Food fads come and go, and ‘clean eating’ has been trendy for a while, but what exactly does it mean? According to the press, one of the main exponents is Ella Mills (she denies it), and her cookbooks (including Deliciously Ella) promote a plant based diet but she doesn’t like the vegan label (although she excludes meat, fish and dairy). Confusingly, there seems to be a wide variation between the different practitioners of ‘clean eating’ but “healthy, unprocessed wholefoods” is mentioned frequently, along with “holistic lifestyle” and “natural foods”. It’s truly amazing that nobody has come up with this groundbreaking idea of “healthy eating” before?
The Hemsley sisters (is it Mag & Jag?) have been dubbed ‘the queens of clean eating’, but their disastrous C4 TV cookery series Eating Well With Hemsley + Hemsley (2016) was panned by the critics and ridiculed by viewers and dieticians. After just 3 editions and plunging ratings, the show was moved from a primetime Monday evening slot to Friday night. Here’s an example of their extraordinary verbal and culinary dexterity that featured in the first episode. One of the pair grabbed an avocado and proclaimed “it’s actually a fruit, and it’s eaten all the time in Mexico”. Then the other one (with the fringe) scooped all the flesh out of the avocado, and mashed it up with a fork. They added seasoning and lime juice and called it “guacamole”. I hope that somebody has advised them to get this recipe copyrighted immediately. Well, it could really catch on in somewhere like Mexico.
Unlike Ella Woodward’s version of clean eating, most of the Hemsley’s recipes seem to involve huge chunks of meat (needless to say it’s always certified free range, extra-organic, super-dynamic, fibre free and grass fed, etc). Bizarrely, they claim that: “We are trying to offer something different, helping people to organise their eating around vegetables.” Incidentally, they like saying ‘grass fed’; it crops up repeatedly as they casually throw things together. And every time they said ‘grass fed butter’ I had a surreal mental image of a large block of yellow fat (with a cartoon face) chomping its way through a lush green pasture. The other fat they promote is coconut oil, which unsurprisingly is very expensive. The sisters extol coconut oil as a healthy choice, but seem to be unaware that its saturated fat content is a whopping 92 per cent (as opposed to just 13 per cent for olive oil). Personally, I stick by the old rule that the good fats are liquid at room temperature and the bad are solid. The latter includes butter, lard, and coconut oil.
In January this year BBC2 broadcast Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth. Presented by Dr Giles Yeo this had a very wide brief, and included a Californian ranch where nutritional pseudoscience is taken to extremes. However, Yeo interviews and cooks with Ella Mills (and her food looks pretty good). Ms Mills says: “Clean now implies dirty and that’s negative. I haven’t used it, but as I understand it meant natural, unprocessed, and now it doesn’t mean that at all. It means diet, it means fad.” Ella deserves full credit for appearing in this documentary, unlike the hapless Hemsleys. Instead, they issued a statement about their gluten-free ideology: “Grains are already abundant in a modern diet so our recipes celebrate other ingredients.” But they had previously announced that ‘grains are not as substantial a source of energy as people are led to believe’. And just for the record, there is absolutely no rational or nutritional reason to avoid gluten unless you are celiac (with a reaction to gluten and intolerance for wheat proteins) but it’s estimated that this affects only one per cent of the population.
Apart from not eating grains, gluten, or refined sugar, these two believe in the pseudoscience of alkalinity in the body. They have also made disparaging remarks about dieticians (and quite right too, I mean what do those professionals with a degree in nutrition know). In reality, the Hemsley sisters have no real qualifications for anything except self-promotion and looking like fashion models. And it’s uncanny but one of them (take your pick) is an ex-model. As presenters of a TV cookery show they were poor, but they did look lovely wandering through farmers’ markets buying ‘biodynamic eggs’ (meaning extortionately priced) and eating sugar and gluten free chocolate and rhubarb cake in a suitably photogenic cafe. The problem is with all the dimwits that religiously follow every ridiculous statement they make via social media, which is a major driving force in the whole clean eating movement. Nonetheless, there was one thing about these two beautiful and inspiring characters that really impressed me. Despite all those hours of messy food prep (sans aprons of course) they served up their ‘feast’ in the same delightful designer frocks that they had been wearing all day in the kitchen. And yet their outfits looked absolutely spotless. Now that is clever. Finally, another example of their profound and awesome utterances: “It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat”, says Jas (or the other one).