Ashton Kutcher landed in hospital after following Steve Jobs’s fruitarian diet

Ben Child: Actor speaks of 'terrifying' health ordeal at the Sundance premiere of the Apple founder's biopic

Christian Bale is rumoured to have lived on coffee and one apple a day to achieve his emaciated physique in The Machinist. But not everyone is suited to unorthodox diets, as Ashton Kutcher discovered after adopting the late Steve Jobs’s fruitarian regimen in preparation for a new biopic of the technology magnate.

Speaking at the premiere of Jobs at the Sundance film festival on Friday night, Kutcher revealed that he went to hospital with pancreas problems after following a strict diet of fruit, nuts and seeds. Jobs, who was often reported to be a fruitarian, died of pancreatic cancer in October last year.

“First of all, the fruitarian diet can lead to, like, severe issues,” Kutcher told USA Today. “I went to the hospital like two days before we started shooting the movie. I was like doubled over in pain. My pancreas levels were completely out of whack. It was really terrifying considering everything.”

Kutcher also revealed that he spent hundreds of hours studying tapes of Jobs in an effort to accurately replicate his hunched walk and mannerisms. The actor said that he felt close to the Apple founder as they shared a fascination for “tech space”. He also revealed an admiration for his subject’s ability to bounce back after periods of struggle.

“He’s a guy that failed and got back on the horse,” said Kutcher. “I think we can all sort of relate to that in some place in our life where we are moving forward with something and we fall down. You have to have the guts to get back up and go again. I think I share that as well.”

Jobs, which covers the period from Apple’s founding in a garage in Palo Alto, California to the launch of the iPod in 2001, has so far received a lukewarm response from critics. Variety’s Justin Chang said Joshua Michael Stern’s film “more or less embodies the sort of bland, go-with-the-flow creative thinking Jobs himself would have scorned”, while CNET’s Casey Newton was unimpressed by a movie in which “the viewer spends two hours watching cardboard cutouts lose arguments to Ashton Kutcher”. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn, however, praised “Kutcher’s committed performance, certainly his most impressive turn in years, which conveys the character’s focused, manipulative intentions in each calculated look”.

Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning writer of The Social Network, is planning a separate biopic based on Walter Isaacson’s bestselling official biography of Jobs. Sorkin’s version will reportedly comprise just three extended scenes, each capturing a point just before a vital product launch in order to portray Jobs and his biggest successes.

Read more:

Why are the poor blamed and shamed for their deaths?

When someone dies, she often suffers a brutal moral autopsy, says Barbara Ehrenreich. Did she smoke? Drink excessively? Eat too much fat?

I watched in dismay as most of my educated, middle-class friends began, at the onset of middle age, to obsess about their health and likely longevity. Even those who were at one point determined to change the world refocused on changing their bodies. They undertook exercise or yoga regimens; they filled their calendars with medical tests and exams; they boasted about their good and bad cholesterol counts, their heart rates and blood pressure.

Mostly they understood the task of ageing to be self-denial, especially in the realm of diet, where one medical fad, one study or another, condemned fat and meat, carbs, gluten, dairy or all animal-derived products. In the health-conscious mindset that has prevailed among the worlds affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are sinfully delicious, while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as guilt-free. Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures such as hours-long cardio sessions, fasts, purges or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

Of course I want to be healthy, too; I just dont want to make the pursuit of health into a major life project. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and will stave off hunger for as long as possible, such as protein, fibre and fats. But I refuse to overthink the potential hazards of blue cheese on my salad or pepperoni on my pizza. I also exercise not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care, I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in undergoing tests to uncover problems that remain undetectable to me. When friends berate me for my laxity, my heavy use of butter or habit of puffing (but not inhaling) on cigarettes, I gently remind them that I am, in most cases, older than they are.

So it was with a measure of schadenfreude that I began to record the cases of individuals whose healthy lifestyles failed to produce lasting health. It turns out that many of the people who got caught up in the health craze of the last few decades people who exercised, watched what they ate, abstained from smoking and heavy drinking have nevertheless died. Lucille Roberts, owner of a chain of womens gyms, died incongruously from lung cancer at the age of 59, although she was a self-described exercise nut who, the New York Times reported, wouldnt touch a French fry, much less smoke a cigarette. Jerry Rubin, who devoted his later years to trying every supposedly health-promoting diet fad, therapy and meditation system he could find, jaywalked into Wilshire Boulevard at the age of 56 and died of his injuries two weeks later.

Some of these deaths were genuinely shocking. Jim Fixx, author of the bestselling The Complete Book Of Running, believed he could outwit the cardiac problems that had carried his father off to an early death by running at least 10 miles a day and restricting himself to a diet of pasta, salads and fruit. But he was found dead on the side of a Vermont road in 1984, aged only 52.

Even more disturbing was the untimely demise of John H Knowles, director of the Rockefeller Foundation and promulgator of the doctrine of personal responsibility for ones health. Most illnesses are self-inflicted, he argued the result of gluttony, alcoholic intemperance, reckless driving, sexual frenzy, smoking and other bad choices. The idea of a right to health, he wrote, should be replaced by the idea of an individual moral obligation to preserve ones own health. But he died of pancreatic cancer at 52, prompting one physician commentator to observe, Clearly we cant all be held responsible for our health.

