What do Pete Seeger, Patrick Holford, and Master Ryuho Okawa have in common?
Well, nothing, really, they are just characters who feature in this rant. Pete Seeger is the good guy; the other two are the baddies. Whilst scratching my head recently over the chicanery of people like Patrick Holford and “Master Ryuho Okawa”, I was reminded of the refrain from one of Seeger’s protest songs, “Where have all the flowers gone?” In that song, the refrain “When will they ever learn?” underscores the futility and stupidity of war.
When will they ever learn? That’s the question I’m posing today apropos the stupidity of people who support the chicanery of charlatans and quacks like Holford, and woo-woo specialists like “Master Ryuho Okawa”.
Let’s start with Patrick Holford. I was in Wellness Warehouse the other day (for those who don’t know it, WW is one of those trendy health-and-wellness-one-stop-shop-for-everything-you-need-to-feel-good-no-matter-how-bizarre-and-expensive stores). I spotted a lady who was wondering up and down the aisles pushing a trolley with one hand while in the other hand she held a book, written by Patrick Holford, titled something like “The liver detox diet”, and in the trolley I spotted another Holford tome, “Optimum nutrition Bible” or something similar. Also in the trolley were what seemed like dozens of bottles of supplements (Patrick Holford range of course), and numerous bags and packages of “superfoods” and other assorted potions and lotions. When I spotted her, she was in earnest conversation with the snake-oil merchants who man the homeopathy and alternative medicine counters. That trolley must have cost her thousands of rands. Now everyone has the right to be stupid, I know, and who am I to tell people what to waste money on, but if I could sing and play a guitar like Pete Seeger I would have walked up and down the aisles behind that lady chanting “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” Why did this incident rankle so? Because I think it encapsulated (pun intended) the madness of the dieting and “wellness” merry-go-round so many people are caught up in. Let’s start with Holford. Patrick Holford was the star of Ben Goldacre’s classic “Bad science”. Patrick Holford has websites devoted to exposing his quackery (e.g., Holfordwatch.wordpress.com). Let’s move on to detoxing. The whole concept of detoxing is bunkum. Nutritional supplements – they don’t work, and in fact may cause serious problems in some people. Superfoods – marketing mumbo jumbo. Homeopathy and naturopathy and complementary medicine and alternative medicine – right up there with Chinese medicine – there’s no evidence, people, no evidence, and that’s what we need – EVIDENCE. This lady could have saved herself thousands of rands had she simply done a bit of research. Apart from that I wanted to shake her and say “Use a little common sense, lady. Eat a little less, move a little more and you will lose the weight. You aren’t going to find a silver bullet in these pills and potions; what you need to do is sweat a bit. And instead of ‘superfood’, buy some real food, preferably green leafy food and food that did not have a face.” Eish. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
And what of Master Ryuho Okawa? Apparently this “master” considers himself to be some sort of living Buddha and is the founder of the delightfully-named “Happy Science” movement. Happy-science.org informs me that “We are a worldwide movement for the happiness of humanity. By empowering individuals to achieve lasting happiness with teachings of universal Truth, Happy Science aims to create an ideal world – a world of harmony, love and prosperity.” Ok, the world can do with some harmony, love and prosperity. “In the tradition of Shakyamuni Buddha, Jesus Christ, Confucius, and Moses, Master Okawa teaches the Truth and the principles that bring people true happiness and open the path to a new and better era.” Good God, what a spiritual giant! No wonder that, 6 hours after he died, Nelson Mandela got in touch with Okawa. Yes, you read that correctly. Master Okawa “channelled” Madiba’s post-death thoughts and produced a book titled “Nelson Mandela’s last message to the world”. From the publisher’s website: “Just 6 hours after his death, the soul of Madiba visited the author, Ryuho Okawa, founder of Happy Science, to leave a message of hope to the world. In this unique book, Madiba also shares some insights into African and world affairs, and proves that there is an afterlife and that Souls have no colour.” Maybe it is just sour grapes because I didn’t think of this con first, but seriously, apart from the shameless exploitation of a great man’s legacy, this sort of crap is the religious version of Holford’s nutritional bullshit. Let’s leave aside the fact that there is no other side (sorry John Edward fans), there is no such thing as a soul (sorry, religious people everywhere), why the fuck would Madiba choose a nutcase in Japan to channel his most immediate posthumous thoughts? This is just woo-woo rubbish on such an epic scale that I don’t even know where to begin. But you know what? People will buy the book. And Okawa will be happy and prosperous, and full of love for the silly people who follow him, and the whole thing will go on and on and on. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
Let me end this rant with an adaptation of a verse from another Pete Seeger classic, “If I had a hammer”. It is aimed at the stupid people I rail at above, although of course they won’t get it, but here it is anyway. Pete Seeger may be dead, and the wars he protested over, but there are other battles still to win:
If I had a hammer I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening all over this land
I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer superstition and religion and Holford-style nutrition
from the minds of men and women
All over this land