If we are what we eat, great swathes of the population are fast becoming a herd of crashing bores. Dining has, in recent years, changed course.
Eating together was once a uniting social occasion. It now takes the form of cosmopolitan congregations of what would once have been considered eating disorders.
I was recently invited to a “Vegan Feast” – a blinding oxymoron if ever there was one. Yet such events are increasingly commonplace.
Friends gather, hungry, and nibble at an array of superfoods, antioxidants and obscure grains that promise to hold the secret to eternal youth – now described as “wellness” or “clean living.”
More ingredients are verboten than make it to the menu.
As ever, this latest trend is heavily endorsed by gargantuan PR machines, fronted by Aphrodites with glowing skin and luscious locks. Take Deliciously Ella, whose recipes include almond and cocoa energy balls, and pomegranate, parsley and buckwheat salad. Hardly salivating stuff.
Ella’s first compilation of recipes was the fastest-selling debut cookbook since records began. She now boasts three books, with more in the pipeline, and an Instagram following of 874,000 fans – all slavishly ‘spiralizing’ courgettes in lieu of pasta. Marcella Hazan is doubtless spinning in her grave.
Then there are the Hemsley sisters – co-authors of The Art of Eating Well, whose brand is predicted to be worth £570 million by 2017.
These food gurus have become demi-gods – the Kardashians of the dining room, united in proselytizing the message that Dairy is the Devil (along with meat, refined sugar and more or less any ingredient that one would crave on death row).
The effect? The number of vegans in the UK has risen by 350% in the last decade. In 2003, 658 people under 19 were admitted to hospital for the treatment of eating disorders in England, a figure that had increased by 172% within a decade – the majority of patients being young women.
At what point does “cutting out” food that doesn’t promote “wellbeing” and “clean eating” become a problem? It’s a dangerous tightrope to walk.
The healthy living industry continues to boom, as does the number of women who fall foul to horrendous and tragic eating disorders.
Food and dining are no longer about sitting down and indulging in deliciousness, but instead focused on “lifestyle choices”. Have you ever heard such an absurdly unappetizing way of describing one of life’s greatest pleasures?
Pleasingly, there are some signs that we can laugh in the face of the ludicrous. Parodies are cropping up on the internet, such as Deliciously Stella, which serves to mock the clean-eating brigade.
Deliciously Stella’s social media posts include pictures of “Stella” (real name Bella Younger) with her face slathered in Heinz Ketchup accompanied by the caption “Did you know you can find everything you need for flawless natural skincare in your kitchen cupboard?”
She is a comforting sign that the earnest clean-eating army is not going to conquer the kitchen.
But where are the Delia Smiths and the Nigel Slaters of this world? Probably having a very good dinner somewhere, butter and all.