It might be just me, but I’ve noticed a weird wave of re-branding sweeping through the ranks of celebrity blogger type people famous for eating stuff lately. It seems that none of them are, nor ever were ‘clean eaters’.
I know right? It’s confusing.
Ever the pioneer, Ella Mills (formerly Ella Woodward) was the first to jump ship, stating ‘I don’t subscribe to the concept of healthy eating being about ‘clean eating’. Ok. Hang on, what? Next off the bandwagon were the Hemsley Sisters, labelling the clean eating philosophy ‘a fad’. And finally Joe abs everywhere Wicks dirtied himself up in a Guardian interview titled ‘Lean in 15’s Joe Wicks: ‘I don’t understand the clean-eating thing. I’ve just had bangers and mash’. Bangers and mash? How very unclean of him. Filthy.
Now, I’m a pleased as anyone to see the term ‘clean eating’ and all its moralising associations consigned to the kitchen bin of history, but I also feel pretty frustrated by this. In fact, primed as I was by the Hemsley sisters’ public protestations that they didn’t even know what clean eating was really (oh puh-lease), I suffered a kind of mute rage-gasm at my desk this morning when Jo’s cheery face popped in the Guardian wanging on about bangers.
The reason for my ire? It’s disingenuous. It just is. These people all know exactly what ‘clean eating’ is and what the term means. They rode the wave of its popularity to great public acclaim and financial success. We know it, they know it, and it’s hugely disappointing to see the very people who could affect great attitudinal change in this area swear blind they’ve never even really come into contact with any of this, never encountered the darker side of the intense focus on food purity that their brands can and do generate in others. At least the Hemsley sisters were honest enough to admit ‘we can’t say we had nothing to do with it’ but followed up with the now familiar and thoroughly unconvincing refrain ‘we don’t even really know what it means’. Ok. Sure you don’t.
Now, I may sound pretty cross at this point (because I am) but I want to point out that in no way do I begrudge people becoming successful in a field they are passionate about. No one knows that they’re going to become a semi-celebrity and the CEO of a medium sized business when they start a little food blog. Capitalising on people liking your recipes is smart, and running a business effectively is impressive. And I genuinely do not think that food bloggers like Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley Sisters can ever be held responsible for causing an eating disorder in another person. That would be a gross oversimplification. They are influential, but they’re not in control of public attitudes. Once you put something out into the world it can be twisted into any shape by anyone, and there are few opportunities to recapture your initial aim once the cat’s out the bag.
But this was one such opportunity. Disappointing then, that rather than open up the conversation about restriction, weight fixation and moralising over food - a conversation which could potentially be damaging to all blogger brands involved, but hugely helpful to their followers in particular and public discourse in general - the clean eating issue has been summarily dismissed. ‘Clean? Eating? Never heard of it’. Not really a thing. And all those whose restrictive food rules and needless anxieties around gluten, dairy, grains and meat have been fostered and reinforced by these blogs and their various eating ‘programmes’, are left to their own devices. Nope, no problem here guys, you invented clean eating on your own, nothing to do with us, we’ve never even heard of it.
Not using the term ‘clean’ does not mean that you haven’t contributed significantly to the thoroughly moralising, thoroughly disordered outlook on food which we now collectively buy into. Feigning ignorance - ‘clean who now? What? Moi? I’m all about being your best self though!’ - doesn’t exculpate you from rebranding old school lettuce and cottage cheese dieting as self love by sprinkling on some chia seeds and banging on about ‘abundance’. I truly believe all these people are coming from a good place of wanting to share something they love, but just because your brand isn’t ‘clean’ doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic, and it doesn’t make it ok to ignore the huge, obvious weight loss elephant in the room. ‘Cut out dairy and grains and sugar because it means you’re loving yourself and being the best you’ and ‘Cut out dairy and wheat because they’re processed and unclean’ are much of a muchness really, and are just the sunnier side of a coin the reverse of which says ‘the best you is the pure, super disciplined, probably quite thin you’. You’re still telling people to eliminate elements from their diet for no scientific reason and legitimising anxiety-inducing, moralising, socially isolating food rules in the process. Dropping the word ‘clean’ changes nothing really.
Everyone knows what it means. I just wish we could have talked about it.