This is review is less favourable than some others, but I think it’s worth linking to nonetheless.

Writing for the Manchester Salon - a discussion group based in the city that I’ve spoken at before - Richard Crawford seems to like some of my attempts at debunking food panics but believes that others are less satisfactory. It is certainly true that I’ve whizzed through a great deal of material, and that means that many of the subjects I cover only briefly and I simply endeavour to offer a counterpoint to the usual presentation of the problem, whether it is salt causing high blood pressure or meat causing cancer. Very often, there is some truth to health fears. My argument is that they are often grossly exaggerated.

Crawford also seems to think that I’ve posited an idea of a ‘food-campaigner complex’ and that this is a kind of ad hominem attack. I think that only captures one part of the explanation for why food is discussed in such problematic terms. What we have is a combination of politicians groping around for a sense of purpose, campaigners with a strong sense of knowing what’s best for us (some of whom have been co-opted, directly or indirectly, into government) demanding action, and a wider sense of fear and vulnerability in society at large that leaves us open to such interventions. He does at least credit me for posing the question of why there seem to be so many health panics.

He compares the book to others, like Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science. Well, it’s true that I don’t offer as neat takedowns as Goldacre on many topics. But that’s mainly because Goldacre shies away from anything remotely difficult or controversial, preferring to ridicule quacks rather than the problems with his own profession’s advice. What doctors tell patients and health experts tell viewers is far more dangerous and insidious - and harder to undermine - than the cranky outpourings of Gillian McKeith or Patrick Holford.

The real point of Panic on a Plate is to suggest a different attitude to food, one where we celebrate what we’ve achieved in recent years and take a more balanced approach to food fears.

Panic on a Plate review, Manchester Salon