Is the ‘eat clean’ obsession ruining our relationship with food?

In the last year the vegan diet has been a hot topic of conversation.

Column inches and articles have whipped up so much controversy and condemnation around the negative effects of eating animal products, that what was formerly a minority approach to food has grown into a movement. As a healthy foodie and advocate of eating well, but by no means a vegan or vegetarian, there are a few questions about veganism I wish to pose. I also hope to dispel any myths you might believe about good quality meat being unhealthy.

Following a ‘vegan’ or ‘plant based’ diet is undoubtedly in fashion. Celebrated by models, actors and the much of media, it is wholly unsurprising that the trend has developed a bit of an air of elitism about it. What is presented in the media is that this is the diet of the glossy woman in control of her life. She is on trend and on the whole is getting it ‘right’, adhering to a path towards a ‘better’ version of herself. What people don’t realise is the commitment and the restriction it takes to adhere to such a change. It is more than just a change in diet, but one in lifestyle too.

It is the connotation and romanticisation of veganism that I feel is possibly becoming damaging for our sense of self and love of good food, far more so than eating meat or not. For a vegan options can be limiting. I have friends that frequently turn down social invitations, fearing that the right food won’t be available. They can’t eat out in most restaurants, travel unprepared and when they do there is a control and a stress around food related situations. For many this way of life makes them happy, and that is totally fine. But being someone who suffers from digestive issues and has to be aware of food for health, I wouldn’t wish such restrictions on anyone.

Is the vegan obsession ruining our relationship with food?

If the goal is to attain “perfect” physical health, then there is a trick missing. Veganism doesn’t equate to perfect health. In fact no diet can promise that. It would be far more beneficial to cut out all the processed foods and focus on cooking from scratch with higher welfare meats and fresh vegetables. Certainly I have the odd day meat and dairy free day, but instead of focusing on restriction I am more interested in buying better quality and less of it. Good quality grass fed meat can contain as much beneficial omega 3 as salmon. It also contains a whole host of vitamins and beneficial fat, (such as CLA) that cannot be found in plant based sources.

Perfect health is much more about positive thoughts, kind actions and mindfulness than the food we put into our bodies alone. There is certainly a fine line between what makes someone health-conscious and health-obsessed, one of the key defining differences being happiness. The question I suppose I am asking is ‘does it make you happy to live this way?’ If the answer is yes, then certainly you are on the right track. If the answer is no and you ned not be restricted for health reasons, then what is the point?

 Is the vegan obsession ruining our relationship with food? tess ward

I am a big believer in the something for everyone approach. Being healthy need not be a way of life. It is just a way to make your life better. Peoples dietary requirements and what each body needs differ as much as individual tastebuds do. As such what works for one person won’t work for another. This is an important thing to factor. However, as I mentioned in veganism is something that works for you, then that is great.

I just feel it is unneeded to make meat the dietary villain and unfairly condemn a whole food group. There is nothing fun about ruining a jolly good roast chicken, for everyone else, just for the sake of it. More often the most subtle changes in diet will have a bigger impact and longevity than dramatic ones. So have a slice of cake, if you really want it, my chickens are certainly happy to share their eggs.

 

 

28 Comments
  1. I have read your article with great
    interest and find the closing of article positive and helpful however I found
    you have shamed and ridiculed people who have decided to follow this way of
    eating as ‘in fashion’ and assuming people think they are becoming a ‘better
    version of themselves’. (in your words)

    I would like to know your source that says
    that ‘veganism doesn’t equate to a perfect health’ as recent information
    released on channel 4 showed the opposite.

    Instead of making people feel isolated and
    that they have made the wrong choice and that they are ‘difficult dinner
    guests’ why not encourage and accommodated a mindful choice they have made. Just because your brand is not vegan or
    vegetarian shaming others is not a way to get ahead in the industry.

    Not everyone has the deep pockets that you
    talk about buying organic and sustainable meat so to cut this out would not
    only benefit the animal welfare but the environment and help to reduce the acidic
    levels that meat causes in our bodies.

    I by no means make people feel that they
    have made the wrong choice I encourage people to eat healthier. Our approach is
    eating plant based 70% and do what you like 30% this allows people to be
    healthy all the time never ‘restricting’ themselves as you say.

