CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER CLEAN EATER
Lucy Dunn was one of the first to adopt clean eating, and knew her cocoa nibs from her coconut oil. It took an incident in Holland & Barrett for the love affair to end
At the peak of my clean eating “phase” I owned three spiralisers, two juicers and two Nutribullets. My cupboards were full of cacao nibs, bee pollen, and agave syrup. I made quinoa pizza and cauIi-rice. I green-juiced. I made vats of coconut porridge. And I spent more hours in Holland & Barrett than I care to mention.
It was 2013 and I was one of the early adopters of clean eating. I started following food blogger Deliciously Ella (Ella Mills) and revelled in her sunny, Instagram-perfect life full of fresh flowers and farmers markets. She had a lifestyle that I craved – an oasis of loveliness, wellbeing and
serenity in my busy world. Her emphasis on health and natural ingredients was a refreshing change from the extreme crash-diet silliness of the previous few years. She claimed she’d cured herself of a rare, debilitating disease called POTS syndrome purely by using food as a medicine and by eating herself well.
As I delved deeper, a new world opened up to me; one of exotic-sounding recipes like Brazil Nut Cheese and interesting ingredients like maca powder and cashew milk. I downloaded her app. I was hooked.
I wasn’t the only one to fall under the clean-eating spell. In fact, in the three years since I first came across her, Ella and all the Ella-alikes that followed have attracted huge followings, turning their musings into mini-empires. Ella went from employing four people to 50 people virtually overnight, her debut book was the fastest-ever selling cookbook in the UK, and this week she clocked over one million followers on Instagram.
Clean eating became incredibly popular, incredibly quickly. What was already a vague term that was open to many interpretations morphed into hundreds of permutations all with the same basic (unspoken or not) premise: that certain foods were “clean” and others “dirty”. The language some of them used was insidious – the right food could “stop bloating”, “help you feel less sluggish,” and make you “feel well”. It presented a restrictive way of eating and was wrapped up in a “lifestyle” (read: permanent way of living).
Buzzwords such as alkaline, gluten-free, grain-free and refined sugar-free started to be bandied around in wifty-wafty, evangelical Billy Graham-style fashion. But as to solid scientific facts to support these claims? “Questionable”, argued many dieticians – an argument that is now confirmed by hard science in a BBC Two Horizons exposé on clean eating (Thursday January 19).
In the documentary, Dr Giles Yeo, a respected obesity scientist, turns his sights on three of the most influential UK bloggers: Deliciously Ella, the Hemsley sisters and Natasha Corrett. He tracks down the “nutritional gurus” they credit as inspiration and pushes them to offer hard scientific facts to support their claims.
What he uncovers, however, is “pseudoscientific babble” as well as sweeping statements, sketchy evidence, and in some cases, some disturbing and extreme advice. One of the gurus he meets is Robert Young, the (very rich) “godfather of alkaline eating” whom Corrett has credited as inspiration, arguing that eating an alkaline plant-based diet free from dairy or processed foods can “help to cure” diseases in the body. In the documentary we hear of one of Young’s devotees, 27-year-old British girl Naima Houder-Mohamed, a terminally-ill cancer patient who spent $77K on one of his “healing programmes” only to die a few months later. Yeo discovers that Young was last year convicted of practising medicine without a licence.
Without solid science to back them up, the glitter comes off all these bloggers’ crowns.
Don’t get me wrong, their recipes aren’t harmful. It’s perfectly OK to eat their food and to eat healthily and no one is saying we shouldn’t eat a few more veg and a little less meat. But encouraging people to demonise certain food groups long-term (unless they are medically diagnosed as intolerant) and adding a sharp edge of guilt to food is not OK.
I fell out of love with clean eating over Ella’s Brazil Nut Cheese. The recipe asked for “nutritional yeast” so I dutifully trekked to Holland & Barrett and spent more than an hour quizzing the shop assistants trying to hunt the damn stuff down. Determined not to be beaten I Googled, and eventually found the helpful suggestion to “try Marmite”.
