Culinary Chatter: Food-Shaming in the name of ‘wellness’ and feigned gluten allergies.

“guilt tastes nasty – you gotta unlearn the practice of seasoning your food w it” – Ruby Tandoh, 2013 GBBO finalist, cookbook author, and Guardian food writer, July 2015

How about we keep calm and eat SENSIBLY?
How about we keep calm and eat SENSIBLY?

I thought I’d pick a juicy (see what I did there?) topic to kick off my ‘culinary chatter’ subsection of this blog. But you know what, I don’t care.

Save for the pumpkin soup I posted for Halloween, all my recipes posted so far have been cake. Glorious fat, carb and sugar-laden cakes. It would have the likes of Deliciously Ella, Calgary Avosino and Lowri Turner (former daytime TV presenter, now a ‘nutritionist’) keel over in horror.

GOOD.

This modern culture of food shaming needs to stop now.

Even as a person who has been interested in food and cooking since childhood, I have had a complicated relationship with it. No, I wasn’t the fat kid larded up on daily McDonalds and revolting 6-for-60p value sausage rolls, and nor was I raised on a strictly wholesome, wholemeal diet either. But growing up the Nineties, the real start of the low-fat fever and healthy food revolution left an indelible mark.

“You MUST eat this, it’s HEALTHY FOR YOU.”

“You CAN’T HAVE THAT, it’ll rot your teeth.”

Were drummed into us in the decade that gave us curtain hair, the PlayStation and Friends. I remember being disciplined by a supply teacher and reviled by classmates in Year 1 for colouring in an ice-cream on a worksheet – the task was colour in healthy foods.

So naturally I hated having to eat fruit and vegetables, as many kids often do. Oh sure, I could chow down apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries et al, but obviously, ‘EAT YOUR GREENS’. Nope. And this is where this problem is rooted. If we force children to eat stuff because it’s ‘GOOD FOR YOU’ then naturally, they won’t like it and go for the Wham bar instead. I can’t speak for all children though, but I have heard occasions where kids who haven’t had the healthy eating regime drummed into their skulls will eat the ‘good’ stuff without so much as a downturned trembling lip.

But I digress.

I was one of those kids who was blessed with ‘hollow legs’ whereas the rest of my family were larger. Sometimes it just happens that way. We didn’t spend the day hoovering up cream cakes and Big Macs. We were fed 3 meals a day. Many home-cooked. But of course, underactive thyroids, etc, don’t exist in the mind of the fiercest fat shamers. ALL FAT PEOPLE ARE FAT BECAUSE THEY’RE LAZY AND EAT ALL DAY WHILST SAT ON THEIR JACKSIES and don’t you forget it. Whilst I won’t bore you all with my own weight struggles, needless to say my legs weren’t hollow forever and by 17, whoof. I looked like a dinghy with cheap Specsavers glasses and grubby pair of tracksuit bottoms.  And how did I get fat? Read the capitalized statement.

Attack of the killer whale? No, it's me in 2007. Admittdly standing with two very slim people from mu Uni halls didn't help but this is the best Facebook had to offer that truly illustrated my bulk.
Attack of the killer whale? Why are they smiling when they’re about to be crushed by a large heavy creature?! No, it’s me in 2007. Admittdly standing with two very slim people from mu Uni halls didn’t help but this is the best Facebook had to offer that truly illustrated my bulk.

I made myself that way. And it wasn’t even enjoyment of good food! It was sheer greed and novelty of being able to leave the school site as a sixth former. Excess. But anyway, I managed to shift 3 stone between the ages of 19 and 20, and for the subsequent six years, kept the majority off.

slim pic 09 leannes
January 2009. 3 stone lighter. Now with a reason to smile.

In June this year though, I have to admit, I’d let myself go a touch.

June 2015, Whoops, heading back to chubstertown there, buddy..
June 2015, Whoops, heading back to chubstertown there, buddy..

And below is me now. May not be Mr Gay UK or have the phone ringing from underwear companies yet but I don’t think I done too bad in 5 months.

November 2015. Same garment for consistency.
November 2015. Same garment for consistency.