    I am 100% with you on encouraging people to
    cut out processed foods, however what I struggled with in this article is a
    heavy handed approach from you to make people feel that they are simply
    following a ‘fashion fad’ for the sake of it that has no true benefits for ones
    health.

    I am not a vegan but I know that people who
    have made conscious decisions to want to feel better have embarked on a new way
    of thinking and looking at food as a positive and what you have done is made it
    a negative.

    1. Hey,

      Thanks for your email.
      There is nothing about this article that is anyway shaming veganism. I am totally on board with anyones personal dietary choices. The question I am posing is more about the connotations of perfect health that come with it.

      You will notice that I have pointed out that the media (en mass) have focused on the diet as being ‘on trend’ and portraying an image of bettering ones self. This is not my view but one I am discussing.

      I apologise if this has offended. I am grateful for your opinion

      Tess x

  2. Thank you so much for writing this piece. When I tried veganism for my health, I definitely found benefits because at the time I really struggled to digest meat. Over time, however, I was finding that I was feeling weaker and like I was missing something. I spend a really long time feeling guilty about my meat cravings (even though I was never an ethical vegan). This was mainly because I was surrounded by a lot of obsessive, orthorexic people who equated veganism as the only way to be healthy.

    Once I added in high quality animal protein, I started to gain some strength back. Of course, the ‘going vegan’ for me was linked to only eating natural food and cooking from scratch, so the benefits were coming from a number of different places – mainly, I can assume, from cutting out processed foods.

    Unfortunately, people are too keen to jump on trends without proper research and listening to their bodies. And I do understand why. I spend a lot of time researching and reading and trying to use as much common sense as possible, but when you’re confronted non-stop with these glossy images, it’s hard not to get caught up sometimes!

    1. Hey Natasha,

      Thanks for your comment.
      This is something I think seems to be quite a common view. I wrote this piece in response to a lot of emails I have ben receiving recently and wanted to clarify a few points that I think are important.

      There is no ‘right’ way and I think discussing such prominent diets is important so people feel it is ok to follow their own path. Hopefully it has come across as inclusive to all diets.

      Tess x

  3. Great piece Tess! I’m a big believer in doing what feels right for your body & what makes you happy! People set guidelines for themselves which in turn create food “guilt” and the feeling you’re somehow “cheating” or being “naughty” eating certain things. This definitely encourages unhealthy relationships with food which is not good for anyone physically or mentally. I agree you just need to focus on scratch cooking with whole, unprocessed ingredients & you’ll be on the right track, whether meat-free or not.

  4. i understand this article is aimed at veganism for health reasons, but I don’t feel like to can say that perfect health is about ‘kind actions and mindfulness’ when condoning a diet that includes slaughtered innocent animals, and the abuse that surrounds animal based products. To add a quick not about ‘perfect health’, I think the point is that at this point in time when we have a health epidemic on our hands, it it blind not to see that meat cheese milk and eggs are the cause. Our bodies are made to eat a plant based diet whether it’s ‘fashionable’ or not, you don’t develop heart disease and diabetes from eating vegetables, and the statistics on cancer linked to animal products are shocking. I’m just trying to say that veganism is much deeper rooted than a fad diet!

  5. Have you ever actually researched the meat and dairy industry? How vile, exploitative and NEEDLESS they are? Maybe if you thought about the ethical and environmental reasons (as well as health!) for veganism you’d realise it’s not just an ‘obsession’ and this article would be a little more progressive and educated. Plus, you don’t wanna be arguing against compassion. Articles like this make me sad.

    1. Hey Hannah,

      Thanks so much for your comment.
      I am posing a question about the relationship between health and veganism. Not the lifestyle choice as part of ethical reasons. That is certainly a whole other matter… I totally agree, some of what goes on is awful!
      As a chef (and someone who receives a lot of questions about health and people seeking the ‘perfect’ diet) I think it is important to let people choose themselves and not feel guilty or pressured into doing something that doesn’t work for them. That is why I think it was an important subject to cover.