So I did. It tasted nice. Most likely it wasn’t “clean” but by then I really didn’t care. My feet were aching, I was hangry and I limped home, deciding that my days of soaking chia oats overnight were over.
For me, my clean eating romance ended quickly, and all I now have to remind me of that time is a cupboard of cocoa nibs and a silly amount of spiralisers. However, for impressionable teen girls and for people seeking to feed an already skewed relationship with food, it can be more than a “phase” and can breed inflexibility, anxiety and confusion.
These bloggers have big social-media followings, and as Yeo points out, it’s time for them to accept more responsibility and ground their promises in proof. It’s not enough just to distance yourself from clean eating and dismiss it as a “dangerous fad”. Clean eating may be ambiguous, but it has gotten way too big for that.
AS A PARENT OF TEEN BOYS, HOW DO I DEAL WITH THE PROBLEM OF PORNOGRAPHY?
Jenni Murray’s comments about making children watch porn in schools may be outspoken, but it’s time for an urgent discussion on how we need to tackle the problem, says Lucy Dunn
I’d wager most parents have had a near scrape with porn. My first one was when my boys (nine and twelve at the time) googled “funny old ladies” and got grannyf***.dot.whatever. Another friend of mine’s child was doing a science project and looked up frog spawn but mis-spelled it frogs porn. I’ll leave you to imagine what came up.
Both incidents took just a minute when a grown up’s back was turned. All it took was just one, two clicks.
Porn is everywhere, it’s a serious problem, and the effects are rippling through society with frightening, lightning-quick speed. Apparently a quarter of young people are twelve or younger when they first come across porn, and what was previously considered hardcore material is becoming increasingly mainstream.
The repercussions are there for all to see. This September a report from the House of Commons women and equalities committee painted a shocking picture of widespread sexual harassment in schools across England. It showed how more than a fifth of girls aged seven to twelve have experienced sexual jokes from boys and almost a third of sixteen to eighteen year-old girls have suffered unwanted sexual touching. And it revealed a culture that is harmful to not only girls, but also to boys, who often face pressure to “prove their masculinity”.
Something has to change, and fast. According to a recent NSPCC survey, children as young as twelve say they fear they are “addicted” to pornography. The digital economy bill currently being considered has pledged measures that include forcing hardcore pornography websites to put in place age-restriction controls or face being shut down.
But regulations can only go so far, there is a bigger picture that needs that needs to be discussed – and it starts with the government guidance on sex and relationship education (SRE).
Drawn up sixteen years ago, government guidelines on SRE do not mention internet pornography, mainly because it didn’t exist then. SRE is also only compulsory in UK state schools from age eleven, with the caveat that parents are allowed to withdraw their children from parts of it.
There are now calls for an urgent SRE shakeup, but should it be a shake up as radical as the one broadcaster and Woman’s Hour presenter Jenni Murray has just suggested? Speaking To The Pool’s Marisa Bate yesterday at Cheltenham Literary Festival, Murray called for sexual education to be abolished – and in its place teachers should give lessons where children are made to watch porn videos. “Why not show them pornography and teach them how to analyse it?” she asked. “So then at least those girls know and all those boys know that normal women do not shave, normal women do not make all that b—– noise those women make, they are making all that noise because they need a soundtrack on the film. Then, we are actually getting them to think their way through what they are watching.”
I’m really not so sure. While I agree that SRE needs to be dragged into the 21st century and made mandatory for primary and secondary schools, would I as a parent of secondary age kids (my boys are now fifteen and twelve) sanction lessons where they watch porn? No I wouldn’t. But Murray touches on some valid points– SRE shouldn’t be medical (“I would put the ‘what goes where’ and how and how babies are made and all of that into biology because that is science”) and porn should be brought into the curriculum and tackled head on in all schools.
Children need to be taught – sensitively, factually and in a manner appropriate to each school year – the distinction between real sex and porn. They need to learn that porn is not real-life, it is manufactured, and very often degrading and dehumanising. My boys should be shown that is not how they should expect real sex to be, that it is not how to treat women, and that in many cases the subjects seen online are very often highly vulnerable women and men, themselves past victims of sexual abuse. Do they want to be participating in that murky world?
