Mod­ern Life

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Mark Ed­monds

Clean eat­ing? Not for me – I pre­fer the dirty ver­sion. You know: the sen­sual plea­sure of live oys­ters, drip­ping with the smell of the sea, fol­lowed by unc­tu­ous von­gole and mus­sels steamed in Noilly Prat, the whole shirt­front-wrecking she­bang served with lin­guine in a slick of olive oil and gar­lic. Or, in win­ter months, a ro­bust cas­soulet loaded with calo­ries, duck fat and umpteen dif­fer­ent bits of pig. And I’m sure you’ll have the same, Gwyneth, with quinoa on the side?

The pam­pered Pal­trow was (for want of a more ap­po­site word) the brains be­hind the so-called clean-eat­ing move­ment: she was the first ‘celeb’ to pop­u­larise it be­fore it was taken up in earnest by a frag­ile army of stick-in­sect bloggers, of­fer­ing ir­re­spon­si­ble choices and frankly dan­ger­ous ad­vice. Much of the clean-eat­ing ‘phi­los­o­phy’ is based on ‘al­ter­na­tive sci­en­tific facts’ or what the rest of us might call to­tal baloney.

While the sainted Gwyn­nie’s web­site did at least of­fer some choicely comic mo­ments of in­san­ity – ‘brain-ac­ti­vat­ing’ drinks to as­suage ‘brain fog and am­ne­siac mo­ments’, ‘mug wort vagi­nal steam­ing for uterus hy­giene’ – her ad­vice was too kooky, too left-field to be taken se­ri­ously.

But the new wave of clean-eat­ing gu­rus has had more suc­cess in get­ting their point across. Wor­ry­ingly, they have man­aged to con­vince the naive, the needy and the neu­rotic that they should give this up, give that up. Avoid meat … Be healthy! Detox! Skip pasta and stick to cour­gettes ren­dered frizzy by a plas­tic spi­raliser. Can’t wait.

Clean eaters find ve­g­an­ism highly de­sir­able; con­versely gluten is a toxin, on a par with nu­clear war­heads in terms of its risk to the long-term well­be­ing of our planet. Yet only one per cent of the earth’s pop­u­la­tion is gen­uinely gluten in­tol­er­ant. Rather more in Not­ting Hill.

So­cial media has of course helped stoke the fire. The move­ment, un­tram­melled by reg­u­la­tion, has pro­mul­gated a litany of fic­ti­tious claims: clean eat­ing can cure de­pres­sion and chronic fa­tigue; al­ka­line di­ets, a key el­e­ment of many clean-eat­ing pro­grammes, will al­low us to get rid of the tox­ins that make us so ill.

Sadly not all of the clean-eat­ing gu­rus are con­fined to so­cial media: one or two have made the break­through into the real world. The worry is that young women, naive and dan­ger­ously prone to eat­ing dis­or­ders, are hap­pily ab­sorb­ing their health ‘ad­vice’ and be­liev­ing it. In this coun­try, around 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple, a high pro­por­tion of them young women, suf­fer some form of eat­ing disor­der.

Many crit­ics of the move­ment sug­gest that the phrase ‘clean eat­ing’ is in it­self dan­ger­ous: un­der­pin­ning the con­stant stream of In­sta­gram photos of skinny model-like girls, knock­ing back kale and ginger smooth­ies, is the im­pli­ca­tion that a nor­mal, bal­anced diet – con­sist­ing of carbs, fats, pro­teins and veg­eta­bles – is ac­tu­ally un­ac­cept­able, pol­luted and wrong.

The Hem­s­ley sis­ters, Jas­mine and Melissa, were the first to re­alise the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial of the clean-eat­ing mumbo-jumbo. With­out a qual­i­fi­ca­tion in nu­tri­tion to their names, th­ese two easy-on-the eye, skinny, posh girls from Sur­biton (daugh­ters of an army colonel and a Filip­ina mother) landed a lu­cra­tive pub­lish­ing con­tract and a se­ries on Channel 4. But there has been a back­lash: their last Channel 4 se­ries haem­or­rhaged rat­ings and by their own crass stan­dards the Hem­s­leys are keep­ing a low pro­file.

Mean­while, the clean-eat­ing guru de nos jours is now Ella Mills – daugh­ter of Sains­bury heiress Camilla and Tory- turned-labour MP Shaun Wood­ward. With one mil­lion fol­low­ers online, she now runs a small chain of suc­cess­ful shops, and her first book, De­li­ciously Ella, was the fastest-sell­ing de­but cook­book in his­tory.

Yet she is am­bigu­ous about her role as an am­bas­sador for clean eat­ing and claims now that she does not be­lieve in the move­ment. Grilled by clean-eat­ing scep­tic and nu­tri­tion­ist Dr Giles Yeo for a re­cent BBC TV doc­u­men­tary, she sub­se­quently re­leased a state­ment dis­tanc­ing her­self from the move­ment. ‘[The term clean eat­ing] has been overused to pack­age neg­a­tive fads, which I do not support. I am re­mov­ing the word “clean” from posts to en­sure no re­la­tion to the new mean­ing of the word and what it has come to rep­re­sent.’ So Ella has come clean: it’s all non­sense – and it’s OK for the rest of us to get down and dirty.

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