Thoughts on the fashion, food and wellness industry; the antidote to a toxic message?
Back before I wrote words for other people to read, I wrote them for myself, mostly in my head. I styled outfits, thought about the way pieces worked together, curated my wardrobe and shopped (admittedly a bit too much). I did it for myself and thought about it by myself. I quietly dreamt of working in the fashion industry, but would never feel comfortable with the reality. With my past relationship with food in mind, I couldn’t put myself in what would be a dangerous position, likely to relapse. So I excluded myself from the fashion industry to protect myself.
But then blogging became a part of my life and I felt comfortable and confident in sharing my style with my ‘safe’ audience. Yes, I get hate occasionally (doesn’t every person on the internet) but that doesn’t bother me. I get to create and talk about the things I love to people interested in what I have to say (thanks huns). But I don’t feel the pressure to fit in with typical style bloggers, to wear certain things or to look a certain way. The fashion blogging industry is diversifying more and more (though there is still definite room to grow), and I’m glad to be part of that. But one area that continues to be much more narrow and single minded is the food and wellness side of not only blogging, but the industry as a whole…
Look at all the best selling cookbooks. They’re dominated by boring, white, middle class guys with kids called Buddy Bear and River Rocket, and by skinny blonde duplicates with internet certificates in nutrition. Cookbooks should be inspiring us to fall in love with every meal, encouraging us to create, challenging us, teaching us. Not preaching to us. Are those covers meant to inspire us? Girls half dressed in their gleaming kitchens with Hollywood smiles and a swipe of flour on their cheeks, despite the fact the haven’t eaten Gluten since the internet was invented. Ella Woodward capitalised her brand on ‘deliciously feel good food’ and yet a sweet potato brownie has never made me smile. Sainsbury’s (funnily enough owned by the Woodward family) launching their ‘Tahini and other expensive foods’ line are surely rubbing their hands together with each new book launch. We have the Hemsley Sisters, with their pea ice cream… Can someone have a word? There’s Clean Eating Alice who claims clean only means good, not restrictive, and yet the recipes contained in these books contradict that claim entirely. There’s a common rhetoric throughout of restriction and guilt. But why should food make us feel guilty? We already have a culture of shaming anything outside of unattainable perfection to more than fill that gap in the market, thanks.
The worrying thing for me is around that guilt and food conversation. I remember looking in the mirror, aged 13, and 15, and 17 and plenty more times, weighing very little, feeling guilty for that small bowl of soup I had eaten the day before. If only I had been better, stuck to my apple and my Diet Coke, I wouldn’t look as fat. I would spend time fretting about getting hungry and the next meal that I would cave and eat. I felt guilty even thinking about food, how greedy I was that it was always on my mind? Whenever I felt relaxed enough to eat around others, or I felt pressured enough to eat, the solace came in purging – both the food and part of the guilt. Which is why I couldn’t be more here for food writers like Ruby Tandoh and Jack Monroe.
Ruby and Jack are turning the conversation about food on its head. We can talk about their looks, how much they weigh, etc, but that isn’t the important part here. It’s the way they talk about food. Food is a pleasure, it fuels us, it brings us joy (or at least it can, depending on your relationship with it). For me, growing up, the only two ‘foodies’ I trusted were Rick Stein, mostly for his soothing tones and love of seafood, and Nigella Lawson (you know the delicious way she enjoys food in her shows). I wanted what Nigella had, but it took me a long time to push through my fear of food to genuinely be able to enjoy it. So seeing books like Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up makes me grateful that there is an antidote to the elitist, narrow minded attitude around food that currently dominates. The fact someone knowledgable is finally talking about different relationships with food, highlighting the issues and trying to support people going through it is refreshing. These feel likes steps in the right direction. In her acknowledgments, she uses the line ‘eating feels so fucking complicated sometimes’ and even now, years into feeling like I have a confident hold on my eating, it’s the most applicable thing I’ve read about my (and many other’s) relationship with food.
So lets amplify these other voices. It’s about time we stopped talking about guilt-free food. Food isn’t made to guilt you. It’s made to be enjoyed. And whether that’s a Kale Smoothie or Chicken Nuggets, do what makes you happy, eat what brings you joy and don’t listen to the industry trying to get you to spend money you don’t have on ingredients you don’t need; vegetables are expensive enough.
And to the faux wellness and food bloggers pushing a problematic rhetoric? In the immortal words of Jack Monroe, “Fuck off with your ‘clean’ food and go have some sex and pasta”.
Ruby’s book Eat Up is available for pre-order here. This isn’t sponsored, I just have a lot of things to say.