And, as a parent, I realise I need to play a big part in these discussions too. And here’s where I’ll put my hands up and admit that I have been guilty of putting my hands over my ears and shouting la-la-la, mainly out of the fact I actually don’t know where to start. I’m know I’m not alone; it’s a conversation I’ve had time and time again with friends who’ve got children. We all tick off the same things – tactics like blocking software, limiting screen time, moving computers out of bedrooms – but time and time again we come round to the same frustrating dead end, which is: how can you control the fact that they have access to the internet at all times of day on their phones?
I am more than aware our boys know about porn, and of course we’ve had a “chat”. But here’s the thing: we’ve really only had a “chat” in the practical “If you click on anything bad the police will find you/you will download an evil computer virus” sense. Every parent has a strong
instinct to cushion our children from the full horrors of the world and I know I’m guilty of that. As parents we need to be honest with ourselves and face the truth; which is that they have very, very likely stumbled on some terrible things. It’s an issue which I know I need to urgently address with our boys.
As Murray says, “You cannot get rid of it [pornography], it is there, people make a lot of money out of it and the internet is uncontrollable but what we can do is number one, say to parents: ‘For goodness’ sake come on, get onto this.’”
MY TOWN DOESN’T NEED ANY MORE COFFEE CHAINS
The hikes in business rates could close what few independent retailers I have left in my town, says Lucy Dunn
I left London 12 years ago and have never regretted it. I love living in my town. We live just a couple of streets away from the centre, but I can get into the fields in less than 10 minutes. One of my favourite things on a weekend is to stroll through the Saturday market that lines the high street and then stop for a cheeky Glass Of in The Boot pub at the end.
We are lucky to have the market. Many of the traders have been there for decades, so they feel part of the community. It’s also the closest thing you can get to shopping locally, as there are very few independent retailers left on the high street, or in the town centre, for that matter. Even the chains are disappearing. When the stalls are packed away at the end of the day,
the high street seems to shrink back in on itself. The empty shop left behind by BHS is a depressing black hole, word is that our Marks & Spencer is on the danger list for possible closure and The Boot’s future doesn’t look too rosy either.
My high street looks probably very much like most people’s – a shadow of its former self. Like many, there isn’t one thing that’s sucked the life out of it – many factors have contributed: an out-of-town shopping centre, impossible and expensive parking, retail having a really, really shit time.
But what is terribly concerning is the new business rates coming into force next month (April), which could see the town centres in some areas of Britain all but effectively killed off.
This controversial move will see premises revalued, and shops and pubs paying more tax in areas where property values have increased. This should have happened in 2015, but was delayed, so huge hikes are now anticipated (this despite a £300m relief fund announced recently, which many have pointed out has loopholes and won’t apply to small businesses already paying punitive rates).
The Government argues that rates won’t increase in less affluent areas of the country and will only affect areas like the South East. But does this make it right? If you are, say, a family grocer, an increase in your bills of up to 245 per cent is not something you will be able to cope with, wherever your business is. The business-rates system is flawed and outdated, penalising in-town shopkeepers, while out-of-town supermarkets are left untouched, along with online giants such as Amazon, which has warehouses in some of the cheapest areas of the country.
Queen Of Shops Mary Portas warned recently that the move could “kill off” a third of independent shops, and could be the “biggest blow to shops since the 2008 crash”. For my town, some of the worst-hit businesses will be the pubs, many seeing an average increase of £15,000 per year. Half are anticipated to close in the next five years. Considering the town trades off its pub scene (it boasts the oldest pub in the country), this is worrying to say the least.
The only thing, in fact, that seems to be thriving are the coffee shops: Pret A Manger, Cafe Nero, two Costas and a Starbucks – that’s five coffee chains in less than a square mile.
I drink a lot of coffee, but not that much. Whenever my friend and I meet, we head straight for the cafe on the corner – a family-run business that will no doubt also be dreading the rate hikes.