Still, we persist in subjecting anyone who dies at a seemingly untimely age to a kind of bio-moral autopsy: did she smoke? Drink excessively? Eat too much fat and not enough fibre? Can she, in other words, be blamed for her own death? When David Bowie and Alan Rickman both died in early 2016 of what major US newspapers described only as cancer, some readers complained that it is the responsibility of obituaries to reveal what kind of cancer. Ostensibly, this information would help promote awareness of the particular cancers involved, as Betty Fords openness about her breast cancer diagnosis helped to destigmatise that disease. It would also, of course, prompt judgments about the victims lifestyle. Would Bowie have died at the quite respectable age of 69 if he hadnt been a smoker?

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs 2011 death from pancreatic cancer continues to spark debate. He was a food faddist, eating only raw vegan foods, especially fruit, and refusing to deviate from that plan even when doctors recommended a high protein and fat diet to help compensate for his failing pancreas. His office refrigerator was filled with Odwalla juices; he antagonised non-vegan associates by attempting to proselytise among them, as biographer Walter Isaacson has reported: at a meal with Mitch Kapor, the chairman of Lotus software, Jobs was horrified to see Kapor slathering butter on his bread, and asked, Have you ever heard of serum cholesterol? Kapor responded, Ill make you a deal. You stay away from commenting on my dietary habits, and I will stay away from the subject of your personality.

Defenders of veganism argue that his cancer could be attributed to his occasional forays into protein-eating (a meal of eel sushi has been reported) or to exposure to toxic metals as a young man tinkering with computers. But a case could be made that it was the fruitarian diet that killed him: metabolically, a diet of fruit is equivalent to a diet of candy, only with fructose instead of glucose, with the effect that the pancreas is strained to constantly produce more insulin. As for the personality issues the almost manic-depressive mood swings they could be traced to frequent bouts of hypoglycemia. Incidentally, 67-year-old Mitch Kapor is alive and well at the time of this writing.

Similarly, with sufficient ingenuity or malicious intent almost any death can be blamed on some mistake of the deceased. Surely Fixx had failed to listen to his body when he first felt chest pains and tightness while running, and maybe, if he had been less self-absorbed, Rubin would have looked both ways before crossing the street. Maybe its just the way the human mind works, but when bad things happen or someone dies, we seek an explanation, preferably one that features a conscious agent a deity or spirit, an evil-doer or envious acquaintance, even the victim. We dont read detective novels to find out that the universe is meaningless, but that, with sufficient information, it all makes sense. We can, or think we can, understand the causes of disease in cellular and chemical terms, so we should be able to avoid it by following the rules laid down by medical science: avoiding tobacco, exercising, undergoing routine medical screening and eating only foods currently considered healthy. Anyone who fails to do so is inviting an early death. Or, to put it another way, every death can now be understood as suicide.

Liberal commentators countered that this view represented a kind of victim-blaming. In her books Illness As Metaphor and Aids And Its Metaphors, Susan Sontag argued against the oppressive moralising of disease, which was increasingly portrayed as an individual problem. The lesson, she said, was, Watch your appetites. Take care of yourself. Dont let yourself go. Even breast cancer, she noted, which has no clear lifestyle correlates, could be blamed on a cancer personality, sometimes defined in terms of repressed anger which, presumably, one could have sought therapy to cure. Little was said, even by the major breast cancer advocacy groups, about possible environmental carcinogens or carcinogenic medical regimes such as hormone replacement therapy.

While the affluent struggled dutifully to conform to the latest prescriptions for healthy living adding whole grains and gym time to their daily plans the less affluent remained mired in the old comfortable, unhealthy ways of the past smoking cigarettes and eating foods they found tasty and affordable. There are some obvious reasons why the poor and the working class resisted the health craze: gym memberships can be expensive; health foods usually cost more than junk food. But as the classes diverged, the new stereotype of the lower classes as wilfully unhealthy quickly fused with their old stereotype as semi-literate louts. I confront this in my work as an advocate for a higher minimum wage. Affluent audiences may cluck sympathetically over the miserably low wages offered to blue-collar workers, but they often want to know why these people dont take better care of themselves. Why do they smoke or eat fast food? Concern for the poor usually comes tinged with pity. And contempt.

Photograph: Stephen Voss for the Guardian

In the 00s, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver took it on himself to reform the eating habits of the masses, starting with school lunches. Pizza and burgers were replaced with menu items one might expect to find in a restaurant fresh greens, for example, and roast chicken. But the experiment was a failure. In the US and UK, schoolchildren dumped out their healthy new lunches or stamped them underfoot. Mothers passed burgers to their children through school fences. Administrators complained that the new meals were vastly over-budget; nutritionists noted that they were cruelly deficient in calories. In Olivers defence, it should be observed that ordinary junk food is chemically engineered to provide an addictive combination of salt, sugar and fat. But it probably matters, too, that he didnt study local eating habits in sufficient depth before challenging them, nor seems to have given enough thought to creatively modifying them. In West Virginia, he alienated parents by bringing a local mother to tears when he publicly announced the food she gave her four children was killing them.

There may well be unfortunate consequences from eating the wrong foods. But what are the wrong foods? In the 80s and 90s, the educated classes turned against fat in all forms, advocating the low-fat and protein diet that, journalist Gary Taubes argues, paved the way for an epidemic of obesity as health-seekers switched from cheese cubes to low-fat desserts. The evidence linking dietary fat to poor health had always been shaky, but class prejudice prevailed: fatty and greasy foods were for the poor and unenlightened; their betters stuck to bone-dry biscotti and fat-free milk. Other nutrients went in and out of style as medical opinion shifted: it turns out high dietary cholesterol, as in oysters, is not a problem after all, and doctors have stopped pushing calcium on women over 40. Increasingly, the main villains appear to be sugar and refined carbohydrates, as in hamburger buns. Eat a pile of fries washed down with a sugary drink and you will probably be hungry again in a couple of hours, when the sugar rush subsides. If the only cure for that is more of the same, your blood sugar levels may permanently rise what we call diabetes.

Special opprobrium is attached to fast food, thought to be the food of the ignorant. Film-maker Morgan Spurlock spent a month eating nothing but McDonalds to create his famous Super Size Me, documenting his 11kg (24lb) weight gain and soaring blood cholesterol. I have also spent many weeks eating fast food because its cheap and filling but, in my case, to no perceptible ill effects. It should be pointed out, though, that I ate selectively, skipping the fries and sugary drinks to double down on the protein. When, at a later point, a notable food writer called to interview me on the subject of fast food, I started by mentioning my favourites (Wendys and Popeyes), but it turned out they were all indistinguishable to him. He wanted a comment on the general category, which was like asking me what I thought about restaurants.

If food choices defined the class gap, smoking provided a firewall between the classes. To be a smoker in almost any modern, industrialised country is to be a pariah and, most likely, a sneak. I grew up in another world, in the 1940s and 50s, when cigarettes served not only as a comfort for the lonely but a powerful social glue. People offered each other cigarettes, and lights, indoors and out, in bars, restaurants, workplaces and living rooms, to the point where tobacco smoke became, for better or worse, the scent of home. My parents smoked; one of my grandfathers could roll a cigarette with one hand; my aunt, who was eventually to die of lung cancer, taught me how to smoke when I was a teenager. And the government seemed to approve. It wasnt till 1975 that the armed forces stopped including cigarettes along with food rations.

As more affluent people gave up the habit, the war on smoking which was always presented as an entirely benevolent effort began to look like a war against the working class. When the break rooms offered by employers banned smoking, workers were forced outdoors, leaning against walls to shelter their cigarettes from the wind. When working-class bars went non-smoking, their clienteles dispersed to drink and smoke in private, leaving few indoor sites for gatherings and conversations. Escalating cigarette taxes hurt the poor and the working class hardest. The way out is to buy single cigarettes on the streets, but strangely enough the sale of these loosies is largely illegal. In 2014 a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, was killed in a chokehold by city police for precisely this crime.

Why do people smoke? I once worked in a restaurant in the era when smoking was still permitted in break rooms, and many workers left their cigarettes burning in the common ashtray so they could catch a puff whenever they had a chance to, without bothering to relight. Everything else they did was done for the boss or the customers; smoking was the only thing they did for themselves. In one of the few studies of why people smoke, a British sociologist found smoking among working-class women was associated with greater responsibilities for the care of family members again suggesting a kind of defiant self-nurturance.

When the notion of stress was crafted in the mid-20th century, the emphasis was on the health of executives, whose anxieties presumably outweighed those of the manual labourer who had no major decisions to make. It turns out, however, that stress measured by blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol increases as you move down the socioeconomic scale, with the most stress inflicted on those who have the least control over their work. In the restaurant industry, stress is concentrated among the people responding to the minute-by-minute demands of customers, not those who sit in offices discussing future menus. Add to these workplace stresses the challenges imposed by poverty and you get a combination that is highly resistant to, for example, anti-smoking propaganda as Linda Tirado reported about her life as a low-wage worker with two jobs and two children: I smoke. Its expensive. Its also the best option. You see, I am always, always exhausted. Its a stimulant. When I am too tired to walk one more step, I can smoke and go for another hour. When I am enraged and beaten down and incapable of accomplishing one more thing, I can smoke and I feel a little better, just for a minute. It is the only relaxation I am allowed.

Nothing has happened to ease the pressures on low-wage workers. On the contrary, if the old paradigm of a blue-collar job was 40 hours a week, an annual two-week vacation and benefits such as a pension and health insurance, the new expectation is that one will work on demand, as needed, without benefits or guarantees. Some surveys now find a majority of US retail staff working without regular schedules on call for when an employer wants them to come and unable to predict how much they will earn. With the rise in just in time scheduling, it becomes impossible to plan ahead: will you have enough money to pay the rent? Who will take care of the children? The consequences of employee flexibility can be just as damaging as a programme of random electric shocks applied to caged laboratory animals.

Sometime in the early to mid-00s, demographers noticed an unexpected rise in the death rates of poor white Americans. This was not supposed to happen. For almost a century, the comforting American narrative was that better nutrition and medical care would guarantee longer lives for all. It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of colour, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to healthcare, safer neighbourhoods and freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker skinned. But the gap between the life expectancies of blacks and whites has been narrowing. The first response of some researchers themselves likely to be well above the poverty level was to blame the victims: didnt the poor have worse health habits? Didnt they smoke?

