Is the “clean eating” lifestyle going out of fashion? KFC announced a clean-eating burger, only to reveal that it was a marketing scheme to build excitement for a new Dirty menu. This contrast of “clean” with “dirty” in the context of food has been a central part of the “clean eating” trend’s criticism. Moreover, it gained notoriety through uneducated promotors giving nutritional advice to a large community without having anything but personal experience to back it up. Unfortunately, for many people this trend ended in orthorexia nervosa, a fixation on the right food and in lack of nutrients. Therefore, many people, even its once-faithful followers are welcoming this “food cult” leaving the spotlight.
If we call some food ‘clean’ than we indirectly suggest that food can also be dirty. This has been one of the first major points of discussion with regards to clean eating. I can to a large extent agree with the criticism, as the list of “forbidden” food continues to grow, mainly because there is no clear definition of clean-eating and is therefore open to misinterpretation and can be taken to the extreme. “Routinely ‘clean-eating’ asks that major food groups are eliminated from the diet without medical need or supervision i.e. gluten and or dairy,” as Dimple Thakrar, the spokesperson for British Dietetic Association, explains. To even begin to consider such large groups of natural foods as non-clean, hence dirty, is an idea that truly requires strong scientific proof, which has not been provided. However, clean eating as a term for food that is not heavily processed in factories and where the list of ingredients does not include terminology only chemistry students and nutrition experts understand, is for me an acceptable notion.
On the other hand, regardless of what I think clean eating is, I cannot deny that the popular clean eating proved to be dangerous for young people in the last couple of years. Many people, mostly young girls, have developed orthorexia nervosa, which can be described as a fixation on eating the “right” foods. The eating disorder charity Beat has stated that “there is a view that (orthorexia nervosa) may be more closely connected to OCD due to the nature of the illness, although it does also share behavioural traits with anorexia.” While it is not yet a formally diagnosable mental illness, orthorexia nervosa is an important issue of our generation, resulting from a fixation on a diet which can lead to lack of energy and nutrient deficiencies, promoted mostly by inexperienced Tumblr and Instagram celebrities. The majority of clean eating social media ‘gurus’ have no qualification in nutrition and yet they make very strong claims based on very basic readings. While they might have an insight into short-term consequences of what reducing/eliminating some foods does to their body, they are lacking the understanding of the long-term consequences.
In the last few years, looking at Tumblr, the hub of clean eating, could at times be quite disturbing. If you wrote “#cleaneating” in the search machine, thousands of pretty pictures would come to the surface. But the pictures seemed to be limited to smoothie bowls, avocado prepared in every freaking way imaginable, and salads without dressing. Which is in a way understandable, because these foods do make the best pictures with their colours’ playfulness being quite seductive. I remember looking at those photos for hours at the time and never being bored, from an artistic point of view. Nevertheless, regardless of how beautiful the photos looked, they could not hide that the foods were lacking nutritional variety. In my personal and in no way professional opinion, the lack of inclusiveness of ‘clean food’ emerged from the fact that majority of these young clean eating fans and their followers could not actually cook. This reduced the whole diet to only a few, raw ingredients, furthering the threat to health.
Now, the trend is changing, and the same Tumblr search for #cleaneating provides a good amount of photos with actual warm meals: pastas, risottos and curries. Some clean-eating social media gurus even denounced the trend completely, raising the question of #cleaneating dying out. I believe that this is a step forward with reference to the above problems. On the other hand, acknowledging Tumblr celebrities as any source of dietary information (not talking about individual recipes) should continue to be heavily questioned not only by professional nutritionists but by all of us, in order to keep us from the seductiveness of those inspirational posts with some of the best food photography online, which will come with whatever new trend #cleaneating involves in or by which it is replaced.