My cafe is just one of a few surviving independent businesses still clinging on for life in the area. And, if your high street is anything like mine, in the weeks ahead cafes like this one – along with our local pubs, nail bars, solicitors, dry cleaners, butchers and key cutters – will need our help more than ever. The drum beat to “shop local” has never been louder and more urgent. If we don’t, many of our high streets will die – and many, like mine, will be turned into one big coffee chain.
Card from Modern Toss
WHAT TO EAT WHEN YOU’RE A MIDLIFER
When we hit 40 we certainly don’t want to be treated differently, but when it comes to health and nutrition, Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice suggest that it may be time to eat differently
Mimi Spencer and I are discussing the fact that, even in this day and age, women in their forties and fifties still seem invisible to much of the media, fashion and retail industry. “People are frightened of this market,” she says. “Until recently being ‘middle-aged’ was the last thing you wanted to be. Yes, there was glamour in being a silver fox and of course there’s always been enormous glamour in youth, but our age group was like the ‘lost generation.’”
Spencer has every right to bang this particular drum. She was in the fashion industry (fashion editor for the Evening Standard, columnist for You Magazine) for years before she took up writing cookbooks. Her first book was co-authoring the publishing sensation The Fast diet based on 5:2 intermittent fasting. “As I got older though my relationship with fashion changed,” she tells me. “I realised I wasn’t quite so fascinated and excited by new clothes and drops and I started becoming more interested in food and nutrition.”
It’s the reason why we’re sitting here today. Spencer, together with best friend Sam Rice, has written a book called the Midlife Kitchen, Health-boosting Recipes For Midlife And Beyond, and I have to say, it’s one of the best cookbooks I’ve seen for a while – mainly because, as someone in my (late-ish) forties, it’s actually specifically directed at *me*.
“The reason we wrote Midlife Kitchen was that we realised there was nothing foodwise out there that really catered for our age group,” Rice says. “It’s a scientific fact that, as you get older, your metabolism slows, so you actually need fewer calories. In addition to this, we need to be eating more nutritionally-dense food; ingredients that balance hormones and ease menopause symptoms, stuff that’s good for blood sugar, plus more gut-friendly probiotics to help digestive function and enhance immunity…”
The pair go on to describe how as midlifers we need more lean protein in our diets, and also that, as we get older, we tend to lose muscle mass and bone density so we need specific vitamins and nutrients to combat this. Their book subsequently centres on easily accessible ingredients with a health focus – “it’s food you’ll recognise and that you can get in any supermarket” plus basic food swaps you can do without bankrupting yourself. For example, the pair are big on flaxseed (linseed) which they tell me are full of phytoestrogen (good for collagen production and easing post-menopausal symptoms) and would make a great porridge topping instead of my usual brown sugar. A packet of the stuff has been loitering in the back of my cupboard. I suspect that it may get a dusting off in the next few weeks.
The interview is taking place in Waitrose, where the plan is for Spencer and Rice to give me a show-and-tell (watch the video to see how they “midlife up” my shopping basket). Before we set off, they are keen to stress that it’s not about “eating by rules” and they definitely don’t want to pigeonhole any ingredients into “good” and “bad” categories. They have worked with a trained nutritionist so everything they recommend is based on solid sensible advice. “Rather than pouncing on the newest study about the latest wonder ingredient, we’ve looked at foods that have a weight of evidence behind them, that we know are good for X and Y. And there’s nothing in the book that promises to eat this and you will live to be 103, that’s definitely not something we’d do.”
Spencer adds, “We’re definitely and emphatically pro-ageing. As we get older, we’ve been expected to become greyer, shadows of our former selves and ‘hand over’ to the younger generation. But why should we? We are who we are.”
“I don’t think it matters what you call it – midlife, middle-age, whatever – but the whole language that’s used around this age group is really patronising,’” says Sam. “There used to be so many articles about ‘how to stay young, foods that make you look younger’; ‘how to push back the tide of time blah blah.”’
“Ugh, yeah, and the *language*: it’s like, ‘go girl, you’ve still got worth in this world. Oh, and wear something navy…’” adds Spencer.
