The cyclops didn’t just eat humans. He was also very keen on dairy. In The Odyssey, the eponymous hero stumbles upon the cave of the one-eyed Polyphemus and finds that: “His cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses… all the vessels, bowls, and milk pails into which he milked, were swimming with whey.”
One of the Spartan rituals of passage to adulthood was for a young man to try to steal a head of cheese from someone’s house without being caught.
If the gods had their own health board, Polyphemus would be in trouble. Public Health England (PHE) has lowered its recommended proportion of dairy products in the average calorie intake from 15 per cent to eight per cent per day. They are concerned, rightly, with Britain’s expanding waistband. But dairy is a critical source of calcium, and if PHE imagines that we are all going to switch from drinking milk to eating spinach then they are living in cloud cuckoo land.
Moreover, Whitehall constantly overlooks the fact that the average British diet is actually far healthier now than it was in the 1970s. Research by the Institute of Economic Affairs reports that: “Per capita sugar consumption has fallen by 16 per cent since 1992 and per capita calorie consumption has fallen by 21 per cent since 1974.” Why, then, are we getting fatter? Because our jobs are more sedentary and we exercise less.
Aristaeus, the divinity whom the Greeks credited with the discovery of cheese making, was certainly not a couch potato: he was also a sailer and a hunter. One of the Spartan rituals of passage to adulthood was for a young man to try to steal a head of cheese from someone’s house without being caught. The ancients regarded cheese, typically mixed with fig sap and honey, as a staple of the diet and a food for champions. Any “mature” society would agree.