If you want to make The Angry Chef live up to his name, just mention clean-eating or sugar-free – Anthony Warner talks to Melissa Blease about the myriad food messages all around us and challenges some of the pervading trends
The Angry Chef’s blog is not exactly bedtime reading for those of a delicate disposition. Take, for example, the philosophy at the core of his multiple tirades on the recent clean-eating trend (with profanities duly deleted):
“The demonisation of perfectly sensible food choices is ignorant, misguided and prejudicial.” Or, his perspective on the carnivore diet: “An utterly delusional, nutrient-deficient dietary fad, largely undertaken by inadequate, disaffected males attempting to live out caveman fantasies in the modern age.” His thoughts on sugar could hardly be described as sweet, either: “We attack supermarkets for selling cakes, yet rarely challenge their exploitative wages that leave millions of hardworking people
Now I’m not generally prone to bouts of extreme trepidation before an interview, but Anthony Warner – the real-life word-warrior behind the impassioned Angry Chef persona – is rattling the journalistic equivalent of my saucepan lids before we’ve even said hello. However…
“A lot of people assume that I’m as foul-mouthed and tempestuous in real life as I may appear to come across on my blog, but I’m generally not like that at all,” he says – in calm, gentle tones that completely belie his public image. “I created The Angry Chef in order to be heard in a world that sells us ideas, products, philosophies and beliefs, often in a disingenuous fashion. The anger is genuine, but in my real life I express that anger in a more socially acceptable way.”
Anthony has worked in the food industry for 25 years as a development chef for large restaurant groups and in product development for big-brand food manufacturers and retailers. But in 2015, he began a mission to fight back against – and expose – the “lies, pretensions and stupidity in the world of food,” bringing both his science background (he has BSc from
“a decent university”) and his passion for what and how we eat together on one fascinating menu.
“I became acutely aware that there was a lot of stuff around diet and the food industry in general appearing online, where a lot of emerging ‘food celebrities’ were attracting a great deal of attention,” he recalls, when asked about when The Angry Chef first donned his whites. “It was all very interesting, but when I looked closely, a lot of them were presenting some quite problematic, misinformed statements dressed up as fact. I initially created my blog in order to share my own opinions on the subject with a few friends and colleagues, but my message quickly resonated with a lot of people who were sick of being made to feel guilty about how they eat, or made to feel like they weren’t eating in an ‘acceptable’ way, or being told that what they ate was harmful, or stupid, or dangerous. I’ve always had an interest in pseudoscience and false beliefs, and why we hold them. But I’d never written anything before, and I certainly never expected what I wrote to become so popular.”
The relationship we have with food is very problematic, and often the way people are made to feel about eating makes life really difficult to navigate
Popular? Anthony’s work swiftly became the hottest dish of the day. Since instigating the blog, he’s published two hugely well-received books (The Truth About Fat: Why Obesity is Not that Simple, and The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, in 2017 and 2019 respectively, by Oneworld Publications) and has been cited in The Telegraph’s hit list of the 50 most powerful people in food. “It’s great that both the blog and the books are being recognised as significant or seen as providing a challenging and perhaps important narrative that the world of food writing has generally been missing,” he says, of his success. “But I’m much more interested in how widely the message can reach, from the food pages and out into the wider public domain. The relationship we have with food is very problematic, and often the way people are made to feel about eating makes life really difficult to navigate; there are so many ubiquitous messages out there, and we really need to be careful because vulnerable people can be seriously affected by that.
“In general, we accept it all far too much, not only from obscure corners of the internet but also from mainstream culture, and the way our bodies – particularly women’s bodies – are talked about. We’re being exposed to a diet culture that makes us feel bad about ourselves; you could say I’m fighting back against that culture, using facts.”
So does modern life in general make Anthony angry? “My biggest anger is caused by people who constantly hark back to a time in the past when they believe things were better, like the 1970s. I was alive in the 1970s and our diets were terrible: you couldn’t buy salad, kids stuffed their faces in sweet shops, we ate Crispy Pancakes washed down with bottles of Coca Cola for dinner. Today, supermarkets are packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, and fantastic fresh fish, and things that were never available to us even ten years ago, but suddenly current narratives such as Brexit ‘Taking Our Country Back’ or Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ are really popular. People who think that everything was better back in the day without actually looking at the evidence of what it was actually like back in the day; that’s what annoys me most.”
Looking forward, Anthony’s next book will raise big questions about the future of food. “There’s no chance that our diets will be the same in 2050 as they are today,” he says, rather ominously. “Dramatic changes must be made for a number of different reasons, largely because the way we eat now is just not sustainable for a growing world population. We talk about the impact of diet on health, but you can’t disentangle that from sustainability. The past hasn’t given us any clues as to how we’re going to feed 10 billion people on the agricultural land that we have now; we’re facing huge challenges.”
Fortunately for Anthony and, presumably, his friends, family and blood pressure (although he’d probably have a lot to say about the diet-related ‘causes’ of the latter) food brings him great happiness, too.
“A good day for me involves lots of time talking, thinking and writing about food, then cooking for my family or people that I want to be around. One really important thing that we forget about food, in our modern culture, is that it’s all about sharing it with people that we care about – those shared moments are when food really brings benefits to our health.”
All these topics and many more will be on the agenda when Anthony visits Bath this month, bringing his good friend and colleague Dr Giles Yeo – a pioneer in studies of the cause of obesity and the author of Gene Eating, published in 2018 – along to discuss, scrutinise and, more than likely, totally debunk the latest attention-grabbing food news.
“The event will appeal to anybody who has ever been confused by a news story about diet, health, nutrition or obesity, or is ever worried by those stories,” says Anthony. “Dr Giles and I will try to present the picture as it really is, cutting through the hype, the hyperbole and the ridiculous
guilt-ridden associations that people have with eating.”
The Angry Chef is cooking up a pretty cool food-world storm.
Anthony Warner will be speaking at The Science of Diets talk at The Bath Festival on 25 May, 10.45am at The Assembly Rooms.
The Angry Chef: angry-chef.com