There is a recent VICE article doing the rounds The Unhealthy Truth Behind ‘Wellness’ and ‘Clean Eating’ by ex Bake Off star Ruby Tandoh that caught my attention. In the article which is definitely worth a read, Tandoh questions whether this new obession with juicing, eating gluten-free and detoxing is really healthy at all. In fact she shares a little about her own eating disorder (she suffered from anorexia) and how advocates of clean eating such as Ella Woodward of Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters gave her an excuse to restrict her eating and cut out certain food groups.
While a part of me agrees with her, it is only a small part, and while I also know that orthorexia (an eating disorder centered around a fixation on healthy or clean foods) is very real and I feel terrible for the people who suffer with that or any other eating disorder, when it comes to some pretty girls flogging healthy cookbooks and posting chia seeds on Instagram, I can’t help but think ‘what’s the big deal?’.
Food trends come and go and people dip in and out of them, in recent years we’ve had competitive eating a la Man vs. Food, the cronut, freak shakes, a whole influx of American fast food and, yes, quinoa. I know which fads are more fun, but I also know that chugging a 7000 calorie milkshake is way more harmful than trying a green juice.
The majority of people will never take the healthy eating thing to extremes because although they’re on the up, eating disorders are still rare. If you’re going to get one, you’re going to get one, regardless of the triggers or what you are eating. So I truly think that introducing new foods, recipes and ways of preparing healthy food to the public is a good thing.
I’m very lucky, I come from a family that cooks, both grandmothers are incredible cooks who regularly cook meals for tens of people from scratch. My mum has always prepared healthy foods at home, as a child I was fortunate enough to be introduced to new foods constantly. I literally went to school with a girl who had never tried a red grape, she didn’t believe they existed, the same girl had also never tried rice (but that’s a different story). I have friends in their twenties who can’t roast a chicken, let alone make a basic, nutritious meal.
So the fact that Madeleine Shaw, Ellie Pear and Amelia Freer are not only here but bang on trend is a very good thing, it’s forcing people to look at their diet and think ‘yeah, maybe I can’t live on frozen pizzas and Pret for life’. I honestly feel like my life changed when I bought a Nutribullet, I do not see what can be unhealthy about me drinking a crazy amount of green vegetables every morning rather than a bowl of cornflakes.
As for going overboard, I’m not stupid, and I’m definitely not rich, I know that most people, myself included, just cannot afford to eat the way these ‘gurus’ want us to 24/7. It is incredibly expensive. Ella Woodward is heir to the Sainsburys’ fortune so she’s good for organic almond milk and cashew butter, but for everyone else, we just can’t afford it. Try making a full Hemsley Hemsley recipe without leaving anything out and you’re looking at around £25 for a batch of black bean brownies.
But… it is no bad thing to broaden people’s horizons when it comes to food. And a large proportion of Brits do eat disgustingly; it’s been ten years since the government’s big ‘Eat Your 5 a Day’ drive and how many people do eat their 5 a day? Well 64% of adults don’t and, even worse, only 21% of 16-24 year olds achieve the 5-a-day target.
You are what you eat, you really, really are. Ever since I was sucked in to the cult of wellness I feel really great, amazing even. Equally, when I go on a wine bender and only eat fried chicken for a full week (it’s been known to happen) I feel sluggish, tired, spotty and generally yuk.
There is little to no food education in the UK, when I was a school we learnt how to make Toad in The Hole (that nutritious blend of processed meat and flour) and also how to make a sandwich. If it weren’t for my mum who wanted to train as a dietician, and a big love for Jamie Oliver’s crusade telly, I wouldn’t have clue about the foods my body needs to function. Even highly eductated people can be utterly clueless about eating well, because as a country, until now, we haven’t valued teaching the population about eating well.
It’s so important, there are soooo many studies that prove eating a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, fish and fruits can stave of disease, make you look younger, improve libido, cure cancer! We should be celebrating the Amelia Freers and Natatsha Coretts of this world. One point Tandoh does make that bears repeating is that these people have little to no training or authority, they’re self-styles gurus, they aren’t actually qualified to be experts of nutrition. And yes, some of them can be a little preachy, some of them can encourage cutting out entirely innocuous food groups LIKE HELLO WE CAN ALL EAT GLUTEN, IT’S FINE. But it’s not like they’re quacks saying they can fix a broken leg with an avocado or offering to cure your angina – suggesting we all eat a bit more kale and drink more coconut water is harmless.
In fact trying out that cashew milk or agave syrup is probably, nay definitely, good for you. Especially if it stops you reaching for a Cadbury’s Flake.
I applaud the clean eating movement for getting people excited about, actually pretty fucking boring food. Let’s be real, when was the last time anyone got into a tiz over a courgette? It’s a now status symbol to walk out of Boom Cycle with your green juice now. Which I think we can all agree is much better than aping the Olsen twins and walking round with a gallon of caffeinated sugar milk from Starbucks. So lets just all chill on this; try a spiralizer, it’ll be fun – and no one’s gonna judge you if you still have a Patisserie Valerie once a week.