Many years ago, I visited a friend of mine for a few days while she was staying at her parent’s place over summer. Her mother had recently gone back to Weight Watchers, and her father was enthusiastically supporting his wife. They were the most welcoming, delightful family, but I was devastatingly hungry the entire time I stayed with them. I’m sure if I had said something, they would have raced to feed me, but I didn’t want to make a fuss at the time.
One afternoon, as the sun’s blistering rays beat down on us, we all went on a family run, which quickly turned into a walk for me, and then an evening plagued by headaches and nausea (heat stroke perhaps?). Dinner that night was accompanied by diet soft drinks and a big dose of nutrition discussion, during which I tried to be chewing as much as possible, so I wouldn’t be called on to offer an opinion.
One night, while my stomach rumbled hungrily and I tried to ignore it for the sake of politeness, the father came bustling into the lounge with a tray in his hands. I sat up a little straighter and it was all I could do not to lick my lips: bliss balls. He extended the tray to me and as my mouth filled with saliva he fervently told me, “They’re completely fat-free!” They way he proclaimed it was both proud and anxious, as if he thought I would turn down this treat if I suspected a gram of fat in it. As it was, I just nodded and took one happily, then tried to savour it as I could see that no one else took more than one, and it would probably have been impolite to demolish the entire tray.
Fat was the demon back then. Clearly, if we could all just stop eating fat, we wouldn’t be fat!
Then fat morphed into sugar. Obviously, if we could all just stop eating sugar, we wouldn’t be fat!
Then sugar turned into carbs. Just stop eating carbs, guys, then you won’t be fat!
And now carbs and meat are battling it out with the keto-parade telling us to cut carbs and the vegans pushing us all to be “plant-based”, whatever the f that means.
Here’s the thing: they’re all right, and they’re all wrong. The focus always seems to be on what to exclude, not what to include. And it’s such a shame! I watched that super popular Netflix doco The Game Changers, which was all about “going plant-based” and the whole time I was physically trying not to cringe. Here was a golden opportunity to promote eating more vegetables and legumes, etc. Natural food. Whole food. Except they didn’t do that. I suspect it’s because getting people to eat things that are readily available, super cheap and they can grow themselves, doesn’t make money. Instead the food industry jumped on it (the filmaker, James Cameron, has shares in a pea protein company) and they basically tried to sell you on eating their plant-based processed crap.
And it is crap. Meat alternatives that you have no idea what the f it’s made out of are just processed crap. The same way the ‘keto bomb’ slice available at my local bakery is definitely not healthy. The same way diet soft drinks are not a miracle. The same way low-fat marshmallows are just marshmallows. It’s food industry marketing at it’s best, jumping on the latest fad and making it highly processed. Now, I have no problem with the odd bit of processed crap. But I do have a problem with marketing it as a healthy everyday thing, when it is anything but.
Last week I was facilitating a group education session and I got asked about the health benefits of going vegan. Before I could even answer the question I had to clarify exactly what the person meant by ‘vegan’. “There’s vegan and there’s vegan,” I said, “You can buy vegan lollies at the supermarket but that doesn’t make them healthy.”
Next time you’re tempted to jump on the latest diet fad with it’s suave marketing and great packaging, just think for a minute. Ask yourself, “Who’s profiting off this?” Because if you can buy it in a packet, I guarantee someone is profiting.