The backlash against clean eating is disinfo at its worst. Here’s why
By Diane Small
And so it has begun. The Clean Eating movement has become so strong, the pendulum has swung and there’s now a huge backlash building against it.
Hearst-owned Elle Magazine ran a long article recently, claiming that the Clean Eating movement, (which embraces eating mainly organic fruit and veg, as well as gluten free, dairy free, vegan and natural foods), ‘can be dangerous.’ Their reasoning? Several spurious reasons outlined below.
Conde Nast owned Glamour UK printed a piece called ‘Clean Eating? No Thanks’. The article claims that it ‘muddles the truth about food’. Fox News Magazine outrageously stated that ‘processed foods can actually be good for you.’ Um, what? And (morbidly obese) vlogger Grace Victory made a TV show for the BBC called ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets.’ She made such ridiculous claims as ‘a lot of (clean eating lovers) have orthorexia’ (an obsession with eating foods that are considered healthy). A lot of us? Um, really? Show me the data! (She didn’t, by the way).
Before we launch into more specific arguments that have recently bombarded mainstream media, let me first state something that you may not know about journalism. Most news outlets are funded by powerful food and agricultural interests.
Powerful interests at play
Crucially, the Gates Foundation is also one of GMO food and agri-chemical giant Bayer/Monsanto’s biggest shareholders. And Gates is now also the world’s largest holder of farmland, and a major shareholder in Cargill, a corporate meat and chicken producer. Thus, Gates and other stakeholders in these multi-billion dollar industries have an interest in furthering any ‘good news’ about processed food.
This ‘food’ often contains GMO corn, sugar and rapeseed oil, all of which are linked to health problems. These include heart attacks, inflammation and obesity. Gates is also heavily involved in bioengineered food, and even bioengineered breast milk!
Let me also say that the dairy and meat industries are starting to feel the heat of the clean eating revolution. Dairy sales are sliding year on year thanks to the rise of almond, soya and coconut milks replacing cow. And as the public learns more about the growth hormones, antibiotics and GMOs that are present in almost all North American meat – not to mention the horrific suffering of livestock before it’s slaughtered for consumption – meat sales are also decreasing rapidly.
As you can imagine, it’s very likely that the ‘clean eating backlash’ has been ‘encouraged’ by some very strong financial interests.
Here are the key arguments mainstream media is trying to push to discredit clean eating. And our strong refutations to their dubious claims.
Myths About Clean Eating – Busted!
1. Eliminating whole food groups is bad for your health
First of all, let’s make it clear that ‘food groups’ themselves are defined by the US Department of Agriculture. A highly corrupt agency who has been proven to give in time and time again to pressure from lobby groups, like dairy and cattle farmers.
The American Cancer Society has criticised USDA’s guidelines for being too heavy in animal products. Other experts have struck down the ‘food groups’ set out by the American governing body as being unhealthy.
“There’s a great deal of money at stake in what these guidelines say,” said Dr. Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and former chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, in Time Magazine. She blatantly stated in the same interview: “I was told we could never say ‘eat less meat’ because USDA would not allow it.”
A history of poor advice
The USDA put American lives at risk in the 80s and 90s by advocating a high carb, low fat diet. They suggested we eat mainly rice, cereals and pasta, with generous helpings of meat and dairy. But sparse amounts of olives, coconut oil, avocados or nuts. Today, we know that this kind of diet may cause some kinds of cancer and insulin spikes that could lead to Type 2 diabetes. So how can the USDA ever be trusted?
Instead of taking their advice, let’s simply look at longevity, shall we? The fish-loving Japanese live the longest of any nationality in the world. And their diet is very low in sugar and animal products, high in soya protein and sea vegetables. Dairy is virtually non-existent. In fact, most Asians completely shun dairy and live longer than many Westerners.
In Europe, those in the Mediterranean live longest, thanks to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. As for eliminating meat, well, study after study shows that vegetarians live longer than carnivores.
