What’s the USP? Diet culture has taken hit after hit over the past few years, with increasingly popular movements highlighting the many problems that come from committing yourself to short-term bursts of meat-only consumption or eating like somebody who hasn’t yet invented indoor plumbing.
Better, then, is to simply commit oneself to eat better forever. Which in this case of this book means sticking by seven fairly simple rules:
Eat plenty of whole foods
Eat a varied diet
Eat some gut-friendly stuff now and then
Don’t eat a lot of refined carbs
Eat fats, but only the good kinds
Think about the nutritional content of your drinks
Be mindful about your eating
It’s all fairly sensible stuff, to be honest. But that’s all part of the appeal. Eat Better Forever isn’t about throwing confusing new ideas about food in your face – it’s about helping you to better understand what you already know, and give you some ideas about how to use that knowledge to change the way you eat for good.
Who wrote it? Mr. River Cottage himself – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall/Huge Furry Toadstall/Hugh Fearlessly Eatsitall (delete as appropriate). Hugh’s been going hard on the veg content for a few years now, but here he sets out a healthy plan for living that extends beyond his numerous ideas of what to get up to with a courgette.
Is it good bedtime reading? For the most part, yes! The book is split almost directly in half, with the first two hundred pages dedicated almost entirely to each of his seven rules. These chapters are easy and enjoyable to read. They don’t necessarily reveal anything too surprising, but the opportunity to better understand the science between the ideas we generally are only exposed to in passing is very welcome.
It helps, too, that Hugh never comes across as preachy. He simply explains why something is good (or bad) for you, and presents ideas on how to change your eating habits to accommodate those facts. Nothing he suggests feels too overwhelming, and the opportunity to change the way you eat for the better often feels not just attainable, but exciting. Sometimes it all feels a little too easy. When we’re told that Hugh’s plan for cutting back on alcohol entailed the introduction of ‘alcohol-free days’, it sounds like a sensible (if not particularly fun) way to go about things. Hugh, we’re told, aims for ‘two a week, minimum’, which even in the midst of a pandemic seems like a relatively low bar to aim for.
How often will I cook from the book? That depends on how you feel about Hugh’s practical suggestions for living with his seven rules. The 50/50 split between manifesto and recipes gives you plenty of opportunity to think on the guidelines presented and the small adjustments you might make to your current diet as a result of them. I found the first half of the book to be an invigorating and at times inspiring read, which made it all the more disappointing when I reached the recipe section and found, well, page after page of recipes that would not have looked out of place in a diet book.
Everything looks clean, fresh and, well, a bit dull. The whole foods chapter suggests incorporating more seeds into your diet, which sounds lovely until you see Hugh’s suggesting for a slice of toast scattered with loose seeds and a few raspberries, or a plate comprising of nothing but slices of oranges and apple and just enough pumpkin seeds to guarantee no single bite isn’t ruined by a misplaced texture.
There are plenty of recipes to tempt you here – a ‘curried beanie cullen skink’, or an Asian Hot Pot that looks to be drowning in umami. But for the most part, the refreshing ideas presented in the book’s opening chapters are revisited under much harsher light and by the uninspiring dishes that follow.
What will I love? Hugh’s seven rules are well thought out and easy to apply to your existing cooking habits. Though I found myself completely turned off by a hefty chunk of his recipes, not a day has passed since reading Eat Better Forever where it hasn’t impacted my decisions in the kitchen. That’s a fantastic thing, and if this book serves only to build the foundations upon which your own take on healthy eating can be built, that’ll be worth more than the cover price.
What won’t I love? Whilst the initial ideas feel applicable to every household, it’s hard to imagine fussy children (or adults) adapting to the one-note recipes offered up here.
Killer recipes: Curried Beany Cullen Skink, Mussel Soup with Leek & Potato, Spicy Fish Fingers with Tomato and Bean Salad, Curried Carrot Blitz
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas
Buy the book
Eat Better Forever: 7 Ways to Transform Your Diet
£26, Bloomsbury Publishing