WHERE BUTTER LEADS THE WAY ...


They said it was no good for you and now they say it is. What else is ready for reassessment now that butter’s been declared OK?

The liberation of butter from the dietary exile to which stern medical opinion had condemned it makes you wonder what else that we’ve been magisterially told is bad for us might yet be rehabilitated.

Meat fat is the obvious next candidate. No more searching around for cutlets that haven’t been “frenched” or steak that’s got a bit of marbling. You can hear the health-and-nutrition experts now: “To get the full goodness out of roast chicken make sure you eat all the skin.” The wise chicken eater, when in company, will persuade any reactionaries at the table who still persist in thinking fat unhealthy to cut off all chicken skin first and pass it over (eating it off other people’s plates when they’ve finished is only advisable when the two diners already enjoy a degree of intimacy).  “Fat is one of nature’s aids to keep out winter chills,” the experts will say, with a blithe disregard for their previous utterances in their days as cholesterol police. This revisionism calls to mind the Soviet Encyclopaedia, in successive editions of which party personages who had earlier rated an entry were simply edited out, once they had been sent to Siberia or shot.

If you like a touch of alcohol, and have been made to feel guilty about it by the forces of medical rectitude, be of good cheer: enlightened opinion is bound to come round to lifting the present fatwa. At the moment doctors and “health professionals” are obsessed with units. The fewer units you imbibe, we are told, the better for you. But who gets a kick out of four units of alcohol, or three or two or whatever it is this week? A unit of whisky barely wets the glass. “The glass must be thoroughly full,” the experts will say when they’ve changed their mind, “otherwise the intake will be inadequate to cheer you up, ease your nervous tension, help you give your best at the karaoke night or otherwise release your inner creativity, all of which are to be commended as advantages of alcohol consumption.” They might even revise the definition of a unit. One bottle of wine = one unit of alcohol. A standard bottle of spirits is two units. You’d never have to lie to the doctor again. “Oh yes,” you could say with an open face and clear conscience, “I never have more than four units a day.”

With alcohol redeemed can tobacco be far behind? Bring back the ashtrays and the table lighter. Make smoking compulsory in public places. Put a single carriage for non-smokers miles down the train at the far end. Once again we’ll be able to enjoy any social occasion through a blue haze. Those huddled knots of outcasts sucking guiltily on their fags outside office buildings can come in from the cold and go back to their desks and puff their way through the working day, the butts piling up in their coffee mugs beside the desktop. Smoking eases your nerves, the Quit campaigners will say in their new incarnation as promoters of the psychological benefits of tobacco, much better for you than Valium. The avuncular pipe that once made Channel 9 Melbourne’s newsreader Sir Eric Pearce look so trustworthy could be taken up by all television presenters, including, since we live in an era of equal opportunity, Leigh Sales and Geraldine Doogue. A photograph of the 1960s TV personality Graham Kennedy and friends all smoking sophisticatedly over their plates of oysters in a restaurant (it’s in a book called Graham Kennedy’s Melbourne) will again be a prescription for correct eating-out etiquette.

Nor will it be the advantages of tobacco only that we might hope to hear extolled if medical opinion changes. Bring it on for anything you can smoke if it makes you feel good. Pothead will become a term of respect.

Our puritan age likes banning things and there must be plenty of other areas where the scientific consensus will come across “new evidence” and revise its opinion as it has done with butter. Junk-food purveyors should be able to look forward to festooning their product with Heart Foundation ticks. Our age also likes imposing things, preferably irritating or unpleasant things. Bike helmets for instance. How many cyclists really risk falling of their machines and fracturing their skulls? Yet anyone who gets on a bike is obliged on pain of a big fine to feel a total berk riding around with a tortoise shell on his head. Here’s something imposed that we might hope will be deimposed when “safety experts” decide to put aesthetics ahead of alleged practical value. And if it be contended that, yes, there is a minority of cyclists likely to fall on their heads, you can bet that minority will consist exclusively of aggressive idiots in lycra rocketing through red lights – and if they feel themselves in danger, well let them wear their silly headgear without everyone else being forced to.

Multiculturalism is another imposition. The way things are going it won’t be long before expert opinion decrees that the multicultural dream is not working out as it should. Colourful national costumes and ethnic dances were all very well in their day, but multiculturalism since then seems to have got a bit out of hand. What will happen when, a few Martin Places down the track, the official line changes? The White Australia policy dusted off? Hate speech against immigrant minorities made compulsory? Our Anglo heritage “celebrated” once more with portraits of the Queen reinstated in every public office and the Prime Minister exhorted by the Fairfax press to give knighthoods to every member of the Royal Family? Shall we see the 1950s praised to the skies as the epoch to be emulated, a model of social cohesion? To ensure that the rising generation will be schooled in the new orthodoxy the national curriculum will have to be rewritten for the fifteenth time, with anti-racism and the evils of colonialism shuffled out of the way as core subjects to devote more time to the achievements of Sir Robert Menzies. Stranger things have happened.

How much longer would another imposition, the observance of sustainability as a solemn public duty, remain in force if scientists decided that the earth has adequate resources for billions yet to be born? No more wasting time separating the rubbish into different bins and mad planning rules about footprints; for the less socially responsible, no guilty feelings at all in chucking unwanted portions of Big Mac out the car window and leaving stubbies all over the beach. Even so, an outright ban on sustainability seems unlikely. Such a ban would be an infringement of believers in eco-mythology’s human right to freedom of religion, and that would bring the Triggs inquisition yelping into action.

28 February 2015
Published in The Spectator Australia




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