“But I’m wearing navy!” laughs Rice.
“Ha, sorry! You know what I mean,” Spencer says. “Inside we still feel
21, we’re still doing the same things, so why would we want to hand in our chips and get comfortable? I don’t want to be comfortable!’
“There’s nothing in our book about reversing the ageing process. Nothing about getting younger, looking younger or staying younger,” Spencer says emphatically. “We don’t *want* to stay younger, we just want to stay healthy.”
TALKING TO MY COUSIN, A HISPANIC WOMAN WHO VOTED TRUMP
After the shock has died down from this week’s election, we will need to try understand why, says Lucy Dunn
Me and my “San Fran cousin” Ann have a few things in common. She and her husband (who’s actually, if we’re being accurate, my husband’s cousin) have two teenage boys. Me and my husband have two teen boys of similar ages. Ann (raised by a Mexican father and Cuban mother) lives in the ’burbs (about 40 minutes train ride north of San Fran). I live about the same distance from London. Her husband is an electrician who likes outdoorsy stuff. Mine is a website producer and fancies himself as Bear Grylls. They got a dog (Krypto) about the same time as ours (Spud). We don’t get to see each other very often, mainly because flights are hideously expensive, but also because we’re busy. Life is busy.
There is one thing that I don’t have in common with Ann though. She and her husband voted Trump in this election. Contrary to my vociferous oh- my-God-the-world-is-going-to-end-now-we’ve-got-an-evil-racist-
homophobe-president declarations on Facebook, on election night they put up a post saying they’d gone to the polls together to vote for Donald Trump. There was no crowing. No hysterically grinning smug selfies, certainly no posing with guns. No, it was just a simple post celebrating the fact they had voted as a family (her eldest has recently turned 18). And throughout the day, as the world reactions came flooding in and despair ramped up to epic proportions, Ann’s post kept coming back to haunt me.
So we Facebooked. I asked the question “why Trump?”, and here’s what she told me:
“Trump was not my first choice, nor did I take him seriously at first, but faced with the option of Hillary for president there really was no other option. With Trump you know what you get, warts and all. I couldn’t get past Hillary and all the stories of corruption and scandals that have surrounded her.
“Another thing that swayed me was my mom, who escaped to this country from Cuba after it was taken over by Castro. It was hard for her to lose the country she loved to a corrupt government who promised in the beginning it would be for the people. I learned from her how your homeland can be taken away from you by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s who I felt Hillary was.
“I would have loved to see a woman president hell yes, but not Hillary because of this. The pussy-grabbing comments Trump made were disgusting, but I’m a smart woman, I’ve worked in construction companies and I’ve heard it all. I know what men say behind closed doors and as long as they don’t say them to my face they’ll still keep their teeth. As anybody who knows me knows, I’m a strong woman and no man can ever rattle me.
“I am not white, I am Hispanic. I am proud of who I am and where I came from, but I am also an American. My dad is Mexican, I love him so much and he is the greatest man I have ever known. When he became an American citizen it was hard because it cost us a lot of money we didn’t really have, but he felt it was that important and he has raised us to respect the laws of this country, and that is how I want to raise my kids. He voted Trump too.
“Over the years I’ve had racism towards me and I know what it feels like. I know it still exists, but sometimes I feel politicians deliberately use race like a crowbar to wedge in between each and every one of us and divide us. I’m not blind, I know that in the inner cities it’s really hard for a lot of people, especially the black community, but these communities have been run by Democrats for half a century and they have done nothing to help them. I really pray that Donald Trump will help them and I hope he starts there.”
After the shock has dissipated we will need to reluctantly conclude that his “man of the people” message was more of a pull. With his promise to “make America great again”, Trump seems to have appealed to the disenfranchised, the frustrated, and the many Americans who were disillusioned with an ailing economy, job losses, tales of corruption and a distant political establishment that Hillary appeared to represent.
While, like much of the rest of the world, I do not agree with Trump or his extremist, misogynist and racist policies on any level, it might be a mistake to ignore the voters who voted for him. As a friend of mine said yesterday: “If we’re going to learn anything from 2016 it’s that many people feel disenfranchised and isolated and we’ve got to work to bring us all back together, not push ourselves further apart.” As we struggle to understand in the next few days, perhaps these are words we should now heed.
Farewell George Michael, my box room hero
Lucy Dunn pays tribute to George Michael, who died on Christmas Day
Just like everyone remembers their first home phone number, everyone also remembers the lyrics of their first single. Mine was Careless Whisper. In the summer of 1984, I played it hundreds of times in my box-room bedroom, on the new second-hand record player I’d bought with my saved-up pocket money. I was sixteen and I knew the words by heart. I still do now.
Did I understand the meaning behind the lyrics at the time? Not really. Careless Whisper was all about the guilt of someone betraying a lover and well beyond anything I’d ever experienced. But that didn’t matter, because the song was all about angst, and angst was what my teenage self thrived on.
I played it when I had my heart broken by a boy called Darren (I had a paper round that summer, he lived in one of the houses I delivered to but my crush was never reciprocated). I played it when my Mum made me come home from the local rec at 8pm, and all my friends laughed at me.
My box room was my world, and George was the soundtrack to it. I covered the walls with his posters, and put a “Keep Out Parents!” notice on the door. It was my sanctuary of M&S make-up sets and piles of Just Seventeen; a room I could retreat to and beat my fists against the duvet, crying “life is just not fair!” when I’d had my heart broken or had been grounded. All my big, seismic teenage life events were watched over by an A3 George.
And I know I wasn’t alone. I was an ordinary sixteen-year-old with an ordinary childhood. Zoom out and I was just one teenager in a box room amongst thousands of teenagers in box rooms that summer, all of us playing our record players and singing Careless Whisper at the tops of our voices.
Maybe George Michael was your box-room hero too. Maybe Careless Whisper was also your song. Or maybe it was Faith or Jesus To A Child, or any one of his hits during his thirty-five year career. As the tributes flooded in today, it was clear that his music spanned so many different generations, and he meant something different to everyone.
From teen to adulthood, I can place where I have been in my life by his hits and albums and his concerts I’ve seen. His songs will live on – I hope, to be played by thousands of other teenagers in their bedrooms. And as my box room hero, he will be terribly missed.
“WE’VE BEEN CALLED THE CLEAN-EATING SISTERS, BUT WE’RE NOT”
Fresh from a clean eating backlash, Melissa Hemsley is back with a new cookbook. Lucy Dunn meets her
Melissa Hemsley has packed a lot into the two years since we last met. She and sister Jasmine have opened a cafe in Selfridges, starred in their own series on Channel 4 and added another book (Good + Simple) to their debut bestseller, The Art Of Eating Well. When I last saw them, they had the food world at their feet – open any newspaper or magazine at the time and they were there, plugging their spiralisers, aka the kitchen gadget du jour. And they were nice. Correction: they are really nice. I like
them. I like their food.
And then the clean-eating backlash happened. In one now very famous article, food writer Ruby Tandoh called out clean eating, questioning whether some women were using it to gloss over an unhealthy and restrictive approach to eating with a “respectable veneer of health- consciousness” and criticising the wellness bloggers profiting from it. In a subsequent article, The Pool’s Sali Hughes added: “I’ve yet to meet a single qualified dietician (the term ‘nutritionist’ is meaningless, since it requires no formal training and can therefore be self-appointed) who hasn’t felt the clean-eating movement to be completely alarming.”
The sisters got swept up in the outcry, an outcry we, as a website, were very much part of. They were accused of recommending the gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) diet, a regime devised by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, a self-styled nutritional guru who Tandoh described as “as credible as a fortune teller on Southend Pier”, and who respected dieticians accused of making dangerous claims linking diet with autism “with no published mainstream scientific evidence to back them up.”
For a while, it seemed to me that the sisters wouldn’t be able to come back from the backlash but, a year down the line, they are thriving and pursuing their own projects. Melissa has a new cookbook out called Eat Happy, based on quick, simple food, with one eye on food waste. It looks like exactly the type of book I want to cook from these days so this is why I am here to talk to her today.
