"if you’re not eating clean its like 'who are you?'"
If you’re an avid user of social media you’ve more than likely seen the words ‘clean’, ‘healthy’ and ‘plant-based’ attached to images of (predominantly green and/or sweet potato-fied) food, which probably sit among a gloriously bright and colourful feed of smoothie bowls, positivity quotes and yoga poses. I for one have felt both inspired and demoralised by this trend, which is why I was so eagerly anticipating the release of "Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets" on BBC Three with Grace Victory.
I’ve been subscribed to Grace on YouTube for years and she is honestly one of my daily inspirations: her personality, honesty and ever-increasing confidence is so refreshing and infectious. When I heard Grace was working with the BBC again (she worked with them during London Fashion Week in 2015) I knew it was going to be good. She didn’t disappoint.
"The latest fashion in health right now is clean eating"
The wellness industry is booming right now, with many UK bloggers taking centre-stage as they share their "dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, meat–free, joy-free" lifestyles. One of the first points raised in the documentary is that anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, and Grace herself became a “qualified nutritionist” through a £29 online course. While many of the bloggers promoting their plant-based diets are careful with how they label themselves, it is still clear that they have a weighty influence on how many people decide to change their diets. Grace highlights how these changes can be costly: financially, socially, mentally and physically.
"what are the main bloggers saying and can we really trust them?"
Dr Sarah Schenker, from the British Dietetic Association, says that claims made by some of the top plant-based bloggers/vloggers are “scientific nonsense”, “absolute rubbish” and go “against everything that we know about nutrition”. As a sociologist (can I call myself that?!), I would be the first to argue that science doesn’t necessarily hold the only “truth” in society, however science can be worth listening to when it comes to medicine, diet etc. I’m all for alternative approaches to health and wellbeing but surely we should take some notice to what science and qualified dieticians have to say.
A few words on veganism…
Grace says "every person I come across who's vegan has a different way of doing it, and I think that the vegan community, it’s quite cultish…if no-one agrees with what you’re eating you just get attacked". Unfortunately, I would have to agree that the vegan community has gained quite a bad name for itself. It’s worth noting that "veganism" and "plant-based" do not automatically go hand-in-hand, but they seem to have been mushed together in the wellness industry. As a friend of mine pointed out, vegans generally have an ethical motivation for their dietary and lifestyle changes while those following a plant-based diet tend to be more focussed on supposed health or weight-loss benefits.
If I was going to have anything negative to say about the documentary it would simply be that I feel a clearer distinction should have been made between a “vegan/plant-based” diet and “veganism” as a lifestyle choice, as the two are not automatically synonymous. Similarly, the cultish comment will have angered a lot of people and I can understand that: I’ve come across "crazy" vegans and I’ve met "perfectly normal" vegans, so tarring everyone with the same brush could take us down a potentially divisive road.
The last word…
If you are interested in the clean eating, health and wellness trend, you don’t want to miss this documentary. As well as everything I’ve mentioned, Grace also explores how clean eating can be linked to eating disorders such as Orthorexia, how the wellness industry is booming right now, and how previous influencers have been arrested and prosecuted for fraud.
My thoughts? Take a bit of science, mixed with any blogger recipes you like the sound of, and find what works for you. Listen to actual experts and do your research before making any major changes. Just don’t stop eating chocolate every Saturday night if it makes you happy, please.