In late 2015, the British economist Angus Deaton won the Nobel prize for work he had done with Anne Case, showing that the mortality gap between wealthy white men and poor ones was widening at a rate of one year a year, and slightly less for women. Smoking could account for only one fifth to one third of the excess working-class deaths. The rest were apparently attributable to alcoholism, opioid addiction and actual suicide as opposed to metaphorically killing oneself through unwise lifestyle choices.

Why the excess mortality among poor white Americans? In the last few decades, things have not been going well for working-class people of any colour. I grew up in an America where a man with a strong back and a strong union could reasonably expect to support a family on his own without a college degree. By 2015, those jobs were long gone, leaving only the kind of work once relegated to women and people of colour available in areas such as retail, landscaping and delivery truck driving. This means those in the bottom 20% of the white income distribution face material circumstances like those long familiar to poor blacks, including erratic employment and crowded, hazardous living spaces. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the ground under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating. That slender reassurance is shrinking.

There are some practical reasons why whites are likely to be more efficient than blacks at killing themselves. For one thing, they are more likely to be gun owners, and white men favour gunshot as a means of suicide. For another, doctors, undoubtedly acting on stereotypes of non-whites as drug addicts, are more likely to prescribe powerful opioid painkillers to whites. Pain is endemic among the blue-collar working class, from waitresses to construction workers, and few people make it past 50 without palpable damage to their knees, back or shoulders. As opioids became more expensive and closely regulated, users often made the switch to heroin which, being illegal, can vary widely in strength, leading to accidental overdoses.

Affluent reformers are perpetually frustrated by the unhealthy habits of the poor, but it is hard to see how problems arising from poverty and damaging work conditions could be cured by imposing the doctrine of personal responsibility. I have no objections to efforts encouraging people to stop smoking or add more vegetables to their diets. But the class gap in mortality will not be closed by tweaking individual tastes. This is an effort that requires concerted action on a vast scale: a welfare state to alleviate poverty; environmental clean-up of, for example, lead in drinking water; access to medical care including mental health services; occupational health reform to reduce disabilities inflicted by work.

The wealthier classes will also benefit from these measures, but what they need right now is a little humility. We will all die whether we slake our thirst with kombucha or Coca-Cola, whether we run five miles a day or remain confined to our trailer homes, whether we dine on quinoa or KFC. This is the human condition. Its time we began facing it together.

This is an edited extract from Natural Causes, by Barbara Ehrenreich, published by Granta on 12 April at 16.99. To order a copy for 14.44, go to or call 0330 333 6846.

Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email, including your name and address (not for publication).

Read more:

Italian ‘sect’ that imposed macrobiotic diet broken up police

Followers, whose weight fell as low as 35kg, said to have been manipulated into following eating regime

A well-known guru of macrobiotic food who met Pope Francis is among the five people under investigation in Italy after police dismantled a bizarre sect that allegedly denied its followers contact with the outside world.

Mario Pianesi, the 73-year-old founder of a group in the central Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, and his wife, Loredana Volpi, are suspected of being the ringleaders of a network that manipulated victims into following a strictly controlled diet known as Ma-Pi.

Authorities said Pianesi convinced followers of the diet, modelled on the teachings of the Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, that it would provide miracle cures for their illnesses and that traditional medicine did not work. It aims to avoid foods containing toxins and is based on whole grains, vegetables and beans.

Carlo Pinto, an Ancona police chief, told the Guardian that the victims were so devoted to the diet and their teacher that the sect managed to coerce them into giving donations and working for free in the associations macrobiotic centres and restaurants. The diet was so destructive that the weight of one follower plunged to 35kg (77lb).

Ive never come across a case like it in my life, Pinto said. These were people suffering from physical or mental illnesses. They were convinced that the diet did them good and in return they offered to help the macrobiotic food chain, working for free and effectively sacrificing their own life.

Pianesi, Volpi and three others are being investigated for alleged maltreatment, tax evasion and criminal organisation with the aim of reducing people to slavery.

The inquiry began in 2013 after a young woman told police Pianesi promised her that the diet would cure her illness. Pinto said there were eight victims, whose illnesses instead worsened, but he expected more to come forward.

Pianesi would say that doctors were assassins, traditional medicine didnt work and that only he could help, said Pinto.

Pianesi, who along with his wife attended a mass with Pope Francis in 2016 followed by a private meeting with the pontiff, was well respected in Italy and dominated the macrobiotic industry, Pinto added.

Originally from Albania, Pianesi started his empire in Marche in 1980 and went on to cultivate a business that claimed to help cure illnesses including diabetes.

He once claimed that 26 scientific journals had endorsed the Ma-Pi diet as a tool for the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses. He also boasted of having collaborated with UN agencies including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). His popularity is such that he is an honorary citizen of 12 towns in Italy and across the world.

Read more:

Farm Girl Caf, Chelsea: We don’t stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough restaurant review | Jay Rayner

The food was so bad, says Jay Rayner, a nearby Yorkshire terrier started to look more appetising

Farm Girl Caf, 9 Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ (020 3674 7359). Meal for two, including drinks and service 110

The menu at the Farm Girl Caf features lots of initials. Theres V for Vegan. Theres GF for Gluten Free. Theres DF for Dairy Free. I think theyre missing a few. There should be TF for Taste Free and JF for Joy Free and AAHYWEH for Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. If you examine the companys website, and I would only advise doing so if you have strong teeth that can cope with a good grinding, you will learn that the Farm Girl group offers: A holistic and healthy yet comfortingly simple approach to Australian Caf culture. Nope, me neither. Apparently, they like to use nutritionally nurturing ingredients, which sounds rather nice. I could have done with a bit of nurture, rather than the dishes that came our way.

