The Observer, Sunday 19 January 2003

What's in your basket?

Lobster, juicy steak and quail - if you have an appetite for food, you'll have an appetite for sex, says the writer. Dr John Briffa approves.

J.G. Ballard interview by Chloe Diski

'One should love outside one's own head. I believe that the tongue is just as important as other organs. If you have an appetite for food, you'll have an appetite for sex. I'm always suspicious of people who lack an appetite and I admire people with strong appetites. However, now I'm 72 I don't eat a great deal and, let's say, my tastes have simplified. It is a matter of metabolism, and I'm bored. I've eaten everything.

I live alone and eat rather modestly when I'm at home. I'm not very good at cooking so I like to go out to dinner with my girlfriend Claire twice a week. I live in Shepperton and I travel to her home in West London to eat at her local restaurants like Maquis and the Brackenbury. She's a foodie and a great cook. I often embarrass her at restaurants by offering her recipes to the head chef.

I wake at 8am and have a couple of cups of tea. Midmorning I make a coffee to get my brain in gear. I used to have a large scotch (and that worked even better). Alcohol used to provide a large proportion of my calorie intake and my life enhancement, but I'm too old for that now. I don't drink spirits any more. Carte Noir is a good substitute. I've always drunk instant coffee at home - ever since I read Elizabeth David, who wrote about its virtues. For lunch I eat odd things - Parma ham with a few drops of truffle oil. Dinner is usually an omelette.

If I'm out I like some lobster, but you have to be lucky because it can be very disappointing, and I order a lot of crab dishes. I'm not as keen on beef as I used to be but I still enjoy a nice juicy steak. I'm also very fond of game. I love quails - Maquis do a wonderful quail dish - but I like grouse best of all. I eat a lot of game because the flavour is richer, it's darker. I drink it with a good red wine. I prefer French wines, possibly because they were the only good wines when I was young. I used to drink a bottle of wine a day, now I have less: half a bottle a day.'

Instant coffee

The caffeine it contains has been linked with a slew of health issues. However, there is some evidence coffee contains hearthealthy substances, and that a moderate coffee habit might actually reduce the risk of heart disease in time.

Parma ham

Parma ham is air- and saltcured. Three slices of this stuff contain almost a gram of salt -- about the total amount that J.G. would need in a whole day. Recent evidence suggests that even modest reductions in salt intake have the capacity to reduce blood pressure and help protect against heart disease and stroke.


Cholesterol-rich lobster is generally regarded as one with artery-clogging potential. However, studies show switching to a diet low in cholesterol (and saturated fat) does not appear to save lives.


All this meat and seafood in J.G.'s diet may cause some dieticians to recoil in horror. However, my experience is that a significant proportion of people do seem to thrive on a diet rich in animal-based food. It's impossible for me to say if J.G.'s diet is healthy for him, but, contrary to conventional wisdom, there's every chance it might be.


I regard red meat as a relatively nutritious food, which supplies the body with a range of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin B12, folate, selenium and zinc. Any reservations I may have about red meat tend not to be based on the meat itself, but its production.


Another high-cholesterol food. However, the fact remains that eating less cholesterol has no proven benefit in terms of longterm health. Plus, crab contains a smattering of omega-3 fats that have been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and, more recently, relative protection from dementia.

White Burgundy

Wine drinking is said to be good for the heart. However, alcohol can also increase the risk of other potentially deadly conditions including cancer and liver disease. Overall, it appears the benefits of alcohol have been somewhat overstated: the most recent evidence suggests that the optimum alcohol intake for a man of J.G.'s age is one measly unit a day.


Grouse is a true game meat. There is evidence that the types of fat in the meat from animals that eat a natural diet are healthier than those reared on grain-based food.


Eggs are generally regarded as unhealthy fare, largely on account of their high cholesterol content. However, studies show that loading up on eggs does not seem to increase cholesterol levels in the bloodstream. Plus, eating up to an average of an egg each day appears not to increase the risk of heart disease either. The occasional omelette represents a pretty decent nutritional choice, though the overall value of this meal would be enhanced by some vegetable matter.

Truffle oil

A good truffle oil will usually be based on extra virgin olive oil which is rich in monounsaturated fat and disease-protective antioxidant compounds such as oleuropein and squalene.