Anthony Warner on the science of fat [transcription]
Read the full transcript of our Science Focus Podcast interview with Anthony Warner about why we need fat and what we can do to stay healthy - listen to the full episode at the bottom of the page.
Amy Barrett: So, The Truth About Fat. That’s your new book. Can you tell me about it and tell me what inspired you to write it?
Anthony Warner: OK, you know, my writing generally derives from a blog that I started a few years go, which is called The Angry Chef, which is about, sort of misinformation and lies and sort of, you know, assumptions and pretensions in the world of food. And the reasons why we get so much stuff wrong when it comes to food science and food generally. There’s so many false beliefs and misinterpretations of scientific evidence and that sort of thing within the world of food. And you know, this stuff started to frustrate me.
When I first started writing the blog, I sort of identified three areas which I found were the most prevalent source of misinformation. One was about sort of fad diets, you know, of false believes about food and health. You know, the sort of overinterpretation of you know, this food is medicine sort of narrative which is very popular these days, and I felt so much of that was, there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of reasons way, but there’s a lot of misinformation about detox diets and that sort of thing.
And then the second area was really the obesity epidemic, which I feel is, you know, obviously sort of a massive part of public discussion and public consciousness. You know, it’s incredibly prevalent when anyone’s talking about food and the food environment. But I also feel there’s an enormous amount that we get wrong.
And actually, as I started to look into it, when I was writing the blog, first of all, I realised that even I was getting enormous amount of stuff wrong, not really understanding the science, sort of falling back on folk beliefs and things that just felt right, which didn’t actually match up with you know, what the science was telling us and what the leading scientists were telling us.
And you know, I started to realise what a massive area this was, and how there was, just there was very much a book in this, in how we’re getting stuff wrong, and the damage that those mistakes and false beliefs are causing to people.
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And you know, I felt that was something that should be written about, because there’s so much written about obesity, and the obesity epidemic and the problems that causes, but so much of it is being used to sell us stuff and to make us feel guilty and to sell political visions as well.
So, you know, I felt that it was good to strip all that back and look at the science behind, you know, weight gain and why people are different weights, and really look at, investigate all the, because basically, there were lots of very, very simple explanations that people give for obesity.
And, you know, the reality is, it’s a very complex problem, and it was kind of explaining that it’s not simple, and when people are trying to over-simplify it, they usually, in fact, they’re almost always trying to sell you something.
And so that was, you know, that was really the drive. I suppose the real drive, the real passion behind it is that when we are getting this stuff wrong, it’s not benign. It is extremely harmful for large numbers of people. It does cause people a lot of hurt, and it causes people a lot of illness, and it causes people a lot of distress, and makes people’s lives, a lot of people’s lives fairly miserable, and I think that was something that really needed, you know, we’re not talking about enough because, you know, because something must be done, sort of thing.
AM: You’ve mentioned the obesity epidemic. I wonder if you just could talk about how fat actually are we as a population.
AW: You know, one of my chapters, OK, so, it depends what you mean. I mean, what is, I think you have to strip it back, and with all of us, you just have to strip it back, because you see this data and this information, and I can’t remember the exact statistics, but let’s say, one in, I think that’s right, one in three people roughly are considered obese in the UK, and probably slightly more in the US. And I think probably over 50 per cent, probably around 60 per cent are considered overweight.
You know, which is, it seems quite extraordinary. And I guess is quite extraordinary. But then, you have to sort of strip that back and say, ‘What does that actually mean?’
And what does that mean is, what is obesity? Obesity is when people have a BMI of over 30 and being overweight is when people have a BMI of over 25. And you know, why are those numbers? Well, the reasons they are those numbers is because, you know, they’re nice round numbers which are easy to remember, you know, and the consequences of crossing from, you know, BMI of 24.9 to a BMI of 25.1, which is a very tiny amount of weight gain, the same amount of weight that you probably gain during a single day, you know, you sort of cross over into having an illness, I suppose. A lot of people would like to classify it as that. Which is, it’s sort of strange.
And that’s not to say that, you know, there aren’t health consequences of carrying around some excess weight, but the actual definitions that we’re using to statistically analyse populations are problematic in many ways, and because they are pretty arbitrary. There’s just this single crossover.
Rather than looking at an individual and say, ‘Are they over, do they have a lot of excess weight? A lot of excess fat? Because plenty of people can be that BMI of 30 or 25 or whatever and be perfectly healthy.
And you know, there are correlations. There’s no denying that there are correlations between having a high BMI and having certain medical conditions. Things like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, you know, certain types of cancer. There’s no doubt that the correlation is there.