I have nothing against eating healthily. I have only one body and I try to look after it. My mother used to say that she hoped to die aged 98, shot dead by a jealous lover. She didnt quite manage it, but its an ambition Im happy to inherit. The menu here is omnivorous with a heavy emphasis on non-meat cookery, which is a fine thing. I like vegetables, me. They can taste really nice. But this sort of cooking does have to be done with skill, grace and, ideally, an absence of malice.

The Farm Girl Caf, Chelsea, is the third in a group which until now has stuck to charcoal or matcha lattes, and light lunches involving an awful lot of almond butter, avocado and something called coconut bacon, which you just know isnt. This is the first to serve dinner, and it does indeed look like a proper restaurant in a very Chelsea sort of way. Theres a giant blue Welsh dresser behind the bar, faux wooden beams across the ceiling and banquettes in a field shade of green. Its like a cartoon version of a farmhouse as imagined by someone who hasnt been in one.

It fills quickly on a cold winters evening, with blonde-tressed Chelsea women just bubbling with intolerances. They are fizzing with them, these dairy- and gluten-fearing dietary warriors, seeking sanctuary from the terrifying world of modern food. With them are their pink-cheeked, anxious-looking boyfriends, who clearly fear they are just one more rugby club, traffic-cone-on-your-head piss-up away from being chucked. A woman arrives clutching her Yorkshire terrier. They are given a corner table. The dog is offered a bowl of water and a plate of food and disappears on to the floor for dinner. At least somebody gets to eat well.

The artichoke is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someones overheated suburban front room. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

From the small plates we order the whole (completely out-of-season) globe artichoke, which apparently is gluten free. Its tough to see how it would be anything other. It has been prepared by someone who either hates globe artichokes or has never met one before: boiled until it is as soft and rank as Grandmas cabbage, only with none of the glamour. It is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someones overheated suburban front room. The damn thing could be disposed of without the aid of teeth or, better still, using a composter. That would remove the middle man, which in this case happens to be me.

Paolas Market Veggies arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly carrot hummus thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate accident and decided to close the loo door and run away. At the bottom is a cashew aioli, which is the kind of discharge you get when you torture nuts. It tastes of raw garlic and nothing else. There are sticks of celery and hunks of cauliflower to dredge through this, alongside seeded crisp bread which is neither of the last two words. It is dense and hard and tasteless, as you imagine cork floor tiling might be, if it had somehow been repurposed as food.

Finally, from the small plates, comes tostadas piled with jackfruit, the latest hip, unconvincing replacement for meat. It is a fibrous tangle that gets stuck in your teeth on top of a violent, acidic sludge of guacamole. The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This means it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pubs with a flat roof. Each of these dishes costs about 8. After this vegan calamity, this extraordinary display of dismal cooking, I find myself eyeing the Yorkshire terrier, greedily. Just hand him over, give me access to the grill, and five minutes.

The turkey schnitzel has the texture of something Timpsons might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer

Perhaps the kitchen can do better with something that once had a pulse. Or perhaps not. The crispy turkey schnitzel sounds nice. Apparently, it is encased in lemon and thyme-infused breadcrumbs, but tastes of neither of those things. It barely tastes of anything at all. The meat is overcooked and has the texture of something Timpsons might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues. A heap of pickled cucumber and radish is piled on top helpfully, to ensure the breadcrumbs go soggy. A side dish of roasted cauliflower is so undercooked that the knife barely manages to go through it. The one edible dish is a glutinous, cloyingly sweet vegetable curry. It would be regarded as an utter, shameful travesty by many in south-east Asia, but its not actively unpleasant.

We do not stay for dessert, because we have suffered enough. In any case they are mostly a list of ice creams and sorbets including a spinach, kiwi and coconut oil gelato, which sounds terrifying. What weve ordered so far, plus the second-cheapest bottle of wine, has already run up a bill of just under 100. Its not just the dismal cooking that pains me here. Its the squandering of ingredients and of peoples time and the tiresome narrative of wellness with which its been flogged. I feel especially bad about our waiter. Tom is a good man. He is charming, on point and utterly wasted here; he should do something more socially useful, like fly tipping or nicking cars. I whip out my phone and discover there is a branch of Honest Burgers nearby. One of their finest, served medium rare, a big heap of rosemary and salt chips and a hefty tumbler of cheap and cheerful sauvignon blanc is exactly what we need to make all those BTGW (Bad Thoughts Go Away).

News bites

The elegant glass box that houses the caf at the Garden Museum, just south of Lambeth Bridge, gives equal billing to both meat and veg, but does so with grace and good taste. A recent menu started with winter tomatoes with tropea onions, or cockles with bacon, followed by gnocchi with wild garlic and almonds or oxtail and lentils. Stay for dessert (

Theres nothing clever about stupid high prices for food items, but its always good to have something to gawp at. Recently, on a trip round the refurbished Harrods food hall, I spotted Wagyu Kobe fillet A5, imported from Japan, for 62.50 per 100g. Or 625 a kilo. The minimum order is 500g. You do the maths.

