DURBAN 29-05-2013 Tim Noakes taking at DHS. Picture: S'bonelo Ngcobo

Eating should be more sensory than the purgatory it seems to have become for some, writes Mike Wills.

Cape Town - In Cape Town’s chattering middle-aged suburbia, no one produces more suburban middle-aged chatter than Tim Noakes.

Not President Jacob Zuma nor Helen Zille, not Julius Malema nor even Nelson Mandela can supplant the good professor. Neither George Clooney nor Prince George stands a chance of getting more conversational airtime at the moment because Tim’s name is on our lips every time we put food into them.

Over Easter and Passover he will have been analysed, cursed or praised at countless tables for removing potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, sweets, most fruit (and just about everything enjoyable) from the menu.

I will spare you my views on the Noakes/paleo/Banting/no carbs diet because, almost uniquely among my peers, I don’t really have any. I’ve read some of his cookbook, listened to countless dinner party conversations and taken a passing interest in the frothy letters and blog posts the issue has generated, and I still don’t know my statins from my glutens.

In as much as I do have anything to contribute, I’m sure that getting people to seriously re-consider their diet is a very good thing, but I tend to favour balance rather than all-in obsession, and believe that eating should be more sensory than the purgatory it seems to have become for some.

And I do know the world has gone a bit mad when a local food website is proudly proclaiming a recipe for a cauliflower-based paleo pizza base.

I’m also slightly bewildered by the number of people who zealously follow this righteous path to an intestinal nirvana while still downing plenty of wine and beer followed by some tequila shooters.

For a while I thought of making a fortune by founding “The Okes Against Noakes” action group which would attract massive secret funding from potato-farming lobby groups, baking companies and Italian restaurant owners but that would be unfair on the man himself.

Noakes is a smart, highly qualified person who communicates big and complex ideas in an accessible and passionate way – whether it be running, coaching or dieting – and, commendably, he is never shy about taking a stand or taking on conventional thinking.

That makes him someone we should all listen to with respect and great interest, but it doesn’t make him someone we all have to slavishly follow.

It is a bit of a depressing South African trait to seek gurus and flawless guides in this way. We seem to be vulnerable to hero worship and unable to mix genuine admiration with reasonable questioning.

Mandela was the most obvious widespread example – he was elevated to untaintable sainthood in spite of his own fulsome protestations that this was dangerous – but there are many others within certain defined circles.

In that chattering Cape Town middle-aged suburbia, for example, Noakes is definitely on the list at the moment, as is educationalist Jonathan Jansen, public protector Thuli Madonsela, Premier Zille, and, in sport, Nick Mallett and Gary Kirsten.

Mamphela Ramphele was on there for a while but she has now been supplanted by Ronnie Kasrils, the newly cuddly communist who has belatedly taken off his blindfold.

The words and deeds of these luminaries are dropped into some Cape conversation like sacred scriptures – I suspect to their embarrassment.

The problem is that this does not allow these commendable and interesting people any margin for error in their actions or our perceptions. Pedestals tend to be things you fall from so far better to never put anyone on one.

It would be healthier all round if “Noakes says” became the start of a good conversation about diet rather than the proof point.

* Mike Wills’ column appears in the Cape Argus every Wednesday.

Cape Argus