This emergency meeting of the fan club of celebrity chef Pete Evans is called to order.
Apologies to any of you afflicted with claustrophobia. But it’s the only remaining phone box I could find.
Now look, I should say from the outset that I don’t know Pete.
Never met him. Never munched on one of his activated almonds or served up his bone broth to a three-week old baby.
But isn’t it about time someone came to his defence?
First, a confession. I’m not really a fan of the man at all.
I know, I know. Pete’s a smart guy who can speak dolphin in 11 different dialects and sleeps beneath a pyramid of healing crystals.
He can dish up the sort of tasty paleo meals that helped the Neanderthals live to the ripe old age of 32.
But he’s also a guy who was so busy at school whipping up tofu dips he was obviously forced to skip science classes.
Which is why he’s been in so much trouble recently.
Just a few weeks ago the Therapeutic Goods Administration slapped him with a $25,000 fine for spruiking a “BioCharger” on his website that he claimed was programmed with “a thousand different recipes – and there’s a couple in there for the Wuhan coronavirus”.
The BioCharger was an absolute bargain.
For only $14,990, purchasers could become the proud owners of a slick little device filled with wires and bright lights that resembles how your blender might look if you had just consumed a kilogram of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Evans’ website boasted how the machine could replicate the light, harmonics, frequencies and pulsed electromagnetic fields normally only found in nature.
This special “hybrid subtle energy revitalisation platform” was “proven to restore strength, stamina, co-ordination”.
It could sharpen mental clarity and accelerate muscle recovery from injuries and reduce joint stiffness.
New Age garbage, to be sure.
But does Evans, who has promoted the work of anti-vaccination campaigners and who recently parted ways with the Seven network and its ailing My Kitchen Rules program, really deserve to be fined $25,000 for trying to flog it?
Certainly, we all agree that society has an obligation to protect the weak and vulnerable in our community.
But the stupid?
Under TGA regulations, any product purporting to have therapeutic benefits must be tested and examined closely before being placed on an official register.
The contraption being flogged by Evans is so ridiculous it would struggle to pass muster as a prop in a bad 1950s science fiction movie.
It’s the sort of wacky, snake-oil device even Donald Trump might think twice about before endorsing its alleged curative benefits.
But if we are going to impose hefty financial penalties on those who make absurd claims about potential cures and health benefits without any scientific basis, the list is going to be extraordinarily long.
Let’s start with my now-deceased grandmother. For years she told me that eating cheese before bed would give me nightmares.
But rigorous and exhausting experiments conducted over the past three decades have proven this claim to be demonstrably false.
My findings instead show that red wine – lots of it – consumed alongside rich and creamy desserts increases the likelihood of a restless night by 94.76 per cent.
The estate of my grandmother is therefore fined $20,000.
My neighbourhood church is another frequent peddler of spurious health claims.
Last week it had a sign out the front promising me that if I embraced the Lord he would reward me with inner peace and tranquillity.
Heaven knows I spent the entire weekend calling out his name while my mother-in-law stayed with us. But all I experienced was high blood pressure and a sore jaw from grinding my teeth.
So my local church is therefore fined $50,000.
I’ve also listened closely to the claims of conservative politicians like Barnaby Joyce who insist coal is good for everyone.
Honestly, I’ve really tried to prove him right.
I’ve crumbled it on toast. Shaved it over pasta. Added it to soup.
But the stuff still tastes like crap and now I have chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease.
So fork it over Barnaby. You and all your mates are fined 50 grand each.
So let’s give Pete Evans a break.
Absurd claims deserve absurd responses, not heavy-handed bureaucratic penalties imposed by government bodies like the TGA whose staff should have better things to do with their time.
We need rules and laws to protect the elderly, the disabled and others
who are easy prey for scammers, swindlers and all those other lowlifes
who inhabit our imperfect world.
But the gullible are another issue.
They no longer have any excuse for being stupid.
They live in an age of unprecedented information. With just a simple click or finger swipe they can educate themselves on just about any subject they want.
They can access the research of millions of scientists. They can be
guided by the reviews of thousands of other consumers.
And if they still insist on spending $14,990 on a machine like the
BioCharger, they should be allowed to.
It’s called personal responsibility, an idea that is not particularly
popular in these times when there’s always someone else to blame.
So let’s stop pointing the finger at Pete Evans.
Besides, I’ve just tried out a bunch of his paleo recipes.
Trust me. His claims about the BioCharger are a lot easier to swallow.
Garry Linnell was director of News and Current Affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine