Some stuff about me and some stuff about food
Lol well I could start this by saying "oh I get asked all the time about weight and veganism so I wanted to answer some questions" but I don’t, not often. That’s not the kind of audience I’ve worked for and it’s not the kind of (hashtag) content I produce. But I still want to use this little slice of the internet I periodically hire out as a soap box to say some stuff I believe in.
You may have noticed that I don’t leave bad reviews for places on any of my social media, or this website. And I also do not like to lay into businesses trying, in whatever form they can, to further the vegan cause. But there’s been a confusion growing around veganism and clean eating for some time. When you’re silent, it’s akin to letting that conversation roll on at the dinner table while you sit there in a sulk. Sometimes it’s okay to also be angry and add your opinion to the conversation. Especially if you’ve spent four years working in the industry that’s getting slated and being a part of some of the causes people are analysing.
The myth we are sold in the clean eating industry is toxic. It’s exasperating and it is pseudo-science. For mainstream society in the UK, veganism is now intrinsically linked to clean eating and wellness (have a look in our supermarket aisles if you don’t believe me. There isn’t a vegan section, is there? It’s an expensive ‘free from’ section that’s beginning to gain traction with consumers). Historically, they’ve been separate entities for a long time. But last year, when I wrote about this the first time around, plant-based diets had already been dragged into the water. And now, I'm tired of seeing it mucked about with cleanses and detoxes and all that other BS.
Veganism should be accessible to everyone, but when you make plant-based, cleansing diets an elite aspiration, they stop being possible for people who do have strains on their income, or have to budget every meal (hi, that’s me too). Instead of being mainstream, vegan options get muddied up with detoxing and juice cleanses. Instead of being a diet you can feed to your entire family, it becomes an ABC1 demographic lifestyle choice.
I know for a fact that there are younger people that read this blog, as well as people looking for advice on health and weight, and I hope starting this conversation will help debunk some of the mystery around vegan diets and all the so-called ‘wellbeing’ bloggers we’re now beginning to level criticism at.
Earlier in the year, when I saw Ruby Tandoh beginning a dialogue about the BS behind clean eating and the Hemsley sister’s new programme for Channel 4, I was like *finally*. I am so excited to read Ruby's cookbook, Flavour: Eat What You Love, and she’s been doing some pretty useful debunking of clean eating through articles for Munchies. She’s not vegan, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t make some great points.
Then, while I was away, BBC Three aired Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets. I finally watched it last night. There are a lot of problems with how the programme skips from discussing clean eating to veganism in one sentence (literally, no explainer, no mention of ethics or opting out of the meat industry. One sentence.). But if BBC Three is making that jump, you can bet the rest of the world are too.
It wasn't without a shedload of home truths. I loved watching Grace Victory’s reaction as she tried to go shopping for ‘clean’ foods. When she heads to Planet Organic and realises she can’t afford anything? Yeah mate. Welcome.
But my main problem with this programme is that we’re dealing with super important statistics and research, and the show did not go anywhere near thoroughly analysing these issues. At one point, Emmy Gilmour, clinical director at The Recover Clinic, claims that they’ve “heard from at least a third of the top bloggers in the country”? What does that mean? Wellness bloggers don’t have a directory, how are they gauging the top ones? It’s fascinating to hear they’ve heard from some major clean eating bloggers- so this is too important to blur over! When you’re making a show about debunking myths and vague promises, don’t battle that with more.
The few minutes I'm really glad the entire programme aired for? When Grace finally got to speak to a wellness blogger. Now Natasha Corrett of Honestly Healthy was the only person that would speak to BBC Three for the programme- which is easy to gloss over but seriously if there is nothing for the other bloggers to hide, why not do an interview? Natasha doesn’t deserve all of the criticism for this, but her interview is astonishing. We can’t know what got discussed in the run-up over email, or the details that go into the context of an interview taking place. But as a journalist, I was absolutely flabbergasted by how much Natasha could not answer completely reasonable questions put to her. We’re accustomed to actors refusing to talk about their personal lives or divorces. But these were direct follow-up questions dealing with the actual subject matter. Grace asked how Natasha came to put together her Green and Lean plan, and her knowledge in clean eating and Alkaline diets. The two questions she refused to answer were discussing why, in fact, our bodies aren’t in an ‘alkaline state’, and about actually-not-a-doctor Robert O. Young. Those were ‘just getting started on the hard stuff’ questions. They’re not the tricky ones- they’re the kind a journalist will later use to cross reference. You get the feeling Natasha knew there was a lot more where that came from.
The entire programme, really, was one big ball of confusion- on every side. You know what I take away from it? How little any of us in this country seem to actually know about feeding ourselves properly. There is so little education here, that anytime anything masquerading as knowledge comes along, we’re overjoyed to jump on yet another bandwagon. Juice cleanses, detoxes, alkaline diets, protein shakes, chia seeds, banana island, fasting days, raw till 4. Oh, and a potato detox? Are you kidding me?! Why on EARTH would only eating potatoes for a week do you any good?! There aren’t any quick fixes or quick tricks! Eating right is hard! It takes work!!!!
What’s indicative of this shit? Walking into Holland & Barrett and seeing that there’s more shelf room given over to absolutely ridiculous weight loss teas and protein powder than actual whole foods. I once made the mistake of going into my local branch to ask if they sold panko bread crumbs. BIG NO NO. Just ridiculous fake food that costs the earth, that’s what we do. The UK is currently dealing with rising numbers of people being treated for eating disorders. We live in a first world country with the world's fifth-largest economy measured by GDP, but we can't work out how to feed ourselves.
Here’s some stuff about me. I’ve always been a little overweight because I honestly just love food. Breakfast isn’t just what I think about first thing in the morning. It’s what makes me go to sleep because I know when I wake up I can start making it. Holidays are planned around mealtimes, weekends around whatever I can cook, and friends around dinner parties. It’s the centre of my world. I eat too much, but I know that overall, I’m really lucky to have a pretty healthy relationship with it. I’m coming into my late 20s and I’ve never been happier with my size, which isn’t perfect at all, but my body does everything I want it to do. I can work a twelve hour shift on a street food stand, and commute a total of three hours across London to do it, and still have enough energy to go out afterwards and find my friends to dance, catch-up or just watch a film together. I get to cook and eat what I feel like is amazing food every day. I am grateful for every meal I can afford. I sometimes get ill, but not often. I don’t like exercise so I try to walk everywhere I can and generally I have to be in four different places every day so I am strong and have good stamina.
When I first went vegan I was also going through a time of mild depression and severe anxiety. Some of my friends have suggested this may have made me more susceptible to changing over to a vegan lifestyle in the first place, which I really see. I lost over a stone in weight because I was unhappy with a lot of other parts of my life, not because I was vegan. I’d weigh myself on my scales and be shocked at how much of me had vanished. For someone that spent their entire teenage years obsessing over these numbers and what they meant to my worth, when those numbers start falling away without you realising, it’s not great- it’s really scary. I remember not caring about food or what my next meal would be, which is always a sign for me that the depression has kicked in. And then after roughly two years, and a lot of work on my mental health, the worst of it passed. Now I’m back to the exact same weight I was before going vegan- if not a few pounds heavier, because, hey, guess what! I’m also four years older and 30 ain’t so far away.
In all honesty, the only change physically I feel from being vegan is I have a lot more energy in the evening. Once I get past 10pm I can work all night. My boyfriend calls it ‘vegan magic’ - I call it ‘probably just inadvertently not eating as much processed food as some people that may crash earlier’. Mentally I feel a lot better. That’s it.
No magic tricks, no quick fixes.
Sometimes I’m a little skinnier than normal but usually I’m just trying not to eat too much. And I 100 per cent recognise how privileged I am to say that.
I stick to soups, broths, cereals and lighter salads when I want to fit into a specific bit of clothing for an event or whatever, but I really try not to diet as obsessively as I used to in my early 20s. I am happier than I have ever been in my own skin.
I put that down to the fact that I stopped caring in the way we are told to care: I stopped focusing on what’s wrong, how am I letting myself down, what shouldn’t I be doing? And started just loving the power you have to be confident being you.
I feel so lucky to not have a more complicated relationship with food than these few paragraphs right there.
If you’re a similar age to me- a child in the 1990s- then you’ll remember growing up in a world where Kate Moss was telling us that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels". When we were teenagers, chewing gum, Diet Coke and lunch money spent on cigarettes actually seemed like a viable diet plan. Everyone that we wanted to be ate like that. No-one cool talked about how much fruit they had for breakfast, or working out, or how much they could lift. It was about what you didn’t do. Heroin chic was the level of beauty I grew up thinking was attainable as a young girl and teenager. Let’s just look at that sentence again. Habitualised drug abuse was the goal I was set by the media and fashion industry to measure my self-worth by. We didn’t have awesome publications like Asos Magazine and Rookie creating a platform for many different standards of beauty in the mainstream. We had one standard, and it was thin. And if clean eating is going to be this generation’s heroin chic lie, then it needs exposing, fast.
We have way more chat about exercise and specific foods today. And it’s not all constructive.
I probably would have gotten further in my career in the world of vegan food by now if I had made losing weight part of my experience on Guac & Roll and my journey as a vegan. If I had featured more images of me on this site and social media, and discussed weight goals and calorie counting, detoxes and cleanses, I’d have a very different following. But that’s not the end result I’m trying to promote. When I do feature images of me, I want to look happy and content, because that’s how vegan food makes me feel. What I want to show is that I have a good complexion most of the time, strong hair, and a happy smile. Those are all realistic signifiers of what good food can do for you. The food I cook probably won’t make you skinny or lose weight because that’s not what has happened to me. But I think it will make you feel good and be a nice way to show the people around you that you love them by sharing it.
There is no ‘art’ to ‘living well’. Food is wonderful. If you get to choose what you eat, you’re incredibly lucky. It can be a source of comfort and medicine to an extent. And I believe with all my heart that a diet of foods that you cook yourself- grains, pulses, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts- food that’s made from plants and minimal processing- has to be the best way for humans to eat.
But if you are sick or you can feel something within you that doesn’t feel right, you need to seek help that’s more than bloggers and vloggers. I hate the idea that there are people out there who are unwell and trying to fix themselves with BS spouted on Instagram by people who have no real education in the incredibly complex way our bodies work.
I am vegan out of compassion. I do this because I don’t believe in killing animals. I do not do this because I think I am above people. I do not do this because I expect it to bring me unbridled health, instant joy or a body that suits any item of clothing.
I do this because after a lot of extensive reading and research, I can't not be vegan. The fact that it happens to be on-trend or apparently fashionable right now? I seriously couldn’t care less.
For me, going vegan has quelled so much of the anxiety I used to feel towards what I was doing to the planet and the creatures we share it with. But we still need to look after ourselves. And denial isn’t the way to do it.
Please- let’s discuss this below- tell me what you think in the comments and if you feel comfortable sharing your experiences, please do that too. There’s been too much unsaid - it’s time to talk.