Restaurant no-shows have become a serious issue in the industry recently. Two weeks ago, Edinburgh chef Mark Greenaway introduced a deposit scheme after recording 450 no-shows in a month. Now the Casual Dining Group, which own brands such as Bella Italia and La Tasca, is considering introducing advance payments for large groups.

Email Jay at or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1

Read more:

My life in sex: Ive had sex only once, 20 years ago

The one-timer

Ive had sex only once, 20 years ago. It was reading week at university, so I went to London to stay with my boyfriend. Wed been dating long distance for 10 months, and it had taken me that long to feel ready. That Wednesday, after he left for work, Iwalked to the pharmacy to buy condoms and lube. Then Itidied and made the bed, twitching with nerves.

I expected it to be painful and awkward the first time, but it wasnt. We kept whispering to each other about how good it felt and how we should have done it sooner. But when we tried to have sex again, we couldnt: it was as if my vagina had slammed shut.

I was too embarrassed to see a doctor, but Idiagnosed myself with vaginismus, an involuntary clenching of the vaginal muscles that can make it impossible to have penetrative sex. Apparently, its linked to anxiety, but Im not sure what I was so anxious about the possibility of getting pregnant, perhaps, or the fact that, deep down, I knew my boyfriend wasnt right for me. (He later proved it by joining the Conservative party.)

He was understanding, though, and we stayed together for another five years. Perhaps he was secretly frustrated, and perhaps I should have seen a doctor, but we were both having regular orgasms through non-penetrative sex, so it wasnt a priority.

I thought Id meet someone else eventually, and work my way up to a full sexual relationship, but Im almost 40 and it hasnt happened yet. I havent sought out a relationship because I feel as if penetrative sex is expected, very quickly, in modern dating. I dont mind too much: being single means no one ever asks me to sit through an episode of Star Trek. And I still have regular orgasms.

Each week, a reader tells us about their sex life. Want to share yours? Email

Read more:

Curd your enthusiasm my adventures in vegan cheese

Vegan burgers are increasingly convincing, but can vegan cheese or cheeze or chease melt our hearts?

Vegan cheese has been suffering a bad case of Fomo fear of missing out on the vegan food revolution. Some of the new, plant-based products have been groundbreaking, such as the Impossible Burger, which not only tastes like cow, but also bleeds like one. Some, such as mock duck in gravy, are startlingly bad.

But with vegan cheese, quality versions have been so late to the party, you would be forgiven for not letting them in even if they brought a nice bottle of vegan wine. At last, 2017 was a big one for vegan cheese. Most supermarkets started stocking it. A vegan friend points me towards Sainsburys coconut-based vegan cheddar and a feta substitute that is getting close, although lately he is excited about a very realistic vegan parmesan from Ocado. Theres now a vegan camembert made with cashew nut milk and even Dominos has rolled out a vegan pizza in Australia and New Zealand.

Cheese, my friend says, is the thing he initially missed the most the meat quitters after-dinner fag but these recent developments have provided hope. Small grains of hope, but ones that can be harvested and turned into more vegan cheese. Because you can make vegan cheese from almost anything. Cauliflower, chickpeas, rice, nuts, seeds, quinoa, courgette, even carrageenan, a type of seaweed extract spelled by your cat walking across your keyboard, which is excellent for firm or wheel cheeses.

Vegan feta. Photograph: Evi Oravecz / Green Evi/Getty Images/Picture Press RM

Buoyed, I sampled a few. Tynes smoked paprika chease is a bestseller, but looks like a sponge and tastes predominantly of smoke. Vegans cheeze balls are essentially haunted by garlic. Tynes creamy classic cashew is nicer, while NVs parmesan substitute is fine.

Why its so hit and miss is anyones guess. Maybe its because cheese is pretty hard to make without dairy, or because we hold cheese in some sort of cultural reverence theres cheese and theres cheese, but now theres chease, cheeze and sheese. And thats the first sticking point the name. I am, however, fully on board with alternative names, such as Mozzarisella, mozzarella made from rice, which is way more fun than Tescos elliptical Free From version, made with coconut oil and soya. Its still not a patch on Vegustos No-Moo Piquant, though, whom I definitely saw play Glastonbury once.

This is not a screed about veganism. As a non-vegan who is too weak to divest herself from dairy, this cheese is not meant for me. Rather, I admire these small acts of bravery: some of them coming in French-looking boxes, others on a bed of straw like baby Jesus. And if some of them melt on pasta, then great. Its also true that whatever vegan cheese is made of, it couldnt possibly be weirder than the bodily fluids of animals mixed together and left to go mouldy.

Read more:

Breaking the cycle: women are learning to love their hormones

To be labelled hormonal used to be an insult. Now women are reclaiming the role of oestrogen in their lives. Eva Wiseman reveals how a new generation is being empowered by their hormones

The grand plan, the plan to end the Second World War, was inspired by the docility of Paula Hitler. You dont hear much about Paula, do you, the lesser-known Hitler, who worked as a secretary while big brother Adolf was upstairs doing the Holocaust? But yes, inspired by Paula, British spies planned to end the war by making Adolf less aggressive. They intended to do this by smuggling oestrogen into his food, thereby turning him into a woman. Hitler had tasters, said Professor Brian Ford of Cardiff University, who discovered the plot, so there was no mileage to putting poison in his food because they would immediately fall victim to it. But, Sex hormones were a different matter.

