A few days ago I spotted an advertising billboard promoting a new kids 'healthy' snack. Even though it was a processed food (no doubt with the usual suspects of preservatives, some form of sugar etc) the advert advised that you could find this product in the HEALTH FOOD SECTION of your local supermarket. Head scratching ensued.
The madness of modern food has now reached the point of being humorous. Let's think about it, a 'health food section' of a supermarket? Shouldn't ALL the food be healthy? And to add a little irony, a lot of the food in this magical section isn't actually as healthy as it suggests. Just because a packet of chips is 'organic' doesn't mean it isn't still just a packet of chips, just because something has coconut oil in it, doesn't mean you won't get stupified. Sure you can have a 'treat' every now and then, and like all dodgy things, it's best in moderation. When a processed food is marketed as healthy it's misleading to the GP (general public) many of which invest little effort into learning about what they're eating, hence the current state of poor health across most western countries. The healthy food product also adds to food anxieties. This magic health food 'may' cure that, this food prevents that ailment, and this probiotic will 'repair' you. It's phycological marketing preying on the fear of the individual becoming unhealthy, and no one actually wants to be unhealthy do they? We all know that every time we shove food in our mouths we're determining our health, and this is exactly what the marketing players rely on.
'Healthy' food information on packaging and advertising is overwhelming to the consumer. In many cases the health food in question is processed, it's packaged, it's high in sugar or salt, may even contain sulphites, and often it's travelled some distance (e.g. Bolivian Quinoa or any coconut product, FROM THE TROPICS!) Often the supposed health benefits aren't really worth the extra coin the consumer forks out, nor is it necessarily any good in regards to environmental impact, soya products for example. But it makes a shit load of money for the retailers and the manufactures, and really that's what's important isn't it? The growth of our economy.
Toting manufactured food as a 'healthy' option, or highlighting the health benefits of any food product (e.g. the controversial permeate free, A1, A2 milk), continues to polarise the issue of personal health. A consumer either chooses to eat regular food (not so healthy apparently) or alternatively values their health, and purchase's a 'healthy' option. The health food industry is huge for this very reason, with some of the big sellers being speciality oils, coconut wonder products, powdered supplements, vitamin supplements and milk alternatives, the later of which has most definitely gone out of control.
There is an element of our population that are now so health addicted that there's actually a name for it, orthorexia, which involves a maniacal obsession with eating only healthy food. To a large extent, it seems like many of us are dipping into a bit of orthorexia pie. The spread of the health food obsession is evident with the success of certain fad diets, 10 week healthy eating apps, wellbeing cookbooks and magazines full of adverts for, yep you guessed it, processed 'health' foods. There's nothing wrong with being interested in ones personal health, but many of the poplar diets and health products of the modern era are extreme in their content, based on short term goals, and mostly focused around weight loss. Weight loss can be a good thing, a very good thing, but unless you whole heartedly embrace sensible eating in it's entirety for the remainder of your life, you're simply just going to lose some weight, eventually returning to bad habits, and pop the weight back on.
A book full of smoothie recipes was one of the best selling cook books of the year, a reflection of our societies desire to want a quick fix for health, and before I receive any green smoothy hate mail, allow me to point out that just because one consumes a green smoothy, it doesn't automatically make one super healthy, it's only one link in a chain. Also consider what is being 'smoothied'. Was it grown hydroponically? Was it raised with synthetic agricultural fertilisers, pesticides? We tend to popularise these fad approaches to healthy eating without seeing the full picture, in the process we push aside what's really needed. Green smoothies are a modern approach, in some cases they might be good for you but the healthy food was there all along. Fruit, veg, grains and a little diary and meat, all raised via natural systems can provide us a healthy life. It's been supporting the human population for thousands of years.
These fads, in many cases are not long term approaches to personal health. Blitzing the crap out of fruit and vegetables and drinking nothing but liquid mush for breakfast, lunch and dinner is not going to solve your poor problems long term. I know so many friends that have juiced their way to health.......for a week. Now they're stuck with an expensive juicing machine that gets shoved in the back cupboard, the individual inevitably returns old habits, and weight/poor health eventually set in until the next fad diet is discovered, marketed and embraced by the consumer. I believe the term is 'YoYo'. I'm old enough to know this, I myself have been there.
