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Hemsley + Hemsley: Lovely, but peddlers of guff (photo: Hemsley + Hemsley)

While being driven figuratively mad by the misuse of “literally”, I was thinking of other words which it is now impossible to employ correctly. “Iconic”, obviously, along with “stunning” and “vibrant”, though I’d also vote for “implement” and “challenge”. And then “decadent”. As an adjective, decadent does not mean luxuriously self-indulgent; this is its correct use as a noun. A person can be a decadent, but it is not a word to describe pudding, nor is it a synonym for purple velvet, despite what fashion editors appear to think every time someone revives the 1970s — the decade in which, incidentally, American advertising agencies began using it to tempt consumers into buying frozen whipped cream desserts. In a sense, they were right, as decadent properly means the reflection of a state of moral decline, from which you are clearly suffering if you think that eating a cake made of E numbers and hydrogenated vegetable fat is a good idea. Yet decadence might be more surprisingly, and accurately, used to describe the oeuvre of the Hemsley sisters, whose online and publishing success epitomises the spinelessly self-regarding approach to food which characterises fashionable modern eating. I bought their book, The Art of Eating Well (Ebury Press, £25), as part of a television research project on orthorexia, the obsession with “healthy” eating which while not yet classified as an eating disorder is nonetheless gaining currency as a potentially damaging obsession. Grazia magazine has even devoted an article to orthorexia, describing the psychological anguish that can result from fanatical juicing, which might be funny if it weren’t also true.

It seems mean to criticise the Hemsleys. They look like lovely people and are undoubtedly well-meaning, not to mention very glossy and healthy. They have a hugely popular website and have sold gazillions of recipe books which encourage people to cook from scratch, consume plenty of vegetables and be mindful of their health, all of which would be fine if so much of what they preach weren’t unutterable guff. They are evangelical about “bone broth”, which last time I looked was known as stock and has been a staple of most decent cooking across most cultures for millennia, and they are very frightened of gluten and dairy. They are also worried about whole grains, but blithely unconcerned about the ecological impact of quinoa and almond milk. The Hemsleys play fast and loose with definitions, which can be a wonderful thing in the kitchen, but not when you are instructed to julienne a courgette and pretend to your guests it is spaghetti.

Their food is decadent because it suggests that our organisms are too delicate and fragile to digest perfectly healthy foods which have been dietary staples forever. It is decadent because it suggests that instead of rejoicing in the abundance of wonderful food available in the West and perhaps being bloody grateful for it, we ought to consider ourselves as invalids, whose “wellness” depends on substituting rice for cauliflower, and whose moral state is conditioned not by what we do but by the efficiency of our intestinal tracts. It is decadent to refuse joy and curiosity to the extent of travelling with home-baked quinoa porridge, as recommended by the Hemsleys, lest you accidentally encounter a croissant. One wonders, speculatively, how the Italians managed to get round to the Renaissance, what with the gastric agonies they must have been suffering from all that bread and pasta, or how the Chinese constructed their civilisation when they were simultaneously contending with the gripes produced by Evil Rice and her cousin Wily Noodle. We are sick, sick beings, and we must nurture our delicate souls by ribboning our greens with the help of the Hemsley spiralizer (yours on Amazon for £29.95).

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July 10th, 2015
8:07 AM
"driven figuratively mad by the misuse of “literally” "Try Richard Corrigan's perfectly delightful Mayfair seafood restaurant." "Hop in a cab to Marylebone High Street" Did this review accidentally get ported from some toff magazine in 1968?

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