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Save me from the merciless health evangelists

11 April 2014

I AM deeply fed up about thelatest medical advice that we should all be eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day. Five a day has been just about OK, allowing for bad days when it's more like two, and good days when you graze happily on celery and carrot batons (not many of those). Five allowsfor two cooked veg, one fruit, one leafy something, and something bean-like.

With the new advice, however, comes new interpretation. The Times suggests that there is a hierarchy of vegetables. Kale comes out near the top, which is unfortunate. I am sure that kale was one green thing of which the Lord quite rightly repented. Even steamed endlessly and with added butter, it just isn't very nice. Beetroot is good for stamina. Cucumber strengthens fingernails. An onion is good, but it is better raw than cooked. But watch the mouthwash - we also learnt last week that this can give you cancer.

One tomato a day reduces wrinkles, but how do you chomp your way through 85g of watercress? Baked beans count, but watch the sugar. And did you know that a swede has as much sugar as a Mars bar? If that has freaked you, a mere half of a yellow pepper will help with your stress levels.

The problem I have with all this is to understand what it is all for. We are all living longer, and there are plenty of 80-pluses who have done fine without the picky food advice that we are endlessly subjected to. Even if I were to start religiously eating 14 more portions of veg a week, I would never know whether I had added an hour, a week, or a month to my life span.

The solemnity with which these pronouncements are given and received suggests that our medical advisers are coming to see themselves more as health evangelists than as healers. Salvation is promised, if, to the last floret of broccoli, we keep the faith.

But diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are the punishment if we fall short. Confession may ease the soul, but there is no forgiveness for the body. So, in the end, the illnesses of middle and old age are simply my own fault. I never ate enough yellow peppers, and now I must pay the price.

God is more merciful, than this; and I am sorry, Lord, I still don't like kale.

The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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