      Thanks
      Tess x

  6. Before going any further, have you ever checked out the China Study? Most people don’t realise how many anti-biotics,hormones, and genetically-modified substances that are pumped into cows to help them mas produce milk for human comsumption that we are continually exposed to by drinking the stuff. I’ll leave the ethical issues out of this, but perhaps veganism and vegeterianism has become so “fashionable” now because so many people have opened their eyes up to their own health and wellbeing and the unspoken issues in the meat and dairy industry that ARE effecting our health. Watch Eathlings, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc, and Vegucated and you’ll see my point. And speaking of restrictions on a vegan diet? You only have to log onto instagram to see the thousands of accounts to see that there is less restriction on a vegan diet than there is on the SAD (standard american diet.)

    Enough said.

  7. This is a great article, it’s so important that any diet is a personal choice based on personal ethical beliefs and also what feels right. A lot of vegan promotion in the media is incredibly biased and only shows one side of a story. Forks Over Knives suggests meat and dairy products cause heart disease, using historical statistics to show the disease falling in times and places where there was a lack of meat. There is no mention of how other problems, such as osteoporosis were rife at these times. From a health point of view, cutting out a food type or two will not reduce a persons susceptibility to health problems, it’s more a question of which health problem you want.

    1. I agree, it is important to ask the question and have the conversation. Ethics and sustainability are a massive part of veganism for a lot of people, but it can’t be denied that the air time it is getting is not purely down to it being eco-friendly. Being aware of the media and it romanticisation of certain subjects is crucial so people feel empowered to make their own choices.

      1. As a coeliac, I find another ‘fad’ diet that is most often misconstrued is a gluten free one. As a chef who regularly promotes gluten free recipes (which are delicious by the way), do you feel it’s important to make people aware that eating gluten free doesn’t correlate to loosing weight? I have friends who are shocked when I tell them their gluten free bread is packed with sugar and treacle to compensate for the lack of gluteny texture (they seem sure that my being slender is due to what I eat rather than a lifetime of my immune system not knowing whose side it’s on).

        1. thats a really good point. i think there is an assumption that restriction in food equates to some sort of favourable result and misinformation can be misleading. i don’t promote the use of ‘gluten free products’ in my cooking for that reason. I use spelt (which is gluten containing) and I buy it from a local baker. I am planning to put a good recipe for spelt bread (and a gluten free on for that matter) up soon!

    2. Definitely agree.

      What always gets me about those documentaries is that they single out a single “culprit”. Yes, factory farming is a huge problem now-a-days which was not back then, but we’ve also added stress, a million different toxins, preservatives, and processed foods and sugar to that mix that also never existed before.

      I think instead of just simply promoting veganism for the sake of it, they should be promoting something that could benefit everyone. More vegetables, a higher plant-based diet, less quantity but better quality meats and dairy, and more sustainable practices. Simply cutting out a food group can be very detrimental, especially if someone doesn’t know exactly what they are doing or how they should be getting their protein and vitamins from other sources. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, which I think a lot of people do.

      It is definitely possible to thrive and be perfectly healthy on a vegan diet, but people do need to be conscious on getting everything their body needs!

      1. Finding the balance is exactly what I promote in cooking an eating. There is no one way that fits all. Cutting out a food group requires knowledge and planning without which it can be detrimental, i totally agree… you cant swap meat protein for pasta. it just doesn’t work. I think trying a week without every now and then can be great for the body but I like to keep my diet like an open book. No labels. I encourage anyone to listen to their bodies and let it make the choices for you.

  8. This blog post is so inspiring, I love knowing there are more people out there like you! Please keep up the blog 🙂

  9. Great article Tess! I have to say that recently (after a medication change affected my ability to process different foods) I switched to a low fodmap diet, which did really help.

    Unfortunately it means limited beans/lentils, and I avoid things like nuts because my boyfriend is allergic… so a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle isn’t really an option for me. Instead I’m trying to just reduce consumption of meats and buy as smart as I can.

    I’m always wary of fad diets… gluten, vegan, cleanses, paleo.. just because I’ve felt better doing a fodmap diet doesn’t mean any one particular diet works for everyone, and I don’t even follow THAT to the letter, just the stuff that makes me feel better.

    Home cooked meals, all things in moderation, listen to your body, and follow your heart if you feel wrong about eating something. It’s all you can do.