Did I get this way by living off green juices, quinoa, and banning wheat from my life? Nope. I cut out plastic Chorleywood bread, saving it for weekends (because I’m sorry, nobody will ever convince me toast and Marmite isn’t the breakfast of champions, soz. I have my crappy vices.) and other un-necessary junk food. I couldn’t rely on an active job alone anymore. I followed a plan based upon the Slimming World method, which essentially, is everything in moderation (the syn system is essentially allowing oneself a treat every now and then). I refused to ban any food group. I still eat sugar (only at weekends, have Splenda for hot drinks during the week, though a post-shift hot chocolate is a necessary evil before bed) and always keep it in for baking. Frankly, I haven’t bought a ready meal since Blair ran the country so the ‘hidden sugar and salt’ moral panic has never really applied to my adult life. I keep butter in for baking. Pasta, providing you don’t smother it in salty, fatty ectoplasm from a jar, is fine on Slimming World as it is a grain. All about being sensible.

But I did buy a spiralizer. Which I’ve used twice, I think..

My point being, I wanted to lose a good two stone and look good in a set of gay briefs. But still ENJOY food, not seeing it as a necessary evil. Obviously a healthier but still balanced diet could only shed so much (hey, 1 stone and a thankfully active night job at 10k plus steps a shift wasn’t too shabby) so the gym came calling. I go 3 times a week. And I still bake cakes, will eat out, and occasionally order in… and guess what, I still drink too. Soz Lowri, some of us can enjoy food and lose weight.

But enough of my Big Fat Story. Let’s talk the crux. Wellness and food shaming.

“Do you KNOW how many CALORIES are in that?!”

“Sorry, I can’t come to dinner for your birthday tonight, I’m on this diet, and worried about going over my calories for the day.”

“OH MY GOD! I can’t possibly go to this restaurant! There’s no calories printed on the menu!”

“You know, you should eat a bit cleaner.”

“I can’t eat that, it’s got gluten in.”
“Are you a coeliac?””
“No I just think it’s bad for you.”

YAWN.

Coeliac’s disease, for those who do suffer an intolerance to the dreaded wheat protein, is a horrible thing to have. And doesn’t affect as many as you’d think, or so I’ve read. But this is a fine line to tread so I won’t make such sweeping statements. Look up legitimate medical research, not some angry blogger’s rants please.

Clean eating has taken the world by storm. Green juice, chia seed pudding (made with non-dairy milk please), avocado toast (on GF bread, natch), quinoa, salads constantly. We’ve come a long way since 2004 when known poo-prodder and questionable doctor Gillian McKeith first began to force the ancient Incan pseudocereal upon us when fat-shaming people with low self-esteem with school dining-tables of chips and burgers on her series You Are What You Eat.

It has made celebrities of authors/online personalities like Deliciously Ella, Madeline Shaw (British Instagram personality), and Calgary Avosino (a glamorous, blonde American waif whose saccharine, holier-than-though piece on healthy Christmas dinner alternatives in The Sunday Times made me retch) who’ve advocated this fabulous new key to happiness.

Which I’m sure is all well and dandy – if you’re the daughter of the Sainsbury’s dynasty or just rich and privileged in general and can afford to eat this way, but that’s none of my business *sips tea with DAIRY skimmed milk in* – these ingredients du jour like quinoa and chia seeds are not exactly cheap. Well they can be if you look hard enough for somewhere that hasn’t hiked the price up twentyfold like most ‘new superfoods’ do.

Nigella Lawson, whom I have idolised without shame since the age of 12, takes exactly the same approach to this trend as I do – she equates food guilt with puritanism. Nobody should be made to feel guilty about what they choose to eat. I may not approve of some parents feeding their children ready meals and jars of Dolmio but I sure as hell am not going to frogmarch over and lecture them. Nigella’s new book and TV series does use some of the ‘clean-eating’ favourites (avocado toast, chia seed breakfast bars made with medjool dates, goji berries and other hot-in-LA goodies) but proudly stated on the television series that she was ‘not going to go into fine detail about the supposed health benefits’. Brilliant shade thrown as always by Lawson at her critics.

