While at Hay Festival, like the great big nerd I am, I unashamedly queued to have my books signed by both Jay Rayner and Heston Blumenthal (note unashamed name dropping). In my small moment basking in their celebrity aura, I asked them both the same question; ‘what do you think about raw food?’ While Heston was ‘onto it’, Jay Rayner was, well, less enthusiastic; ‘I don’t give a toss. If food doesn’t taste nice, it shouldn’t be eaten.’
Ignoring the question of ‘what exactly does nice tasting mean?’ – he’s right and I don’t think it’s just because I agree with him. Raw fruit and vegetable combinations of all sorts are often difficult to swallow, literally. But I didn’t need to meet him to hear his point of view. Having read his review of SAF (which I whole-heartedly disagreed with in my own review), he made his point against raw food loudly and clearly in the headline: ‘It’s grim down Saf; vegan cuisine is a non-starter if it’s kind to animals but cruel to the taste buds.’
Jay Rayner is blatantly anti-vegan, anti-vegetarian, anti-raw and having read his recent book; ‘The man who ate the world; In search of the perfect dinner’, which is a kind of Michelin starred, international Super Size Me, he is also clearly anti-healthy food.
However, I do think he is truly great, not just because he took the time to answer my question honestly, but because he represents the voice from the stomach of just about everyone I know, including the hypocrite in me. He is also really hilarious, completely decadent, down to earth and I happen to know he is extremely generous with his time with charities such as Summer Uni London’s Nang magazine.
Despite the large black rings (swollen liver?) under his bloodshot eyes (adrenal exhaustion?), a sweaty pallor (high blood pressure?) and swollen belly (candida?), Jay’s energy and wit defy a body under nutritional stress. My instinct following my 36 second ‘meeting’ with him was that he is a genuinely happy and successful man and also a genuinely unhealthy one.
But at what point do we let go of our emotional conditioning around the food we eat and prioritise our health? And when do we allow ourselves to make choices that are not centred around what our mothers allowed or didn’t allow us to eat? Jay constantly referred to his famous Mother, Clare Rayner, in his book and he’s not alone in making the connection to food and mothering. We all do it all the time, although mostly subconsciously. But does eating something that triggers happy (or sad) memories of childhood, maternal approval or feelings of success taste ‘nicer’ than the real clear-headed-living-in the-present-moment experience of eating fresh, natural, local, ripe, nutrient-rich, absolutely 100% raw food?
I love Jay’s column and his books and don’t want him to change but I also, selfishly, want him to keep writing about food for a very long time. I also, as a personal aim, want him to, one day, write about a raw meal in the same way he writes about the ‘Arpege tomato’.
There simply must be a way to embed the same ecstatic ‘nice tasting’ triggers in the experience of eating raw fruit and vegetables in our children, that Jay gets from buttery, garlicky escargots and foie gras and I get from cheddar cheese and gherkins on a freshly baked baguette.