I’m not keen on the term ‘clean eating’. As Nigella Lawson says, it implies that there’s an antithetical form of eating that is somehow ‘dirty’. A phrase so absolute in its intentions that it renders most of us helplessly (and shamefully) nutritionally inadequate.
However you may feel about Team Clean’s choice of words, it’s hard to ignore the impact the movement has had on our food landscape. No longer confined to patchouli-scented hippie buffets, healthy eating is now as ubiquitous as a Starbucks coconut milk flat white or a cold-pressed juice from Pret. And hey, I’m not complaining. My life as a consumer has benefited greatly from the mainstreaming of ‘clean’.
But health is more than the simple nutritional arithmetic of what we put in our mouths. It’s how we eat, why we eat, and the way we feel about ourselves when we’re doing it.
My wariness gets piqued whenever I hear words like ‘bad’ and ‘naughty’ creeping into diet vernacular. Indeed, many a poor online editor has borne the brunt of my emails requesting the removal of the words like ‘guilt-free’ from my recipes. No amount of expensive sugar alternatives will make those pancakes ‘guilt-free,’ my friend. That is until you actively choose not to feel guilty about eating them.
We live in an age where, as the food writer Michael Pollan puts it, food can’t just be good to eat, it must good to think, too. But what happens when that thinking gives us cause to continually beat ourselves up for making the ‘wrong’ choices? And they are just that: choices. Choices made by informed adults – not ‘naughty’ children who’ve ‘been ‘bad.’
Once ‘naughty’ gets removed from the equation, moments when a not-so-clean choice is made become conscious, almost romantic experiences. Like those orgasmic women in chocolate adverts, totally present on a suede couch just… loving a bit of chocolate.
My fantasy for the future of nutrition sees the pendulum slow to a sweeter spot where that age-old vitamin ‘pleasure’ can sit comfortably alongside nutritional density on our plates. A #health that understands life is not always ‘clean’, and that vitality can arrive in many forms.
As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.” That, to me, is what real nutrition is all about.