Entertaining banter about Banting

By Rob Symons

This is an article I wrote for the Mercury Food and Wine supplement and it also appears in “Verdant Life“.

Recently I was honoured to be invited to pianist Christopher Duigan’s annual pop-up dinner event, the Table. Christopher hosted the event at his warm and colourful Mexican styled home in Pietermaritzburg. The guest list included well known chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers and food writers.

By Jonathan Burton

By Jonathan Burton

The Banting diet, as promoted by Prof Tim Noakes, has been very topical lately and in this light Christopher decided that the menu for the evening be based on this controversial diet.

Prof Barry Lovegrove, Christoper’s partner; an evolutionary physiologist, is highly enthusiastic about this diet and presented a short lecture thereon.

I am sceptical about the merits of this diet, but my main concerns are from an environmental and farming viewpoint. I touched on this briefly in last months column.

I had some interesting comments on Verdant Life (verdantlifekzn.com), a blog I contribute to. I was accused of not reading Noakes’ book (which I have) and was criticised for having little understanding of the diet. However I did not attempt to question the efficacy of the diet or its health implications, but raised the concern that from a ecological health perspective we cannot afford to eat more animals.

On arrival at Casa Mexicana, as Christophers’ home is known, we were greeted by a glass of superb Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer, paired with a range of Gouda cheeses’ by local cheesemaker MJ Mook.


MJ and I are friends from the Karkloof Farmers’ Market and I have been an avid fan of her cheese. She sources her unpasteurised milk from pastured cows and uses traditional Gouda cultures.

Unfortunately most dairy products are not made this way and there is a growing trend in this country to industrialise the dairy sector. If we undergo the “real meal revolution” we will need more dairy and therefore, more cows. Do we need more methane?

Jonty Nicholson

Jonty Nicholson

Jonty Nicholson, of Nicholson’s Country Cafe, prepared an exquisite langostine bisque that did wonderful things to my taste buds. Tim Noakes’ book promotes seafood avidly.

In fact, his rationale for the Banting diet is based on the so called “paleo” diet which was apparently the way way our ancestors in the Cape ate.

This is a hypothesis that modern humans evolved from a small group that had taken refuge in the Cape during what is believed to be an extreme climate event.

These humans had unlimited access to the then bounteous seafood of the South African coast. There is a big problem here. Seafood is no longer bounteous, but is being depleted at an alarming rate. We are now having to rely on farmed seafood which, as a result of its industrial feed is not as healthy as in its wild past.

As I have have mentioned in past articles, fish farming is an ecological disaster. Think about that when you purchase your salmon.

The main course was prepared by Kayla-Ann Osborn of Traffords restaurant in Pietermaritzburg. This was duck prepared three ways (grilled duck breast, duck liver pate and a cherry tobacco gel, and duck grillet), served with a small serving of vegetables.


The duck was wonderful. The cherry tobacco flavouring was intriguing, but delicious. The vegetables were delicious but I needed more.

I find  Noakes’ handling of vegetables a bit contradictory. In a recent interview he dismissed the campaign to encourage five or more portions of vegetables a day as “commercially driven”.

However he praises the virtues of veggies in his book (only those above ground). Fruit seems a no-no except of course for the fruit of the vine.

Of the fruit of the vine there was plenty, thanks to winemaker Peter Finlayson.

DSC_0049 (Large)

By Jonathan Burton

Christopher was a consummate host and entertained us with a sublime rendition of Handel’s Chaconne on the Steinway.

Christopher Duigan Photo by Jonathan Burton

Christopher Duigan
Photo by Jonathan Burton

I take my hat off to Christopher for being provocative with the theme and contributing to the great diet debate in such an entertaining way.

I hope the “Banters” won’t be asking for my head on a platter after these words.


About Rob Symons

My name is Rob Symons. I live in Pietermaritzburg, kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. MuthiMuthi is my Zulu nickname which means tall tree. I am an Organic Farmer and an environmentalist. I live and work on Broadleaze Farm in the Mkondeni valley on the eastern outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.
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