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Johann Hari On Ozempic And Big Food

Johann Hari On Ozempic And Big Food

He's back on the pod with another smashing book.

My old and dear friend Johann just released his latest book, Magic Pill: The Extraordinary Benefits and Disturbing Risks of the New Weight-Loss Drugs. That follows Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015), Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression (2018), and Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention (2022), which we covered on the Dishcast.

You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on the ways Big Food gets us hooked, and the biggest risk of Ozempic — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Johann’s struggles with food growing up; how his Swiss dad’s healthy eating habits clashed with his Scottish mom’s processed food; how the obesity crisis started in 1979; the comfort and convenience of junk food; 78 percent of calories consumed by kids today are ultra-processed; how ads hook them at an early age; why the government should regulate food companies like Japan does; Johann’s own experience with Ozempic over the past year; how such drugs boost satiety; nausea and other side effects; the dangers for those with thyroid issues and anorexia; ten other risks he highlights; the ease of getting Ozempic; how people on it lose the pleasure of eating; how the disruption of food habits surface psychological problems; bariatric surgery; Fen Phen and its $12 billion settlement; the dangers of obesity that include diabetes and cancer; how victims of sexual abuse put on weight as a deterrent to abusers; the resilience of fatphobia; why The Biggest Loser is an “evil fucking show”; why weight-loss drugs feel like cheating; why they might inhibit reform in the food industry; when Johann was fat-shamed by the Dalai Lama; why exercise is great for your health but not really for weight loss; and why I might start taking Ozempic myself.

In fact, I just started. Took my first dose yesterday. I’m struck by how utterly simple it is. A teeny-tiny injection from a teen-tiny needle once a week. I’ll keep you posted if anything interesting happens.

Update: Johann’s book peeps send a correction:

A statement about a food critic taking Ozempic leading to a loss of joy in eating was incorrectly attributed to Jay Rayner. In fact, Mr. Rayner has never taken Ozempic and last year wrote an article explaining that he would not use the drug because it would risk him losing his pleasure in food. Mr. Hari apologizes for this error.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Nellie Bowles on the woke revolution, Adam Moss on the artistic process, Oren Cass on Republicans moving left on class, Noah Smith on the economy, Bill Maher on everything, George Will on conservatism, Elizabeth Corey on Oakeshott, and the great and powerful Van Jones! Please send any guest recs, dissents, and other comments to

Our latest episode — with Kara Swisher on Big Tech and media — was a huge hit:

Just a quick note from a subscriber to let you know that while I enjoy nearly all of your episodes, I found the one with Swisher a special delight. She is a hoot, and your exchanges were both informative and hugely entertaining. I’ll be interested to learn whether others share my enthusiasm.

This one does: “I’d say the best one yet, sir!” Another fan:

What I loved about it was that it was a conversation in the best sense of the term. Two people — one sort of on the right, the other sort on the left, but neither dogmatically so — listening to each other, giving each other time to speak, and then offering complementary perspectives. Sometimes in conversation, harsh disagreement and conflict is necessary when there are major differences. But most conversations work really well when people come at issues from various perspectives that — although not the same — enrich the other person’s understanding and viewpoint. This episode was a masterclass in that sort of brilliant conversation.

Shucks. From a “longtime fan” of the Dish:

This was actually the first time I’ve listened to your podcast, and it was truly delightful. I work in the AI/data industry (whatever that means), and I admire Kara’s work. The discussion was marvelous and insightful, and it was clear there was real history and affection between you two. As a fellow Gen X’er, there was some wonderful nostalgia in this exchange, as well as a keen eye on the future. I’m going to go back through your earlier episodes and listen to more of them.

But another listener feels that I “let Kara off far too lightly”:

Especially when discussing NPR, she repeatedly conflates the term “liberal” with a “progressive” or “woke” approach — the attempt to oversee an Oppression Olympics in which the contenders are politically-determined, arbitrarily-promoted identity groups. In the past, you yourself have characterized the latter approach as illiberal, and I was surprised and disappointed that — despite numerous opportunities — you didn’t make a more focused effort to pin her down on this rudimentary point. This doesn’t apply only to NPR, and it isn’t only about race.

Another listener dings me on a professional point and a personal one:

Subscriber here; I listen every week. However, this week was more fun than usual because Kara Swisher gave you some of your own medicine: she over-talked you and actually directed the flow of discussion several times. It was refreshing. Sometimes you have too tight a grip on the wheel and your guests clam up, right at points where their unique take on things is about to come out. I can’t point to one specific incident of this, but it happens a lot. It’s like they are too polite to interrupt you — not the case with Kara Swisher! She bulldozed you verbally, and made you do a lot more thinking on your feet than often happens. Anyway, it was a great show.