But here’s the real killer: vegans – those who eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from their diet (that’s two whole food groups!!) may even live longer than even vegetarians.
2. The wellness industry is inherently classist, elitist and ‘fatphobic’
This sweeping claim was made by Ruby Tandoh in Vice. Grace Victory supported that claim when she said in the Daily Mail ‘I feel like this whole clean eating vegan thing is, a class…I can’t afford to eat like this all the time. It is very expensive.’
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Eating fruit and veggies is way cheaper than eating meat and dairy, as anyone who has ever compared the price of bananas vs. cheese can tell you. In fact, with a little ingenuity and a window box or garden, you can even grow your own produce – for free!
More importantly, ‘the wellness industry’ thrived despite fierce competition from big agriculture. And despite a lack of support from most mainstream media. Wellness bloggers – most of whom are just ‘normal’ women’ – grew their businesses by word of mouth and social media sharing. On the highly democratic, free internet. For anyone to read. For free. How is that ‘elitist’?
Oh, and by the way, clean eating is about being healthier. It’s rarely, if ever, about counting calories or losing weight. (Though that just may happen naturally, as a by-product).
3. Going completely carb-free is harmful
This claim made by the clean eating backlash is 100% true. Our bodies need carbs. And that’s why clean eating advocates consuming loads of healthy carbs, but fewer refined carbs. That means less white flour, sugar, white rice, and other empty calories.
There’s a big difference between ‘carb-free’ and ‘refined carb-free’. But the clean eating haters don’t bother to look into that. Too bad they’ve yet to discover the joys of yummy whole grains, and desserts like cashew based cheese cakes, raw, sugar free chocolate cake or banana based ice cream. Yum!
4. Clean eating is too restrictive – after all, a little of what you fancy does you good
This is one of Nigella Lawson’s slams against clean eating. And yes, this is true. And not a single one of the ‘clean eating’ chefs you will speak to will tell you otherwise. Eating normal chocolate, butter, burgers or booze is something they all do sometimes.
But not every day. That’s what’s meant by ‘a little’ of what you fancy.
5. Those who advocate a ‘clean’ diet are ‘orthorexic’ and/or may make themselves sick with their eating choices
In ‘Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets’, Grace Victory herself admitted that clean eating bloggers never recommend cutting all carbs from the diet. But to prove how ‘dangerous’ clean eating is, Grace met one follower of the bloggers, writer Eve Simmons.
Simmons said she took their advice to the extreme and ended up in hospital. ‘I would find recipes from Deliciously Ella and Madeline Shaw online, and if there were ever carbs, I would replace it with cauliflower. In six months I lost 20% of my body weight and I ended up in hospital as my organs started shutting down.’
Umm..I think the ‘I would replace it with cauliflower‘ part here is key.
The reality is that you can literally obsess about anything, from chocolate to men to working out to vegan food. And that’s a bad thing. But that’s got nothing to do with clean eating itself. It’s more indicative of an obsessive disorder, which Simmons clearly had. Presenting her as representative of clean eating fans was simply untrue and unethical.
Oh, and speaking of disorders: that term, ‘orthorexia’ is a made-up term that’s not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis in the DSM-5. It’s just an invented term to promote the clean eating backlash. But many journalists like to use it anyway.
Clean Eating is all about taking control of your health. In fact, Ella Woodward, (aka Deliciously Ella) is far from sick due to clean eating. In fact, she – and several other clean eating bloggers, including Madeline Shaw and Natasha Corrett, recovered from chronic illnesses only after adopting a plant-based diet.
6. The most popular Insta-chefs have no nutritional training
Well, this claim by the clean eating backlash simply isn’t true. Some of our favourite chefs DO have some kind of training! For example, Madeleine Shaw is a trained holistic nutritional health coach who trained at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. But the point is: these people are chefs, not nutritionists. Would you expect Julia Child to have nutritional training? Gordon Ramsay? Didn’t think so.