And there’s some evidence that in some of those things, there might be the actual carrying around that excess weight might actually be, you know, causing that thing, but that data is not particularly sound for many of those things.
So, there is a correlation there, but one of the things that obviously runs trough all my writing is you know, sometimes correlation is not always causation. Not always, just become someone, populations of people who have a high BMI have associations with certain illnesses doesn’t always mean that one thing causes the other.
There might be confounding factors, and actually, there might be, you know, even the direction of causality might be the other way, which people sort of think is a slightly odd thing to say, but, you know, there’s plenty of evidence that our societal attitudes to people with higher weight because, actually cause a lot of the problems.
You know, because people are living in what is essentially a marginalised body, and they’re subject to an enormous amount of stress and have lower life chances and all these things, and so, you know, that might end up causing a lot of the problems associated with, I don’t know, like stress and cardiovascular disease and might actually be cause.
So, I think we have to be very careful in interpreting it. There is evidence that we have a lot of people carrying around what is considered to be an excess weight based on this arbitrary classification system, but there’s not an awful lot of evidence that that has such a direct relationship as we always assume with their health.
For instance, in terms of mortality, being overweight, certainly as you get older, being overweight isn’t generally associated with a lower chance of dying, you know, and actually, the ideal, certainly as you age, as you get to 50-60, the best BMI to have to avoid mortality is kind of to be slightly increasing every year, and probably in some cases, between 25-30. That gives you the lowest sort of mortality.
And that data has been there for quite a long time. But we have this idea that there’s a certain aesthetic that people should be achieving, and a really inherent belief that people achieving that aesthetic, which is a societally defined aesthetic, mostly from models and Hollywood movie stars probably, the way people should look and the BMI that they should be in order to look that way and we kind of automatically assume that that’s the healthiest someone’s going to be if they’re that BMI, and there’s no, there’s no good reason for that. There’s some good reason for association, but the reality is, for many people, this obsession that that BMI is the sole marker of health is not actually that helpful.
Because it can [unclear] people some strange ways of losing weight, and people can end up taking weight loss drugs, amphetamines basically, you know, or end up on ridiculous, extreme diets or end up starving themselves, and lots of behaviours that aren’t healthy in order to get to the BMI, because that’s considered the sole thing that defines how healthy you are.
AB: So, is BMI ever a useful measure, or should we scrap that and look at something else?
AW: I think it was, it has some use in looking at populations. And when it was, the guy who derived it as the way of measuring people said that it should never be used as an individual measure; it’s just useful for studying populations, and there’s some association between BMI and the amount of weight.
So, if you want to know how much excess fat a population is carrying around generally, if you look at BMI, it can give you a pretty good indication that that, you know, of where you are. But from an individual, it’s so variable, depending on an individual’s build and depending on ethnic group and depending on sex and depending on all sorts of really important factors which can affect the relationship between health and BMI and body fat.
You know, and the classic example is England rugby forwards probably all are considered obese in terms of their BMI, but you know, you probably wouldn’t say they’re, you know, all need to lose a load of weight.
And so it’s not a useful, there’s some association, but it’s not useful as an individual marker of health, and I think it is problematic to look at people, individuals and say, measure their BMI and think that tells you something about their health. You need to look at that individual.
There are, there are some better markers. The waist to height ratios is used by some medical professionals as a more useful measure. And actually, just physical observation and spending a bit of time with an individual and looking at them and seeing how healthy they are is far better.
But obviously, you know, it’s easier to get measurements of BMI. That’s the problem with it. That’ why it’s so popular, is because it’s very easy to do. You can weigh people and measure their height, and even with patients who can’t stand, you can measure their arm, their, I can’t remember what it’s called, but stretch their arms out; that’s roughly their height, and you measure that so you can compare them and you can weigh them sat down.
So, you know, even on infirm patients who have trouble standing, it’s very easy to get a BMI measurement, but some sort of height to waist circumference ratios and more involved physical examinations might be a little bit, a little bit more difficult.
But what you get is these ridiculous, you know, these ridiculous situations where people are, you know, people’s BMIs, especially, there’s been a lot of, there’s even more troubling problems with children’s measurements, childhood BMI, because that’s not even, that’s a more complex way of measuring based on historical data, usually, and population averages, because children grow at different rates, and I wouldn’t even expect children to have, this is not, adult and child BMIs are not equivalent, because children are a different shape, essentially.