My second point is personal. In your discussion with Swisher, you revealed that you are a smoker. I assume tobacco? You seemed to indicate that you feel the timber you think tobacco is giving you in your voice is an asset. 

Stop smoking, I implore you. I just lost my sister last week to tobacco, and it was not pretty. She was a life-long smoker, having started back in high school in the ‘60s. Over the past 30 years, I listened as the raspiness in her voice turned into a slight cough, almost imperceptible, then something more ominous, coupled with wheezing. When she drowned in her own liquids last week, from emphysema, it was a horrible death. She did not want to die, but she lost ten years of life to the addiction. Once she told me that she had no control over the impulse to smoke. 

So Andrew, if you can possibly stop, please do.

I have never smoked cigarettes. I smoke weed daily though. I balance the damage to my lungs with the benefit to my general health and psyche. And thank you for the criticism of my podcasting. I’m still learning how to do this and I’m sure I miss the mark sometimes. But I do want these podcasts to be more than interviews.

This next listener has a bright outlook:

Such a fun and engaging episode with Kara Swisher. It’s so refreshing to listen to people debate — even vigorously — who clearly like and respect each other as well. This episode is like medicine for my soul.

You and Kara expressed concern that kids today don’t spend time with each other and don’t want to, making them increasingly awkward. I can’t necessarily dispute the first part, but from what I see, there is still a yearning for kids to get together, even if they do it less. Case in point: my daughter regularly hosts parties at our house. She just had her 17th birthday party yesterday. My daughter has a flair for the dramatic. Her parties go all out: dress codes (and often themes), decorations, potluck feasts, etc. Not only do people come, but we usually have to squeeze 10-15 extra bodies in to accommodate everyone who wants to be a part of it. There’s no drinking, and they’re usually done by 8 pm.

My daughter’s zeal for hosting and planning may be an anomaly. But that desire from kids to be together, engage in healthy fun and to look nice is still strong, apparently. Know hope!

Speaking of the children, another listener looks to our episode with Abigail Shrier on kids in therapy:

As a person who has followed your work but not exhaustively, I was unaware of your own mental health struggles. When you mentioned your father’s admission to you later in life that he wasn’t there for you, I started crying myself. What a beautiful and human story to share. I appreciate you sharing that, as well as being upfront about how you realized how you needed to address your own behaviors if you wanted to have healthy relationships with people.

Broadly, I’ve found myself wondering about the intersection of mental health struggles and success. I only recently began taking inventory of my own struggles as I near 40, and I’ve been surprised at how conflicted I feel about some of the things I’m finding. I am by no measure the most successful person you’ll meet, but I’ve carved out a professional story that I’m incredibly proud of. When I look at things honestly, I have a hard time discounting the positive impact that my worst tendencies in life have had on my professional life even while they contributed to my personal life essentially being blown apart.

Have you ever had this same realization, and if so, how do you deal with this conflict? Or do you think I’m just completely full of shit and telling myself a story? As someone who has found great success as a writer and thinker for many years, I’d love to hear your opinions on that.

Oh man. Where do I start? My work ethic is doubtless linked to my low self-esteem which sometimes tips into self-hatred. I’m never satisfied by my work, but place it as my core activity in life. I’ve managed sustained intimacy only once in my life, for about a decade with my now ex-husband. I’d love to experience it again, but doubt I will. The title of my second book, Love Undetectable, was not an accident.

Another listener on another episode:

It’s taken me a little while to ponder the episode with Eli Lake. I felt like there was a lot of special pleading on Israel’s behalf? God promised this land? Does any other group get a nation based on that argument? The counterargument would be maybe you made God unhappy and that’s why he took the land away from you for centuries?

The more disturbing argument is the one about Hamas hiding behind human shields. When those shields are Palestinians, even children, there seems to be no number of casualties too shocking. The blame is laid on Hamas. But when the shields are Israeli hostages, then care must be taken to preserve every precious life. From a purely tactical, meeples-on-the-board perspective, trapping Hamas inside the tunnel network and wiping them out is worth losing 150 people.

I’m still waiting for a podcast with someone who can explain tactics when your foe is in tunnels. In other parts of the world, people get trapped below ground and it takes days or weeks and special equipment to save their lives. Why is it so difficult to trap Hamas? Even if they run out another entrance, now you know another spot to attack.

Thank you for continuing to cover this challenging topic!

A reader writes:

I might have once posted this on Facebook, but now I lob missives into the ether here on the Dish. Maybe that’s progress, in terms of building a more nuanced and impactful dialogue? 

I implore you to say something about the oral arguments in Trump v US. We have to create a drumbeat of intellectual and political honesty in this country, on the off-chance some of the justices may actually be listening. 

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