Moment Pete Evans started to cause a stir
Once upon a time, Pete Evans was like any other celebrity chef - a successful restaurateur who made a foray into television and wrote a few cookbooks.
In 2010, he was tapped by Channel 7 to be a judge on its new reality series My Kitchen Rules, alongside Manu Feildel, and his star rocketed to stratospheric heights.
MKR was a smash ratings hit and, until its disastrous latest season, was at the top of the small screen rankings, beloved for its mix of kitchen challenges and contestant drama.
Somewhere along the way, Evans decided to use that fame and influence to hawk an increasingly jaw-dropping bag of pseudoscience claims, from pitching the Paleo diet as a form of 'medicine' to hanging out with prominent anti-vaccination advocates.
Today, it was revealed that he and Channel 7 have parted ways, bringing an end to his $800,000-a-year contract with the network.
It seems the decision was based on the likelihood that MKR will be rested in 2021, and not Evans' recent trouble with the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which slapped him with fines totalling $25,000 for selling a machine he claimed could treat coronavirus.
That's probably true, given Channel 7 has stood by him through controversy after controversy, dating back almost six years, refusing to buckle to public and medical profession pressure.
It knew back in 2014 that one of its biggest stars was beginning to infuriate doctors and scientists, but looked the other way.
In December 2014, Evans travelled to Western Australia to meet with the group Fluoride Free, which campaigns to remove fluoride from drinking water.
"This is definitely something that I am passionate about because I am a father and I care about future generations and where we're headed," he said at the time.
He had previously commented that he didn't "touch" tap water and instead relied on fluoride and chlorine-free alternatives.
Evans' support of such a group sparked concern in the medical community, with the Australian Medical Association's branch in WA asking that he "butt out".
"It's always disappointing when people use their celebrity in a way that is not useful to society," then AMA WA president Dr Michael Gannon said.
"In cases like this, when people are simply wrong, we ask that they butt out of the debate.
"Water fluoridation is something that has the full backing of the Australian Dental Association and the AMA. It's cheap, it's proven to be beneficial, and data repeatedly proves that it is effective in reducing cavities in children."
Evans didn't shy away from the controversy, instead hitting back by claiming that the number of countries to remove fluoride from drinking water "raises alarm bells".
In later public comments, Evans has described fluoride as a "neurotoxin" and a "major contributor for (sic) thyroid, brain and degenerative diseases".
The fluoride furore was a few years after Evans first raised eyebrows and chuckles when he starred in the Sunday Age newspaper's "Day On A Plate" column in 2012, running through his food choices for a 24-hour period.
A few years in to his role on MKR, he wrote about starting his day with "alkalised water" and "sprouted millet, sorghum, chia and buckwheat bread" followed by a whole host of complex items like coconut chips, emu meatballs and cacao nibs.
But it was his love of "activated almonds" that turned Evans into a social media laughing stock.
His visit to WA to spruik anti-fluoride views marked the start of his growing prominence in the alternative medicine community, but it didn't garner much public attention or blowback.
Nor, initially anyway, did his pushing of the Paleo diet, on which he based cookbooks and a business that sold meal plan subscriptions at a premium.
But that changed in early 2015.
Evans had for several months claimed that his "caveman" style of eating could help shrink tumours, lead to cancer remissions, assist in treating autism and stop asthma. He also appeared to imply that it could minimise the risk or symptoms of "mental illness, including dementia and Alzheimer's disease".
Criticism of his claims grew.
In March 2015, Evans appeared at a Paleo seminar in Geelong in Victoria, where he was asked about the growing controversy over his diet.
"I bet you I'm on the … news right now - 'Pete Evans wants to kill your babies,''' he said. "I love it. It gets me up in the morning, puts a smile on my face.''
That was in reference to a storm over his cookbook, due to be released in early 2015, dedicated to Paleo food for babies.
Publisher Pan Macmillan delayed the release of Bubba Yum Yum: The Paleo Way after medical professions raised the alarm over a broth that was described as a replacement for baby formula.
"In my view, there's a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead," Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, told TIME magazine.
The formula contained 10 times the safe maximum intake of vitamin A and high levels of other nutrients.
Experts spoke of their fear that mums and dads would wrongly use it as an alternative to breast milk or formula.
"That's the really troubling thing - the infant is totally at the whim of their parents when it comes to feeding," Dr Yeatman said. "If the wrong decision is made, they may be seriously affected."
Dr Nikki Stamp went a step further, describing Evans' recipe as "simply not OK," saying: "In fact, it's downright dangerous, arrogant and bordering on criminal."
The chef defended his book and the recipe and accused the media of a witch hunt. Pan Macmillan dumped the book and Evans and his co-authors, nutritionist Helen Padarin and blogger Charlotte Carr, released it themselves digitally.
"If I tell someone that I can 100 per cent cure their illness and that nothing will go wrong, I get sued or maybe even deregistered," Dr Stamp said.
Later in 2015, after months of controversy overshadowed that year's season of MKR, Channel 7 issued a directive to Evans to keep a lower profile while the show was on air, sources told News Corp Australia.
It also organised for its flagship current affairs show Sunday Night to feature the Paleo diet, with veteran broadcaster Mike Willesee road-testing it, losing 5kg in a few months.
Critics pointed out that Willesee would have lost that weight anyway by cutting down on his high consumption of soft drink and doing a bit of exercise.
But it was hailed by Evans and his supporters as a mainstream endorsement.
He continued to share glowing "miracle" testimonies from his followers to his rapidly growing social media audience, from people who had "healed themselves through food" of ailments such as auto-immune disease, clinical depression, melanoma cancers and migraines.
One comment from a woman with leukaemia told of how she planned to use paleo as a way to "get off my chemotherapy medication".
In October 2015, the group Australian Skeptics awarded Evans their Bent Spoon award for dubious scientific claims.
"It is not so much for his diet that he is a worthy winner, even though it can apparently shrink tumours, reduce diabetes, cure autism, stop asthma and reverse chronic fatigue," the group said. "There are elements of it that are probably useful, although bone broth for babies is a worry.
"No, he has won the award for his support of pseudo-medicine, his stance against fluoridation, and his association with rabid anti-vaccinationist Joseph Mercola - 'the legend' as Evans calls him.
"Check out the lengthy disclaimer on his Facebook page to see how he protects himself from his own pronouncements. But he is certainly influential, and he has a wide following, so when he pushes something of highly dubious quality or scientific evidence, then it has to be a worry."
In July 2016, Evans held a live Q&A session on his Facebook page when a fan asked the TV star what kind of sunscreen he used. Evans responded that he wore "generally nothing" when out and about.
"The silly thing is people put on normal chemical sunscreen then lay out in the sun for hours on end and think that they are safe because they have covered themselves in poisonous chemicals which is a recipe for disaster," he wrote.
The claim that sunscreen is toxic panicked cancer organisations, with Sue Heward from SunSmart telling the media that using sunscreen reduced the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.
"Around 2000 Australians die each year from skin cancer," Ms Heward said.
A month later, Evans told one of his followers on Facebook that "calcium from dairy can remove the calcium from your bones".
The woman, who said she had osteoporosis, asked for help in managing her symptoms when he offered the nonsensical advice.
"Most doctors do not know this information," Evans wrote.
Dr Brad Robinson penned an open letter to Evans, pleading with him to stick to cooking and leave medicine to the professionals.
"Your astounding advice about osteoporosis would be amusing, if it wasn't so potentially damaging to anyone at risk who actually believed you," Dr Robinson wrote.
"Even worse, your advice to the user of an anti-cholesterol medication to cease its use is - through an increased risk of stroke and heart attack if your advice were followed - potentially deadly."
In June 2018, Evans made global headlines with the release of a Netflix documentary about the keto diet, which was claimed to be able to help treat autism, asthma and cancer.
The Magic Pill, which was shot a year earlier, featured a range of case studies purporting to show the benefits of the diet, which is extremely low in carbohydrates but high in fat and protein.
Dr Tony Bartone, head of the Australian Medical Association, said the documentary could be harmful.