Lowri Turner, former daytime TV presenter and the not-so-famous sister of Anthea, has now taken on a new role as nutritionist. She had a puff piece in a recent Sunday newspaper supplement, and fair play to her for finally winning her weight battles. If you used to be big, then it’s a great feeling to finally be in control, I can relate completely.

But it was the other things she said that actually spawned the first seeds of this blog in my mind. Her advice, amongst the usual ‘reject carbs and dairy’ snore, was that ‘food is for hunger, not to be taken pleasure in’. She suggests rejecting meals out with friends to stick to your calorie intake as well. Excuse me? So if I dare to enjoy my food, I’ll instantly get fat? Or if my friends or family wanted to dine out as a celebration I have to say no; lest I balloon overnight? Screw you! I am proof you can be a foodie and lose weight.

Is ‘everything in moderation’ too basic for folk these days? Is it an archaic belief?  The mind boggles.

Which brings me to the final, click-bait section of the headline and title. Feigned allergies to gluten. It has become almost customary to reject wheat, a staple food of virtually the entire world for millenia. There are so many claims it is bad for you, it’ll make you fat, make you ill, blah blah blah.

Some people are medically allergic to gluten. Coeliac disease. And that’s non-disputable. They cannot consume it as it will make them sick.

But there’s been a massive growth in people who have stopped eating it, purely because it’s ‘bad for you’ and makes you bloated/fat, whatever. Not because it will cause them to be ill. And this is the ‘feigned allergies’ of the title.

Since when?

Italy still marches on pasta and has done for centuries. Hell, I still eat it, despite it being the dreaded C-word. Not cancer. CARBS.

QUELLE HORREUR!!!

And I’m sure this anti-gluten trend is just an evolution of the long-running fear of the carb.

Weighing out pasta before you cook it is an easy answer to not overdoing it…and making your own sauces too. You know exactly what went in. And pasta is meant to be dressed like a salad, not drowned in a sugary, salty, fatty, chemical pre-made sauce. A pasta sauce is not a hard or expensive thing to make from scratch.

Another staple food that’s come to be feared is white rice. The biggest continent, Asia, virtually lives off the stuff. The vast majority of the populations of Japan, China, India, and Thailand, all eat white rice with a plethora of their meals. Do any of those nations have obesity problems? How often do you see an obese Chinese, Japanese, Thai or Indian person?

Bread is often called the ‘staff of life’! The most basic form of sustenance there is. How now is it suddenly bad for you? Please tell me Madeline Shaw. Please tell me Deliciously Ella. I’d love to know.

If people are eating cheap, mass-produced white bread for every meal and snacks in between, I can understand. I can’t touch tiger loaves and supermarket baguettes because the horrible slumps I suffer after. But it’s probably the extra rubbish put in the loaves with the flour, water, salt and yeast that’s the problem.  I still bake bread. And enjoy it at the weekends, even the aforementioned sliced pap. Moderation.

Moderation, is the key, people.

Remember, there are some people out there, many of them young families, who can barely afford to eat and don’t have the luxury of choosing to  ‘eat clean’ but still can maintain a balanced diet. Dr Jack Monroe proved that, even at rock bottom, a bit of smart-shopping and kitchen creativity meant that you (and your family) can eat reasonably well even on a severely limited budget. Monroe is an inspiration to many, including myself.

Eat what you bloody well like, just be sensible and judicious. And eat when you’re hungry, but take pleasure in doing so. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed of what they’re eating. Ever. Just be thankful you CAN eat. If you’ve had a bad day, treat yourself. Nobody’s going to come and throw you in the police cells for picking up that bar of Dairy Milk. You’re out with friends whom you’ve not seen for a while. Go ahead and enjoy a drink and a naughty meal with them. You’re allowed.

We live in an age with information at our fingertips 24/7 so you can always look it up if you’re unsure if something’s bad or good for you. And if you do think you’re allergic to gluten, for God’s sake, go and get medically tested. Don’t just assume you are because some wealthy, slim, beautiful food blogger said gluten is bad for you.

Peace out.

T.

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