Though the word hormone was first used in 1905, derived from the Greek meaning to arouse or excite, it was during that period leading into the war that the science of endocrinology developed. Hormones are the bodys chemical messengers; they trigger activity in the body and regulate the function of organs. But with knowledge of their effects came creeping politics. If hormones meant women were less inclined to start wars, did it also mean they were less capable of ambition? Less capable of being leaders? If hormones meant men were more aggressive, less nurturing, was equality an impossible dream?

Womens hormones sneak into our culture with a period-like regularity. In 1978 Gloria Steinem wrote in If Men Could Menstruate: Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps. The news, too, is littered with commentary. In 2012, CNN argued womens hormones play a significant role in their voting decisions, with single women more likely to vote for Obama and married women more likely to vote for Romney; it was removed after complaints. In 2015, a business survey confirmed that 54% of respondents thought a womans behaviour at work was dictated by her hormones.

A year later Novak Djokovic waded into a debate about equal pay in sport, explaining that women faced more challenges than men to succeed in tennis, including battling against hormones. In the Old Testament, God banters: When she is in heat, who can control her? He was talking about camels. There have been many, many more, all positing versions of the same idea that women are complete nightmares at certain times of the month. And the thing is, despite the outrage that these clumsy stories cause, some researchers would agree there are kernels of truth, or shadows of kernels, or kernels of kernels, buried within them.

Martie Haselton, professor of psychology at UCLA whose book, Hormonal, discusses the hidden intelligence of hormones, argues that, rather than oppressive and damaging, what weve learned about women and hormones is empowering. Rather than a simple story about women losing all rationality around their periods, she sees it as: The story of how our hormones guide us through uniquely female life experiences, from feeling desire and pleasure to choosing a mate, having a child (if we would like to), raising a child and transitioning to our post-reproductive years. Haselton is part of a new conversation that is emerging; she is a pioneering researcher pushing the politics of hormones in a new direction. Where once women were encouraged to combat the effects of hormones with the Pill and HRT, stamping down wobbly moods in order to be in control of their bodies, today their daughters are turning away from hormonal contraceptives in order to reclaim some autonomy over their bodies, with figures dropping by more than 13% between 2005 and 2015. Instead of using the Pill to prevent or plan pregnancy, theyre using their phones.

Monthly trials: When we are premenstrual, our usual self-censoring is ruptured, like a truth serum. Illustration: Harriet Lee-Merrion/Observer

The period-tracking app, Clue, was conceived by a woman called Ida Tin. It was a struggle to raise investment: men she pitched to were embarrassed discussing an app used to monitor bleeding and breast tenderness. One venture capitalist agreed to invest, but only if his details were kept private. But when she finally launched, in 2013, she attracted millions of users, and went on to raise a further 20m. I use Clue, in part, to remind myself when to expect a headache. Theres an option to share my cycle with friends which is something I muse on, monthly. Who else would care that this is one of my heavy days? Tin explains, over email from Berlin: At Clue, we are committed to getting more people talking about menstrual health, as being transparent about this helps us become better educated and removes antiquated social taboos. Clue Connect allows for this conversation to take place without any awkwardness. As well as sharing your cycle with your partner, she says users share with their friends, to prevent their holidays clashing with periods or PMS. Parents can also benefit from using Clue Connect with their children, as it provides a way to teach them about fertility and menstruation.

What a world! Tin is responsible for providing a window for millions of women into the mysteries of our hormonal cycles. She found it surprising, she says, that weve managed to walk on the Moon, but that most women still dont know on which days they were most fertile. I thought that women would find an app like Clue empowering, as they could take control of their health and educate themselves fully about their bodies. Theres that word again, empowering; one that 10 years ago would have seemed quite out of place when discussing hormones, which women were expected to manage, in order to avoid them managing us.

This September, entrepreneur Amy Thomson, journalist Laura Weir and nutritionist Lola Ross will launch Moody-U, an app to accompany the website they designed to help women understand their cycles. In 2015 my periods stopped due to cortisol stress hormones, explains Thomson. I was 27 and it was a wake-up call. Starting a diary, she began to see patterns linking her bad moods and her hormonal imbalance. I realised it was an algorithm. So I sold my agency, broke up with my boyfriend and set out on a mission to build this technology. Users receive personalised advice based on which Moody tribe theyre placed into. The site offers advice, from lists of books that help you harness the power of your period and natural rhythms to articles on period poverty and superfood tips. Theres an online shop, too, with Rhodiola rosea root extract sold alongside Moody merch. What Ive learned, Thomson adds, is that the biggest asset we have in the space of moods, hormones and women is [our ability to] share experiences to create fewer taboos, and empower people to understand and reconnect with their bodies rhythms.

Theres understanding, and theres understanding theres knowing when your periods due, and theres knowing why you feel murderous towards the bus driver the fourth Tuesday of every month. Does anyone have any questions about hormones? tweeted Eleanor Morgan, who was starting research on her book Hormonal: A Journey into How Our Bodies Affect Our Minds and Why Its Difficult to Talk About It, which will be published by Virago next year. She was bombarded with messages (including a handful from me). The overwhelming theme was: why does our very nature make us feel so bad sometimes? she recalls. Underpinning this is a sense of some cruel sorcery at play, particularly in relation to PMS. I think many women feel like there must be an evolutionary reason for it.