"There is some early evidence, and lot of animal models, that (the diet) may have a role in maybe autism, certainly epilepsy - but it is still yet to be fully evaluated," Dr Bartone said.
"A ketogenic diet is not without risk and it really should be performed in conjunction with a medical practitioner.
"A long-term ketogenic diet can be associated with unhealthy weight loss, kidney stones, and in children can lead to nutritional deficiencies and immune system issues."
In response, Evans accused the AMA of being unduly influenced by external forces.
View this post on Instagram
Everyday I love to immerse myself in an experience within the cleansing ocean water as well as a brief gaze into the radiant light of the early rising or late setting Sun. These simple, yet powerful practices have got to be two of the best forms of free medicine on the planet for body, mind and spirit. #sungazing 🌞👁💦❤️
In December 2018, he caused a stir again when he took to Instagram with a dawn selfie and a caption that seemed to encourage people to stare at the sun.
"Every day I love to immerse myself in an experience within the cleansing ocean water as well as a brief gaze into the radiant light of the early rising or late setting sun," Evans wrote.
"These simple, yet powerful practices have got to be two of the best forms of free medicine on the planet for body, mind and spirit."
Doctors warned that looking at the sun could damage the eyes.
For the several years that criticism and controversy swirled, Evans was asked on a number of occasions if he was an anti-vaxxer, but never gave a clear answer.
In March last year, he shared a link on his Facebook page to a podcast by anti-vaccination campaign Paul Chek.
"One of the most important podcasts to listen to. Thanks for asking the questions that need to be asked about vaccines and medicine," he wrote.
And in January this year, he posted a photo of himself with Robert F. Kennedy Jr, praising the anti-vaccination figure's "important work" and linking to his organisation Children's Health Defence, which peddles vaccination conspiracy theories and actively lobbies against childhood vaccinations.
The post generated a stream of condemnation, including from Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon, who said "vaccines save lives" and described the post as "intensely frustrating".
"Vaccines are one of the great success stories of modern medicine, but the rise of the anti-vaxxer trend has eroded some of these gains and led to needless death and suffering," he said.
"Robert F. Kennedy is not doing "important work" for coming generations. He is perpetuating dangerous, anti-scientific myths which are causing tremendous harm in countries including the United States and Australia.
"I understand that many people look up to Mr Evans in his roles as a popular chef and television host. I hope that he rethinks the company he keeps and books an appointment with his local GP to learn about the damage he is doing."
Last month, as Australia's coronavirus crisis reached fever pitch, Evans went live on a social media video, during which he spruiked a gadget he was selling with claims is could treat COVID-19.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration hit him with fines totalling $25,200 for two breaches over the sale of the devices, which he was flogging for almost $15,000.
"The TGA received a number of complaints about the promotion of a 'BioCharger' device that occurred during a Facebook livestream on 9 April 2020," it said in a statement.
"Mr Evans allegedly livestreamed on his Facebook page, which has more than 1.4 million followers, claims that the device could be used in relation to 'Wuhan coronavirus' - a claim which has no apparent foundation, and which the TGA takes extremely seriously.
"The TGA has issued (Evans) with an infringement notice in respect of the representation made in the livestream/video. A second infringement notice was issued for alleged advertising breaches on (his) website which … included claims such as: 'proven to restore strength, stamina, co-ordination and mental clarity', 'sharpening your mental clarity', 'recovery … from an injury, stress' and 'accelerating muscle recovery and reducing stiffness in joints'."
And just today, on the day it was revealed that his MKR and Channel 7 days are over, Evans was attacked for again sharing controversial views.
Evans took to Instagram to encourage his followers to view a three-hour long video featuring David Icke, a notorious British conspiracy theorist.
Icke has previously been banned from entering Australia by immigration authorities and slammed for allegedly being a Holocaust denier.
In the video shared by Evans, Icke described COVID-19 as a "fake pandemic with no virus" but also links infections to 5G mobile phone antennas.
Icke also said social distancing measures are like "Nazi Germany fascism".
Originally published as Moment Pete Evans started to cause a stir