“I’m so excited I can finally talk about it,” she says as we sit down. “I was very clear what I wanted it to be – it had to be quick, 30 minutes max and one pot (but if it was a second pot, it had to be for a really good reason). And you had to be able to get the ingredients easily and not waste food; be mindful of the environment.”
We chat about how food waste is very much in the news now and how much the cookery climate has changed recently. “Isn’t it funny how things like gut health, digestion, vegetables, the environment all used to be unsexy words, but are now very important to people?”
I am interested to hear if Melissa feels if she has been on a journey these last few months. Is she in a different place now?
“Actually, I don’t feel like we’re doing anything different than we were
before.” She adds, “We were never into clean eating, never used the term. It was a name made up by somebody else. Also, what does it
exactly? Different people use it in different ways. At the beginning, if you had said to me ‘clean food’, I would have said pesticide-free, the most natural, unprocessed way you can do it…
“It became a thing, we were told we were part of it and no one listened when we said, ‘No, we’re not actually.’ But how can you stop someone writing that you are? People were lumping all young female cookery writers together and saying, ‘You are all clean eaters.’ I remember reading one article who called us the ‘clean-eating, dairy-free, meat-free sisters’, but you know our books – we’re not any of those things.”
She’s right; I do know this. Hemsley lamb meatballs are a favourite in my house and, two years ago, on the sisters’ insistence, I gave up processed margarine for butter.
But what about their endorsement of the discredited GAPS diet?
“Look, there are now loads of new books on gut health – Eve Kalinik and her new book, Be Good To Your Gut, Dr Megan Rossi – tons of new research that is really delving into what you should and shouldn’t be eating from a medical point of view. All we were saying was that broth is really good if you’ve got digestion issues…”
(Melissa wouldn’t be pressed on whether they took a wrong turn in
advocating the controversial diet, but in a now-deleted article on their
publisher Penguin’s website about the five books that shaped their food philosophy, the girls were reported to have said, “Dr McBride is now doing fantastic work in the US – focusing particularly on the relationship between diet and autism – but her research in the area of nutrition is relevant to everyone.”)
She continues, “We’re not nutritionists or chefs; we’ve never given dietary advice. I never have said, ‘Eat this and you will cure this,’ or, ‘Eat that and you will heal.’
“Also, we’ve never told anyone to stop eating a certain thing and not
replace it with something else. All we’ve said is that you don’t need to eat the same food every time if you don’t want to. Take porridge: you can have oats, but you can also have buckwheat, rice, quinoa porridge. With bread, you can have flaxseed bread, rye… We’re saying, ‘Here are some grain-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar free recipes, but you – YOU [points at me] – can eat normal bread, too’. We’re not about cutting out food groups, but we’re proud to have a wellbeing focus. And, if you want to cut down on sugar or gluten, what’s the harm in that?”
To be fair, if I could accuse the Hemsleys of anything, it’s that they were behind the trendifying of ingredients such as cauliflower, kale and courgetti – broth is just a faddy word for stock, after all.
So, what was their problem? Perhaps, as Melissa herself acknowledges with complete seriousness, it’s because, “we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea”
Perhaps it’s because they weren’t part of the “establishment” – a group of celebrities and food writers who had been selling books in their droves before the young guns came along and shook things up. They were home cooks who got lucky, whose ignorance and inexperience got people’s backs up.
Perhaps it’s because they were women – after all, Joe Wicks and Tom Kerridge have gone further than they ever did, publishing full-on diet books, and not received the same flak.
Perhaps, too, it’s because they were part of the glossy pack riding the wellbeing wave, who had big social-media followings (many of whom were impressionable young girls); who were blind to the eye of the storm, but who also never took a step back, took some responsibility and said, “Hey, maybe we got a few things wrong.”
Perhaps they were all of those things. What I know for sure is that
hindsight is a wonderful thing and everyone deserves to be allowed to do something they love. And it’s very clear to see that what Melissa Hemsley really loves to do is cook.