Fab or fad?

Clean eating is a trend that has gained traction in recent years. The idea is that food should be enjoyed in its most natural state possible, free from processing or added extras. Celebrity devotees include the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba and the diet-cum-lifestyle has gained popularity on social media.

While the rejection of processed foods in favour of wholesome, hearty alternatives of course has its health benefits, some have dismissed it as a ‘fad’ and pointed out that the near-religious cult of the diet among a small number of followers could in fact lead to people neglecting to give themselves a balanced, nutritious diet as they focus too much on where their food comes from rather than what food groups they are putting on their plate.

Although it is nowhere within the unwritten definition of clean eating, some prominent clean eating individuals have been accused of encouraging their followers to cut out major parts of their diet like dairy or gluten without suggesting alternatives.

There is also a perception that clean eating is more about getting thin than it is about being kind to your body. You eat cleanly to be healthy, ergo, in the minds of some, they eat cleanly to be thin rather than well nourished.

Clean eating, it seems, has become a dirty term. Influential food bloggers and writers like Deliciously Ella, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley, and Ruby Tandoh have been rejecting the term in their droves, calling it vague and confusing.

In a column for The Guardian, Ms Tandoh, who is an author and took part in the 2013 series of the Great British Bake Off, wrote: “With the wellness movement coming under fire, it is no surprise that the big names in clean eating are beginning to worry. Across dozens of perfectly glowing, smooth-skinned brows, a glimmer of sweat is beginning to prickle: it’s time to rebrand, or duck out.”

She continued, describing the “many toxic layers to the wellness phenomenon” and calling clean eating ‘a fad diet’. Mills and the Hemsleys concur, and have distanced themselves from the description.

And health food, of course, comes at a price. However, there are things we can do as students to minimise time and expense and improve our diets one step at a time.

Firstly, there is nothing contentious or new about the clean eating maxim of consuming more vegetables. Clubbing together with like-minded housemates can allow you to get the best deal on bulk purchases of veg and could cut down waste too. The VegBox society delivers pre-ordered boxes of, er, veg to the Hive every week for students.

Cooking with friends can also be a great way to eat more healthily. Swap ideas and make meals together; this is also a great bonding exercise. Cooking larger portions to share is another way you can look to minimise food waste.

Similarly, cooking isnít Tinder. Looks arenít everything. Buy reduced, misshapen veg, take advantage of cheaper supermarket own-brands and ‘to clear’ items if you’re going to use them soon. Although it wonít look quite as nice on your Instagram, it’ll taste the same and might just be kinder on your wallet too.

You don’t have to drastically change your diet in order to make positive changes. Swap that extra portion of carbs for some more veg, or that sweet snack for a piece of fruit, every tiny change makes a difference!

The old advice of trying to put a rainbow of colours on your plate remains relevant (and keeps the beetroot industry in profit, win-win).

It might just be worth investing in a good quality, healthy cookbook if you don’t have one already. Shop around and flick through some cookbooks to find one you like the look of, and try one of Norwich’s many charity shops. The internet is also a good place to look for culinary inspiration, with loads of blogs brimming with great recipe and food presentation ideas!

And finally? We’re all entitled to a treat every now and again. So if you get home late and want a nice tin of steaming spaghetti hoops, go ahead and stick the buggers in the microwave – we won’t be judging you.

So, clean eating seems like a noble idea despite its being largely discredited in the food community, and one which is certainly worth incorporating in part into your cooking. But the best advice is to not get too hung up on ideas of cleanliness at the expense of your all-round nourishment or health. Instead, look for the best deals on good quality food and make sure you are still enjoying a healthy, balanced diet, whether it can be described as clean eating or otherwise.


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Tony Allen

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September 2021
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