I'm going to use a word here that I hate to use, but use consistently; SENSIBLE. You can't have good health without a SENSIBLE balanced diet and some form of consistent exercise. It's what our biological vessels have evolved to operate on. A sensible balance of mostly plant material (that hasn't been too fucked with), a little bit of dairy and protein (meat) and some exercise. This also includes bread, which is actually just a grain seed, crushed, then fermented with water, then baked, a far cry from supermarket bread. And for the angry vegans out there, yes some traditional cultures survived on plant matter alone, but on the flip side some traditional cultures also survive on mostly hunted meat, whale blubber or fish. Let's focus on evolutionary biology, not privileged western food opinions.
As soon as you mess with this basic formula things begin to get shaky. As soon as you embrace this formula, a healthy balance returns. I've experienced this first hand, progressing from a diet of mostly processed foods to a diet of mostly home grown produce, the physiological and mental health benefits have been mind blowing. I can't sell you that formula, there is no app, no 10 week diet program, instead I can give you this information for free. There is little money to be made from promoting the concept of sensible eating, even less when you start toting the idea of only eating food produced naturally, in soil, without inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. In fact the more years I spend advocating for better eating and environmental consideration the more I struggle to make ends meet, turning to labouring as a reliable form of income. If you need a landscape gardener, veg grower or wood chopper call me. And just because I've written books featuring real food, doesn't make me a millionaire published author. I should have written a hunter forager smoothie cook book. Wild mushroom and raw venison smoothies! Hot Damn!
There is however, much money to be made cashing in on peoples food anxieties and food insecurities. Hence the health food shops, health food isles at supermarkets, the processed foods toting health benefits, the smoothy shops, all of which are not the be all and end all of a healthy existence. The smoothy shops always crack me up, they use tonnes of fruit and veg that's out of season, not organic and has massive road miles, but the consumer is convinced that what they're consuming is a 'good' healthy option.
I recently met someone in our hippy home town for a date at a 'health food' shop/cafe (why isn't it just a food shop? Is food that bad that we have to differentiate?) Lovely place, healthy food etc, I don't want to upset the locals. I asked if they sold a locally made Italian style soft drink called Chinotto, a favourite of mine. They didn't sell it on the premise that it wasn't organic. I looked in the fridge, which was stocked with organic soft drinks, but they where still soft drinks containing sugar. Just because something says organic on the packet, doesn't mean it's good for you. The same can be said about 'farm fresh' 'free range' or 'healthy choice'. Often an amount of effluent is associated with these claims.
Broccoli grown in my back yard is 'organic' and my body likes it, but a packet of organic corn chips are still just processed chips, fried in oil and loaded with fats which if I consume too much of, my body will store fat for leaner times, because of that evolution thing that happens. Get the picture? No? Let me give you another example.
A family member once bought me a 'good bacteria' product because it was a healthy product. They had good intentions, but I refused to drink it, rightly so, it was loaded with sugar and it didn't fit in with my understanding of healthy living that doesn't include on the surface quick fix's. The product had a massive television marketing campaign and the family member in question had bought into the message and successfully made the transaction to a healthy lifestyle. I'm using sarcasm here. FYI.
The notion that a certain category of food is healthier than any other food is what polarises the issue. You either have the income to be able to afford the 'healthy' lifestyle or you eat poorly. But the reality is not so obvious. Some of the poorest people eat the healthiest foods. Many cultures outside of the western world that have established food traditions eat a balance of plant matter and meat and enjoy a healthy existence. And for those that are unaware of the existence of other cultures in the world, may I suggest that many do not have such a wide spread intolerance to gluten, diary, solanum, nor do they have deadly food allergies, extremist veganism, but the worst of all is that many of these poor bastards don't have access to our amazing selection of health food options or green smoothy cook books. We should donate now.
We are smart enough to know that there are two options with food. Eat shit food, don't exercise and your body will run like an out of tune car, you're life expectancy will diminish as will your quality of life. The other option is to eat sensible good food, exercise a bit and you're body will operate at it's optimal. It's disheartening to know that the health food industry was born out of desperation. People wanted a healthy option because much of the food presented to them was unhealthy. But the good food is there, it's as simple as vegetables grown in soil. It's as simple as being honest with yourself, embracing sensible. I wish one day this could be better understood.