – but because the myriad factions of the health lobby are all in together, no one will help, no one will break ranks.
No one will say: ‘I really need money for mental health care and you’re wasting it on PR about potatoes.’ Or: ‘You’re bringing the whole medical sector into disrepute with your endless cries of ‘Wolf!’ Or: ‘Without public confidence, none of us can do our work.’
The consequences of all this spin have been remarkable – and absurd – as the recent fuss over ‘clean eating’ has demonstrated. Thanks to the hysterical efforts of nutritionists’ PRs, people became so fearful of food that they were embracing expensive diets that were no better, if not worse, for their health.
It’s enough to make you sick.