Simon Kadwill-Kelly provides a unique view of the threat chemicals in our food pose in Chemicalism: 12 Steps to Being Free from Addiction to Artificial Chemicals Used in Processed Food and Drinks . His mission in life is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating high nutrition foods and avoiding artificial chemicals. To this end he drinks only purified water and prepares frozen meals from organic vegetables. At first it appears that these are the only foods he consumes, but then it becomes apparent that, once his weight stabilizes, these foods comprise about 80% of his diet. Although the author is from Great Britain, his topic has direct relevance to Americans. Unlike many other books of this genre, he provides mostly generalities and fails to provide a detailed dietary regime for the reader to follow.
Don’t pick this book up if you are looking for a slick condemnation of Big Food such as you might find in one authored by Michael Pollan or the Food Babe. What you are more likely to discover is a heartfelt testimonial on what Kadwill-Kelly tried, what worked for him, and an explanation of how he lost massive amounts of weight to recover from obesity and other associated diseases or disorders. The book details one man’s journey back to health, but it is not clear if the specific diet he followed or the dramatic loss of weight was responsible for his improved health.
Kadwill-Kelly proudly announces both at the beginning and the end of the book that he has coined the words chemicalism and chemaholic. His writing starts out with a definition of these two terms and a list of symptoms of the disorder. The highlight in what might be the strangest introduction in the history of books written about food is his personal story of how he treated his addiction and that of his mum. Some of his claims strain his credibility. For example, he mentions 10 times throughout the book that his 94-year-old mum avoided amputation of a leg from terminal gangrene by adopting his diet. The gangrene occurring in both feet was apparently the result of an advanced form of diabetes. Although he mentions addiction repeatedly, he doesn’t explain potential parallels between alcoholism and chemicalism or how a broad range of artificial chemicals can induce physical addiction similar to that of a single chemical such as alcohol or cocaine. In addition, it becomes apparent that occasional exposure to artificial chemicals fails to trigger the relapse in chemaholics as experienced by alcoholics and drug addicts.
The book is organized into twelve chapters outlining the steps to recovery from chemicalism, but the steps in no way parallel those for alcoholism or drug addiction. Unfortunately, material in these chapters tends to be repetitive when not contradictory. Key concepts appear and reappear in general terms, but it is difficult to learn much in the way of specifics. On the other hand, the extensive glossary which comprises almost 20% of the entire book is much more informative than a normal glossary. Strange as it might seem, it provides a better insight to the author’s perspective than the chapters outlining the 12 steps. My recommendation is to read the introduction and one or two of the earlier chapters before skipping to the glossary. The book concludes with a more in-depth description and discussion of chemicalism, its dangers, and the prescribed solution.
Of particular relevance to a defense of processed food, Kadwill-Kelly defines processed food as “any food that has been altered from its natural state” further stating that “this term is used in slang referring to food with added artificial chemicals.” I find no fault with either concept. Unfortunately, the author fails to define either chemical or artificial chemical. On one of his two his websites, however, he lists European additives with E-numbers, apparently assuming that any additive with an E-number is artificial. Many of these additives listed such as the first two, curcumin and turmeric, however, are NOT artificial. Rather they are natural extracts of the type he recommends should be added to processed food to replace artificial ones. On his other website, he provides a chart outlining some of the studies that describe the dangers associated with harmful chemicals in food. However, one-third of the studies cited involve salt, sugar, or specifically fructose which are not artificial and can occur in natural, organic foods.
Practitioners of alternative medicine and deniers of the modern science of nutrition will embrace the major themes of the book. Scientists like me will have difficulty with its explanations and conclusions. The rambling style and simplistic explanations suggest that Kadwill-Kelly provides an authentic voice speaking to many readers who are frustrated with modern medicine and nutrition. Yet there are some subtle clues that the book may merely be a clever and elaborate hoax. What I liked about the book is the fierce determination the author uses to identify his problem and work towards a solution. I wish him continued health and success at maintaining a desirable weight and freedom from debilitating modern diseases. What I did not like was that he writes with apparent authority on matters that are just not factually accurate. Kadwill-Kelly is at his best when describing what he did and how it affected him and his mum personally. He is at his worst when drawing broad-based conclusions from limited experiences that are highly unlikely to be relevant to British or US populations.
As I announced last week, the organizational structure of this blog is changing. My postings this month will draw attention to the chemical nature of food and how authors of books and articles on the internet, knowingly or unknowingly, use the word chemical as an epithet without placing it in a proper context.
Next week: Twenty weeks of fresh, organic veggies