    1. ah the low fodmap. I tried that for my IBS – was a BIG help.
      Helped me identify wheat as the main culprit for my symptoms.
      I now and a big fan of slippery elm (before meals) and green juices. Both are great for digestion x

  10. Hi Tess, this article highlights everything I feel about deciding to eliminate meat and dairy from my diet. I have recently began to introduce fish into my diet again as it has made eating out a slightly less awkward experience. I became “vegan” in may last year, going cold turkey after I found my blood sugars completely unmanageable (I have type 1 diabetes). Cutting out meat and dairy has had a profound effect on my blood sugars and I have reduced my insulin intake by nearly 2/3’s and I rarely get ill. I used to be able to eat what I wanted and sometimes it is extremely frustrating, however I never get “slumps” after food and I am rarely tired. If I get a headache I know it’s just because I haven’t had enough water and I have not taken any other medication that was given to me for my

    1. insulin) that was given to me to help manage my diabetes since becoming vegan. I am now working for a diabetes charity and am able to give dietary advice over the phone and I agree you when you say that it’s all about cutting out processed foods and making simple food swaps, sunflower oil for coconut oil etc, this is the advice I give to people when they phone me up for advice and I wish the government was doing more about this. It’s a simple education. Becoming vegan has massively changed my life for the better but people without illnesses should just start off by cutting out the bad stuff. X

  11. I knew you’d be getting some backlash from this article, and from reading some of the comments I can definitely see it’s true. But I couldn’t agree with you more!

    Good quality, humanely raised, grass-fed meats do have a important part to play in our diet (at least my one, I know everybody is different), and have so much to provide nutritionally. I don’t eat huge amounts of meat or dairy, but I like to know I have the option when I want or need it. So many people can perfectly thrive off a vegan diet – but I know that would not be the case for me. It is definitely the more compassionate and eco-friendly lifestyle, but when organic meat is bought with quality over quantity in mind, there is definitely a place for it.

    I know a lot of people will be throwing documentaries like ‘The China Study’ and ‘Forks Over Knives’ in here, and I’ve seen them all, and while they make some good points one thing that always irks me is their failure to differentiate good quality meat from the shit that is pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, and treats their animals horribly. They are definitely not the same, and I’d love for someone to conduct a study based on that, but then I guess it wouldn’t be such a fantastical find would it? “Grass-fed meats proven to be good for your diet, as many suspected” wouldn’t sell as much.

    It goes beyond simply saying meat is the guilty one. What about the ones that blame sugar? or the ones that blame the toxic preservatives? and what about daily stress? Correlation is not causation, but I definitely think the meat industry is horrible and does nothing in the way of promoting general health and well-being – not to mention the damage they do on out planet!

    I’m a huuuge advocate for a largely plant-based diet, getting in as much delicious veggies as we can into our diet, and having that alongside nutritious meats, fish, and whole grains. It’s all about balance, and like you said, doing what makes you happy!

    Ok, I think that’s a long enough comment for now. Loved the post! X

  12. Hey Tess, I really enjoyed this post and completely agree with everything that you’ve said – I definitely think that there is a real issue around veganism appearing fashionable, particularly with young girls. For me, at the end of the day humans are part of the animal kingdom, and animals eat other animals to survive. It’s the circle of life and our bodies depend on it. The meat industry is not a pretty thing but eating organic, sustainably farmed, good quality animal protein on a limited basis is definitely what we were designed to do (p.s. I am an atheist, speaking from an evolutionary point of view). Plus, it tastes bloody delicious. Lots of love, Andrea xxx

    http://www.andreaspassions.com

    1. Thanks. I am glad you found it interesting!
      Nutrition and food is one of the only places when two conflicting ideas can both be right
      I just think it is important to make sure that people make lifestyle choices for the right reasons and the media can rather overtake peoples minds.

  13. Not only is it possible to enjoy perfect health on a vegan diet, but a plant based diet even supplies the best chance of the former, providing it consists of whole foods. The body can get all the nutrients it needs from plants and synthesize the rest; the only exception is B 12, which can easily be supplemented. It is not about pampering oneself and being self-centred, but about the plight of animals, which are harmed without the slightest necessity; so, there is tremendous harm in “enjoying” a little chicken.

    1. thank you for your comments. I think you are right in so many ways.
      I have been veggie for the past two weeks and loved it.

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