While theres a swell of interest in womens hormones, she points out a need for an interrogation of common myths, assumptions and misinformation. After all, almost every woman will be bamboozled by their reproductive system at some point, whether around fertility, birth or menopause, all of which are underpinned by hormonal changes. She became interested in the continuing stigma attached to discussing feeling, in her words, beaten by our biology. Right from when we have our first periods, the phrase Its just your hormones is wedged into our consciousness. So much of womens emotional experience is waved away with that phrase. And like Amy Thomson, Morgans research had an urgency due to her own biology: the author of a book on anxiety, shed realised how much of an impact her cycle has on her mental health, after, yes, downloading an app to track it. I never wanted to accept this, really, she says, because being female is not a diagnosis. Ive felt, at several moments, like a lost cause; a slave to my biology. Only, that feeling also makes me want to fight.

Where Morgans path seems to veer away from the Moody developers is in her scepticism around the marketing of the emerging hormone conversation. There is money to be made from vulnerable, soul-searching, dissatisfied women when wellness gurus and of-the- minute celebrity authors appear to offer neat, credible-sounding solutions, she says.

She is drawn instead to psychologists theories about rationalising the emotions we have in the PMS phase. We feel we shouldnt judge our decision-making when were pre-menstrual. But some feminist critical psychologists argue that, in those moments, perhaps our usual self-censoring is ruptured and were getting a window into our core issues like some sort of hormonal truth serum. Its fascinating. Martie Haselton writes: It took too long for those of us in the scientific community to admit that human oestrus is real. Now we are making up for lost time as we seek to research and understand its implications.

A change is rumbling. But why now? One answer could be found by considering our quest for wellness, a key part, of course, of todays luxury lifestyle. Hormones feature heavily on Gwyneth Paltrows website Goop (an article last summer claimed: Its important for women to touch certain plants, to balance hormones its not) and form the basis for many self-improvement diets.

Life cycle: Its not just younger women who are changing the conversation: as we learn more about menopause, the taboo there is lifting, too. Illustration: Harriet Lee-Merrion/Observer

A cynic might suggest that todays interest in hormones is only skin deep that we want to manage them in order to look more attractive, and that were discussing them in order to Insta-signal our fabulously conscious lives. They might go further too, analysing the ethical implications of the data shared by period-tracking apps, a necessary concern when weighing up the cost of something one gets for free.

Another answer, and a cheerier one, is in the political shift away from the silencing of women. Discussing hormones was not encouraged in the past, in part because it perpetuated ideas about weakness and volatility, and in part because periods were considered icky. But that idea has been diluted by a sort of period pride. In 2015 Kiran Gandhi ran the London marathon with blood dripping down her legs to raise awareness for women who dont have access to sanitary products. And shored up by the widening of dialogues about mental health, theres a recognition that hormones are tied into its changes. As the stigma around admitting depressive feelings and anxiety falls away, so does the stigma around hormonal health.

Its not just younger women who are changing the conversation: as we learn more about menopause, the taboo there is lifting, too. Last month one of Britains leading womens health experts said workplaces should start catering for the menopause in a comparable way to pregnancy. After all, in the past 15 years the number of working people aged 50 to 64 has increased by 60%. Kathy Abernethy, chair of the British Menopause Society, welcomed the move, saying a social shift was under way, partly driven by celebrities (including Kim Cattrall and Angelina Jolie) who have decided its not something embarrassing to talk about.

And, as Haselton details in her book, charting the way HRT has been marketed since 1942, and its health scares that began in the 1990s, doctors now have a firm handle on oestrogen therapy for instance, during the first six to 10 years of menopause, taking oestrogen can lower your cardiac risks, but after 10 years it can increase them. People are no longer framing menopause as an illness, but something that, with care and knowledge, can be managed.

In 2006, Haselton started publishing research showing that women do alter their behaviour during peak fertility. But she found herself offending two camps: those who rejected the suggestion there is still some animal inside us civilised humans, and those who believe her findings undermine efforts to achieve equality. Tabloids distilled her research into snappy headlines about sex, but today the real news, Haselton believes, is that womens rights are enhanced, not diminished, by an increased understanding of how our bodies and minds work. To learn more, she adds: We need to get more females into the lab as well as more female scientists, more female research participants, more recognition of the cultural bias that treats male bodies and brains as the norm. More education about our bodies rhythms and heats, and then a sense of satisfaction, perhaps, when we say: Im hormonal.

Read more:

It’s not just in the genes: the foods that can help and harm your brain

Our diet has a huge effect on our brain and our mental wellbeing, even protecting against dementia. So, what should be on the menu?

It’s not just in the genes: the foods that can help and harm your brain

Our diet has a huge effect on our brain and our mental wellbeing, even protecting against dementia. So, what should be on the menu?

Read more:

My life in sex: Its a thrice-weekly session with a dilator

The cervical cancer survivor

My life in sex: Its a thrice-weekly session with a dilator

The cervical cancer survivor

Read more:

The owners putting pets on vegan diets: ‘We feed our animals without exploiting others’

Veganism is on the rise, and not just among humans. But is the trend safe especially when it comes to carnivorous cats?

The owners putting pets on vegan diets: ‘We feed our animals without exploiting others’

Veganism is on the rise, and not just among humans. But is the trend safe especially when it comes to carnivorous cats?

Read more: