ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Libertarian rantings

January is undoubtedly the favourite time of year for puritans, killjoys, and illiberal scaremongers, all of them seeking to get inside our heads and extract vengeance for any pleasure we might've gleaned from the festive season.

Top of the list is the lowering of the 'recommended drinking limits', which were already impractically low, to the point where no amount of alcohol is now considered safe, and neither men nor women should regularly consume more than 14 units a week. One glass of wine or a pint of weak beer per day, basically.

Government guidelines.  The very phrase makes me reach for a glass. And as usual, the science backing it up is pretty dubious when you actually scrutinise it.

Lies, damned lies and 650% of your recommended daily alcohol

Drinking my daily maximum...
I do sometimes wonder how many journalists actually understand statistics, or if those who do are prepared to misrepresent them for the sake of a gripping headline (gripping, that is, to readers who also fail to understand statistics).

If drinking more than two units of alcohol a day increases your risk of developing, say, throat cancer by 12%, this does not mean that you have a 12% chance of developing throat cancer. It means a 12% increase over the baseline probability - so, all other factors considered, you had a 1% chance of developing the condition, your drinking will elevate that to 1.12%.

Simply being alive is a substantially bigger risk factor than the increased alcohol consumption!

I don't disagree with the advice about having a couple of alcohol-free days during a week. This would seem to be common sense, and is generally something I do. But at the same time I know plenty of folks who drink moderately every single day with no ill effects, so who am I to judge?

The usual arguments are trotted out about how 'binge drinkers are a strain on our A&E departments' - and this might very well be true, but this situation has absolutely fuck-all to do with people drinking 14 or 21 units per week. 30-40 per night, maybe. And if you are drinking 37 units in a single night, are you really going to be persuaded by propaganda advising you to lower your consumption from three units a day to two? (Of course you won't, you'll be too busy having the time of your life swigging Netto vodka in the centre of Glasgow.)

If drinkers really did stick to 2 units a day, just about every pub in Britain would close. The licensed trade is only viable because people can and do frequently exceed the guidelines by considerable margins - and, for the most part, do so safely and without serious consequence. Moreover, the rivers of duty flowing into the government's coffers would be reduced to a trickling creek, and that's why none of these recommendations are ever in danger of translating into a ban.

My beef with Hugh Pennington

But it's not just alcohol that's under attack. This week we've heard that Hugh Pennington, a professor of bacteriology, would like to see the sale of medium-rare burgers banned. Not just 'guidelines' that everybody can happily ignore, but actually banned. 

What a cunt. I don't spend my time campaigning to ban microscopes or petri dishes, or whatever it is that brings him joy!

This should be banned, should it?!?
I suspect that in reality he means everything south of medium-rare - medium-rare is usually slightly overcooked, as far as I'm concerned. Paying customers should be able to order their meat rare or blue if that's how they like it. (And indeed Steak tartare, which, presumably, Mr. Pennington would also like to see banned.)

We've finally got some fantastic burger joints in London now, having been crying out for them for years. (My first ever post as BV, over five years ago was on this very subject.)

This is partly because they're not afraid to source better quality ingredients, but also because you can have your burgers served rare these days, getting the full benefit of the meaty goodness.

I'll take the risk of listeria and e-coli, thank you very much. The chances of getting ill eating at a Byron or Honest Burger is probably about as (un)likely as the risks associated with drinking more than one pint a day.

This is basic Libertarian philosophy. Humans should have the freedom to take calculated risks.

People like our friend Hugh might not want to trade a slightly increased risk of getting ill for the pleasure of a juicy pink burger or a lengthy session at the pub. But those of us who consider this a worthwhile deal should always be free to take the bet.


  1. The holidays are over, my first Christmas and New Year in Spain and thanks to my new and very international group of friends; I’ve had a wonderful holiday season. I’ve been on a painless flight from Alicante, Spain to Brussels, Belgium, and now tapping away on my laptop on a fast-train from Brussels to Cologne. Options are available for Europe, luxury, travel tales, restaurant reviews, best food and drinks, food, cooking, recipe, travel, adventure, travel with adventure, exotic, sharing recipes, culinary travel and hedonistic adventures

  2. Yeah, Ben. Yeah! What I hate is whenever they report on problem drinkers, or alcohol related violence, they usually show footage of a pissed up woman slumped head-down on the side of the kerb, followed by film of people being served pints of ale... Now, in my long experience, I have never ever seen people who drink ale ever start fights or cause trouble. Often, a real-ale festival is usually the safest place to be on a night out.


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.