Jeremy Corbyn’s interest in veganism has excited far more interest than is necessary, given most people probably assumed the Labour leader was already a follower of this plant-based diet (in between the odd pleasurable shortbread). It has gone down particularly well with the ‘clean eating’ lobby, who hope that the endorsement of a Labour leader who was cheered at Glastonbury will boost the appeal of their trendy diets.
Today’s Evening Standard carries a piece by Camilla Fayed, the founder of ‘Notting Hill clean-eating restaurant Farmacy’ (though the ‘clean-eating’ line is only in the paper, not the online copy, which suggests that Fayed doesn’t like being lumped with other clean eaters) who says Corbyn’s latest dietary pronouncement was ‘music to my ears’ as she is a ‘strong supporter of using eduction and information to create conversations on wellness, conscious eating and sustainability’. ‘Knowledge is power’, she adds, without explaining what the benefits of a plant-based diet is or indeed the science behind it.
Perhaps this is because the science behind clean eating or plant-based eating or whatever else you want to call this phenomenon is a bit like the science behind homeopathy, in that it is in fact much more about belief and anecdote than it is rigorously-researched dietary advice. Even if eating a lot of plants is better for you than eating a large takeaway pizza every night, clean eating makes claims that go far beyond nutritional wisdom. Like other plant-based advocates, Fayed sells foods that claim to do far more than just fill our tummies and provide the nutrients we need. ‘We believe that food is medicine’, claims the menu at Farmacy. Good food in a balanced diet is undoubtedly a good way of staying healthy. But it’s not medicine. Medicine is the stuff that doctors give you to cure or alleviate the symptoms of a physical or mental illness. Medicine is not quinoa or flaxseed oil.
The menu also includes an ‘alkaline booster’ cold pressed juice. According to the clean eaters, an alkaline body is a healthy body, though there is no scientific evidence behind this mantra of the clean eaters. Dairy is also Bad, but for similarly vague reasons. Lara and I looked at the claims behind clean eating in more detail in the magazine a couple of years ago. In summary, they’re a load of rubbish.
‘Clean’, by the way, has gone out of fashion as a term because so many of its claims have been debunked by a number of outlets. Deliciously Ella, for instance, deleted the word ‘clean’ from her website, and many ‘clean eaters’ now call themselves ‘plant-based’ as it sounds a bit more innocent, even if they’re making the same claims.
It might be that Corbyn is tempted towards veganism for animal rights reasons, which makes a great deal more sense than some rot about alkalinity in your body. He became a vegetarian, after all, when he became ‘attached to the pigs’ when working on a farm as a young man. Some vegans object to the practices of mass agriculture, including the dairy industry, which keeps heifers pregnant and separates them from their calves as soon as is possible in order to maximise milk yields. Other people know what modern farming does and choose to continue consuming its products. More people, though, choose not to think too much about it.
That same instinct of not wanting to think too much about what we are eating is what the clean eating lobby preys upon. We have very low levels of nutritional literacy in this country – a problem that the latest Spectator, out tomorrow, focuses on. Many people simply do not know what a truly healthy diet is, and are therefore quite happy to follow the confident pronouncements of those who claim that their roasted broccoli and quinoa are medicine. Knowledge is power, as Fayed argues. It’s just that a little knowledge would make it clear that even if her ‘earth bowls’ taste delicious, they can’t do half of what the clean eaters claim.