But let’s go a bit further. What value is there in having a university degree in nutrition anyway, when big Pharmaceutical and Agricultural companies are hijacking the educational system? Since the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 was passed in America, professors have been encouraged ‘to behave like entrepreneurs’ who could benefit financially from their research. In other words, they’re no longer public employees creating ideas for the public domain. That’s when food and agribusiness companies began to funnel huge amounts of cash into grants and university programs.
Corporate interests at universities
For example? Danforth Campus at Washington University named their entire life sciences building The Monsanto Laboratory of the Life Sciences, thanks to funding by…Monsanto. But this institution is not alone. Virtually all American – and increasingly, global – universities receive funding from the likes of Cargill, Kraft, Hormel, Kellogg’s, The Gates Foundation, Unilever and McDonald’s, to name a few.
The result is that these corporations influence those they fund and lobby governments and NGOs to ensure their products – namely dairy and meat – are always included in recommendations of what to eat. To illustrate, the movie What The Health showed how despite links to diabetes and cancer, both the American Diabetes Foundation and American Cancer Society promote eating cheese, eggs, meat and chicken as part of a healthy diet.
7. Packaged and processed food can be good for you!
Check out Good Housekeeping’s contribution to the clean eating backlash. They insist that some foods, for example, packaged breads, can be good for you. “The best example,” they claim, is “100% whole-grain bread. It’s stuffed with tons of 100% whole-grains. In fact, that ingredient list can barely fit on the package!”
Yep, that’s right, and no wonder. The ingredient list of America’s best selling ‘whole grain bread’ includes:
Whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).
Most packaged foods contain GMOs
The ingredients in bold are from GMOs. No thanks. And the majority of the listed ingredients are just chemicals. Oh, and let’s not forget that most ‘regular’ whole wheat in America is sprayed with the cancer causing chemical glyphosate.
Hmmm…perhaps it makes more sense now why clean eaters prefer making their own breads from grains like amaranth and quinoa. Which are NOT sprayed with glyphosate, by the way.
But actually, one Good Housekeeping claim is right: packaged food can be ok. If it’s organic, that is. Think organic, wholefood fruit and nut bars, for example.
But those are treats – not something you’d eat every day. (See point 4, above). What clean eating is against is the extreme amount of processed food in the average diet.
Almond butter rice crispy treats by Oh She Glows
The Bottom Line
Not long ago, people had to rely on the mainstream media and trusted ‘experts’ for all information related to food safety, nutrition, health and farming. Today, with more diversity of information through the internet, alternative voices are increasingly heard. And they are increasingly trusted. Especially after mainstream sources of expertise and information are found to be enmeshed in thick layers of corruption, lobbying and self interest.
The Clean Eating movement arose from dissatisfaction with ubiquitous processed food and expanded knowledge on how many foods are genetically modified, sprayed with poisonous chemicals and irradiated. It arose from a growing empathy for overcrowded, unhealthy, pharmaceutical ridden livestock. It arose from distrust of mainstream media sources on health and nutrition.
Clean eating recipes are delicious and nutritious. They eliminate the foods that normally make us feel heavy, sickly and bloated. Importantly, unlike the kitchens in Michelin starred restaurants or the stars of ‘haute cuisine’ clean eating is a largely female-led movement, sparked by women taking control of their – and their families’ – health.
In fact, this attack on clean eating feels a bit like an attack on women themselves. Despite the fact that many men around the world worship the unhealthy trinity of the BBQ, beer and burgers, no accusations of promoting heart attacks, elitism, poor role modelling or a lack of nutritional accreditations are ever thrown at meat-loving chefs Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal or Wolfgang Puck. What the heck?
The clean eating backlash is just wrong. Like working out, using clean, organic beauty products or consciously shopping for ethical fashion, clean eating isn’t simply a trend. It’s a new and permanent part of many people’s lives. And that’s a great thing.
Images: Wikicommons unless otherwise stated. Main image courtesy Natasha Corrett