And so, you work on population averages from a certain point in history and whether someone, so basically, you’re saying, ‘Is someone in the top,’ would someone, if you take a child’s BMI and look at their age group from 1992, I think it is, would they have been in the top 5 per cent in 1992, and if they are, then they’re considered to be overweight or obese.
And it’s a very strange way of doing it, but it’s the only sensible way of doing it, but basically, it ends up with a lot of false diagnoses of obesity and overweight in very young children, and there’s a measurement programme in the UK where children are weighed and measured and then they get letters sent home, you know, children who you just, well one look at them and you can say, ‘Well, they’re not overweight.’
And the letter will be sent home saying, ‘Your child is overweight or obese,’ and give you some health advice, and that’s incredibly stigmatising and upsetting for some people, and is any sort of cursory medical examination of that child would say it’s completely false, but because it’s done impersonally with data, it’s, you know, and that, these sort of things become extremely problematic.
But also can be extremely harmful, and I think you know, we don’t, and what you get is practitioners or campaigners saying that parents don’t even know their children are obese, when in many cases, the reality is that those children aren’t obese; it’s just the way we have of measuring it which is problematic.
AB: And why is there such a stigma around being overweight, being fat, being obese. Why is it so vilified?
AW: I mean, that is a huge, a huge question, and there’s certainly no doubt that it’s vilified and that there is an enormous amount of stigma, and enormous amount of prejudice, just as harmful as the most disgusting prejudices in our society as it is.
You know, people are less likely to get jobs, they’re going to be paid less throughout their lifetime. They’re, they are abused and attacked and put under an enormous amount of stress. And the reasons why, they are very complex, but they are societal. They are not, it’s just, something inherent within our society that we have this sort of need to vilify people based on a certain aesthetic.
I think it’s a lot to do with misunderstanding. The one thing that hopefully I get across in my book more than anything is that when someone is overweight or obese, it’s not because of a lack of willpower, it’s not because of a lack of, you know, not because they’re a less, have less ability to control themselves.
In a world where we have almost entirely free access to food, your body weight is one of the most genetically inheritable characteristics there is. It has, you can measure heritability on twin studies, and it’s about 70 per cent. You know, height is 80 per cent. You know, many other factors which we consider to be inherit are far lower than bodyweight.
And that’s studied from twin studies. It’s pretty good data around that, and yet, yet we have this belief that it’s entirely, not entirely a logical belief, but a belief that if someone is overweight, it’s a failure of willpower. It’s entirely within their own sort of, to be the weight they want to be.
And so, it’s sort of become this thing which is an outward physical characteristic, which is that it is acceptable to look at and, you know, maybe judgements about someone’s personality and ability to control themselves, and we live in this sort of neoliberal society where people are judged on, you know, everything’s pushed back towards the individual. Blame is pushed back towards the individual in order to absolve corporations and governments from blame, and that’s a very, that runs through every facet of society.
But you know, this idea that people who are overweight or obese are morally failing and failing to have enough willpower has cast them as the ultimate failures in a neoliberal society and so they get blamed for the NHS being on its knees, and they get blamed for a collapse of morality in society, and you know, get blamed for an enormous amount of things. Especially women who are blamed for, you know, being poor mothers and terrible examples and all these sort of awful things that we do.
And yeah, it’s, I think it’s one of the last allowable prejudices of our age, just because there is this belief, which is kind of a folk belief that it is the individual’s fault. Even though, I know people who are, if you honestly think that everybody who’s overweight or carries around some excess weight is someone who has less willpower than you, then that’s ridiculous.
Now, I’m not over, I’m probably getting towards a BMI of 25, but I’m not, and that’s not because I have this iron willpower. It’s just because I’m lucky and I have a genetically determined sort of set weight, which we kind of all tend to have. But you know, we don’t sort of accept that variability in body size as we do with other sort of variability of other physical characteristics.
AB: And if you look at someone, if we were to take an average person who was overweight or classed as obese, what kind of barriers do they face when losing that weight? You’ve said, you’ve mentioned already that genes play a huge part. What other barriers are there?
AW: I mean, in biological terms, there are a lot. Essentially, our body wants to be a certain weight. And there are certain sort of situations where you can be pushed beyond that genetically determined set point, but our body wants to be, you know, thinks this is a good way to be, and that’s pretty much, in most cases, genetically determined. You know that I’m, it might sort of increase slightly as you get a bit older, as many people discover.
Essentially, your body sort of thinks, here’s a good amount of fat for me to have in storage in order for me to maximise my chances of survival, and I’m going to get that amount of fat and I’m going to try to keep myself there over the course of my lifetime.
And that’s, you know, that’s kind of how it works, in very simplistic terms. And there’s an enormous amount of hormones and various control mechanisms which keep it there. You know, mostly controlled by quite primal parts of the brain; the part of the brain which controls your breathing, for instance, and your drinking and the very sort of primal things about keeping alive.
And so, essentially, your body knows how much fat it’s stored in its fat cells. We all have some, you know, in a variable, across an entire population, people will have different amounts. And there’s reasonably, you know, you can make sort of, you can sort of imagine how that would be useful in different environments in terms of survival.
You know, if you’re on a desert island with very few predators around but lots of chance, and you spend, your population evolves there for a period of time, then you can imagine that it would be useful during times of plenty to store some excess weight, because then when there’s a time of little food, then you’re more likely to survive the harsh winter or whatever.
But if you’re on, somewhere more open with fast running predators, or you have to do a lot of hunting of things that can run away from you, then it would make sense to store a bit less fat.
So, it’s all, you know, it’s all controlled genetically, and there are some very strong, hormonal control mechanisms which keep you at the weight that you are. Keeps the same amount of fat stored.
And as soon as that amount of fat starts to drop in your body, whatever that amount might be. As soon as you start to drop below that, your body thinks, oh God, we’re in a bit of trouble here. We’re starving and we’re going to put in mechanisms in order to make sure that we don’t starve, so what it does is it obviously makes you extremely hungry, gives you this incredible drive and desire for food over the short term, but also over the long term, it sort of makes you very driven and food focused, shuts down all other priorities and focuses your mind on food entirely the whole time.
And then it starts to, in order to save energy, because there’s not enough food around, or so it thinks, evening you’re on a diet, your body doesn’t know you’re on a diet; it doesn’t know what diet you’re following.
It’s not a matter of willpower. These things happen by you know, hormonal controls out of your conscious brain. And so, it starts to shut down your metabolism, it starts to make you, sort of slow you down, slow down your metabolic rate, it starts to do things like start to shut down your immune system, so a lot of people who’ve dieted will tell you they’ve become very susceptible to illness.
It starts making you feel pretty miserable all round, liable to getting ill and can have a profound affect on brain function. Look at starvation studies over the years, and people with eating disorders, and just people generally on extreme diets and they start to encounter enormous psychological problems caused by lack of food.
So, your body really pushes you into eating more food and shuts down any excess energy expenditure, because it thinks its starving. And even though you might not outwardly look as if you’re starving, because your body’s fat reserves are dropping below where it wants to be, then it pushes you into this thing.
And the best explanation I can give of how profound that is, is what I said before, which was it’s controlled by the same parts of the brain which control breathing, so you can imagine with breathing, yes, it’s voluntary. You have control over when you breathe just like you have over when you eat and so when people say it’s all about willpower, you just need to stop eating, yes, you can stop eating for a period of time.
But the only difference between breathing and eating is that eating happens over a much longer timescale than breathing, so you can control your breathing but, you know, if air’s there, eventually you’re going to breathe, and just the same with food. It’s just over weeks rather than minutes.
You know, if food is there, and you are hungry, eventually you will eat. You can stop yourself eating for a period of time, you can lose weight, but it becomes incredibly difficult. Without a sort of real, profound change, it becomes incredibly difficult.
And they are just the physical things. Societal things are a whole other layer on top of that.
AM: Yeah, so, there’s things that, if you’re in a certain community, or you’re of a certain socio-economic status, that’s going to affect your diet and thus affect your weight, right?
AW: Yeah. To an extent certainly. And there are many reasons why, and this is where it becomes really, really quite complex. Because what I just said then was, it’s pretty much determined by genetics and, you know, I think it’s 70 per cent heritability of bodyweight from twin studies, which is when you look at sets of identical twins and non-identical twins, you know, identical twins share all of their genes and their environment, non-identical twins share half their genes and the whole of their environment. So, you can see how heritable bodyweight is, and the identical twins are far more likely to be the same weight, so that’s how you sort of work that out.
And yes, it’s, I mean, there’s two things here. One is, if you, obviously to an extent, if people are starving, if people don’t have enough food, yes, they’re unlikely to be overweight, because you know, there are sort of physical things that stop people, you know, so in countries where lots of people are struggling for food, then you won’t get the same proportion of people who are overweight.
But when generally an entire population has enough food, then you have, you then have a variable bodyweight which becomes far more heritable. It becomes far more determined on genetics. As soon as you start feeding people adequately.
And you know, one of the most remarkable things about the modern food system is we now, in countries like ours, almost everybody has enough food to eat. It might not be the best quality diet, but they have, they’re very rarely struggling to eat enough calories every day.
And I know there are people who are, I write extensively about food poverty, but you know, very few people don’t have enough food. Very few people don’t have enough calories to eat over a really long period of time.
And so, generally then, your bodyweight becomes far more expressed genetically. But there are, there are, I’ve said it’s quite heritable, but it’s not entirely heritable. There is other stuff on top of that, and the socioeconomic argument is, it is strong. But it is not quite as simple as people make out.
You know, people on lower incomes do, there are, there is a sort of uplift in terms of people on low incomes and obesity. But that is far more complex than we might imagine. For a start, it’s a relationship which only really, only to a large extent happens with women which is perhaps quite surprising.
Men in higher and lower socioeconomic groups are, there’s not that much difference in terms of their BMIs and the percentage which are overweight or obese. So, it’s far more prevalent in women, which is I think unusual. You know, does that mean that men are eating, men in lower socioeconomic groups are eating a better diet than women? I really doubt it. I think probably the opposite is true.
And so, in my mind, it is far more about, rather than the food environment, a diet is far more about the lived experience of poverty in which it tends to be much harder for women. You know, women tend to be far more stigmatised, they tend to be the carers for children. They tend to just have a harder time living on low incomes and in poverty and tend to be far more stigmatised when you just look at the weight.
And it’s probably slightly better now, but not good at all, in the way single mothers are stigmatised within, you know, working class single mothers stigmatised by reality TV programmes, and then just by newspapers and society in general.
So, you know, the lived experience of poverty is probably considerably harder for women, so how does that affect their bodyweight? Well, there are a number of ways in which it can. Stress is living under extreme stress is likely to cause people to have sort of abhorrent eating patterns, to be pushed into disordered eating patterns of some sort; overeating, using food as a comfort in order to cope with that stress.
It’s often one of the very few things that people, one of very few pleasures that people can afford. You know, when you can’t afford to go on a nice holiday this year, you know, who are we to tell people just having a nice bit of food that someone enjoys is perhaps a coping mechanism. It is a coping strategy for difficult lives.
So, I think there are abhorrent eating things caused by this level of stress that people are living under, which is obviously, it’s much harder, especially in a society that we have where so much is focused upon self-determinism. You know, your expected to lift yourself out of poverty.
And that society that we have, which, without wishing to get political, but you know, socialism used to be about rising up with your class, you know, that’s the traditional tenant of socialism. Sort of coming together with the people around you and rising up the whole of your society.
Now it’s very much, we’re very much more individualistic and I think that’s very stressful for people living in, on lower incomes or, you know, in those sort of environments. And it’s that sort of level of stress, I think, which is the hardest thing, because you look at the local economies in most working-class places in parts of the UK. A lot of our economy is based around relieving that stress in some way, often in ways that are not ideal for people’s health.
So, I think, so there is this relationship between obesity and poverty. As I say, it’s stronger for women. But I think far more important, and far more significant, is the relationship between ill health and poverty. You know, you look at the population in the UK, and the richest part of the UK, I think Westminster, I think, and the poorest parts of the UK, and the poorest parts of say, some parts of Glasgow. The difference in life expectancy is about 10 years, and the difference in healthy life expectancy is about 25 years.
You know, and that might have, obesity might be having an influence on that, but you know, it doesn’t explain anything like that difference, the smaller amounts of differences in bodyweight which are mostly just from women. It doesn’t explain that at all. You know, and the biggest things we should be talking about is the health and equalities rather than focusing on people’s weight, because obviously people’s health is far more important than their weight and their BMI.
There may be a relationship between them, but let’s try and make people healthier rather than focusing too much on making them feel bad for not being the right weight.
AM: And now’s sort of the time of year where people will be thinking about their diets, their health. They’re going to be making dietary New Year resolutions. What do you say to people who are thinking of going on a diet in the New Year?
AW: Yeah, you know, it’s never for me to tell people what they should and shouldn’t do. If anyone wants to lose weight, that’s fine. I think, I think there’s lots of us could do with, you know, eating a better diet. I think that’s a really positive thing to aim for. You know, most of us don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. Most of us, if you eat fish, then it’s nice to eat oily fish about once a week. Generally, that’s pretty good health advice.
Nice to eat lots of whole-grain carbohydrates. It’s a good idea to eat a lot of beans and pulses. Those sort of good things that almost anyone who talks about food and health, you know, eat more fruit and vegetables. Eat a variety of different things; stuff like that.
So, stuff like that is great. You know, I think people could do with improving their diets sometimes. I worry about any, I always worry about any diet where someone says, don’t eat this, don’t eat that, cut this thing out. I would always try and get people to avoid that sort of behaviour unless it’s for very definite, medical reasons.
You know, like you’re a coeliac or something like that. Then I would also worry with anyone saying, ‘I’m going to cut this out or cut that out.’ You know, because I just think that’s an unhealthy way to think about food. You know, the best way to think about improving your diet is saying, ‘Get lots of good stuff into your diet, and eat lots of nice things, and eat more variety,’ you know.
So, I’d really recommend doing that. And there will be people out there who want to lose weight, and it’s not for me to tell people what weight they should want to be, but what I would say is, always, when people are doing that, just analyse what it is they want to, the reasons why you want to lose weight.
Because if it’s about improving your health, that’s fine. That’s understandable, but you’d be far, all the evidence is, you’d be far better, if your worry is your health, you’d be far better ensuring you do some exercise, eating a varied and interesting diet along the lines I just described, actually.
And you know, not smoking and not drinking to excess and doing all those things. Those are the best things you can do to improve your health. There’s a huge amount of evidence that all those things will do a lot to improve your health.
But I think the problem is when people decide to do those things in order to lose weight, because sometimes, doing that stuff might not, certainly over the short time, might not mean you lose weight. You might lose weight, but you might not, but it doesn’t matter because you’ll still be improving your health.
So, if you’re worry is about improving your health, make sure you’re focusing on doing that rather than thinking, ‘I’m going to lose weight in order to improve my health.’ Because there’s lots you can do to improve your health. There’s lots of unhealthy ways to lose weight as well, so you shouldn’t think of the two as being so tied in together.
You know, there might be aesthetic reasons why people want to lose weight too, and that’s fine. But I would, I would also think about what else, what the issue really is. Because often, people are looking at losing weight as being the solution to all their problems rather than thinking about what those problems are and thinking about a broader way to address them.
We kind of use weight as a proxy for almost everything, and people put their lives on hold because they want to reach a certain weight, and that’s enormously problematic. You should be looking at doing behaviours to improve your life rather than behaviours to change your weight because you think that when your weight’s changed, your life will improve.
And so, I just recommend that sort of approach, rather than saying, ‘This diet will help you lose this x number of pounds and then you will be happy because you’ve lost that many pounds.’
AB: I wonder, how much of what you do now, what you write about comes from the fact that you did a science degree?
AW: Yeah, I think it does. I think that helps. I think it helps to have that sort of background and understand and be interested in science. I think that’s more important than that I remember details of the krebs cycle, because I don’t. Don’t test me on it.
But I think probably more important is the fact that I’m a chef and I love food and I love eating, and I love the things that food can do for us as individuals and as groups of people, and the way it can bring us together and the way it can be really important in our celebrations, and you know, the value that it has and the way it creates memories and the way it stimulates memories.
I absolutely love food and I love cooking, and I think that’s probably more significant, because what I try to do is strip away the sort of, I worry that so many people, for so many people, food has become this sort of battleground. This thing they really worry about and they have huge anxiety about and that’s just stripped away, that’s stripped away so much of the pleasure and enjoyment and important things that food can do for us as groups of people.
And can do for our health. And when I say what food can do for our health, I mean, in bringing us together with family and friends and people we love, and sort of enhance or celebrations and that sort of thing.
And that a really important thing that food can do, and I think when people get so obsessed with sort of guilt and shame and feel like they’re doing stuff wrong, you get away from that. So, really, it’s the fact that I, food is something I love very much, is probably a bigger thing. And the science and the understanding of science and the lots of scientific contacts that I have as well is the thing that enables me to strip away that guilt and make food a place that people can find pleasure in again.
AB: I really want to know; what’s your favourite meal?
AW: I don’t know. I’m British, so it’s probably roast dinner. Fairly simple. No, I think there are, my view about food is that food is important, but more important is the context in which you eat it, and a roast dinner is family and it’s togetherness and the sort of warm memories and that sort of thing.
And that’s always going to be, those sort of meals are always going to be the important ones that you really love, and, you know, the things that have an emotional resonance for you. So, yeah. A very simple roast dinner I think would be sort of the best thing, because it’s kind of one of the most, for me, it’s this moment of togetherness and continuity in the week.
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Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.