This is part one of a series of articles published on the current wellness trend, its critics and its downfalls, by Catherine Rodgers.
Artwork by Jazmyn Scott
This week, I read an interview with head chef turned blogger, Anthony Warner AKA The Angry Chef. Warner has garnered attention for dispelling myths about food and nutrition through his blog, specifically the wellness movement. According to his interview with the Guardian, this moniker allows him to express his frustrations with pseudoscience in food writing, while adopting a ‘confrontational and unhinged’ attitude.
Warner is one of many voices among the fierce backlash against the food trend, which has been building over the past year. There have been countless articles and even a BBC Horizon documentary about it, with the predictably hyperbolic name ‘Clean Eating: The Dirty Truth’.
But after reading the interview, I couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort at having a male chef, in an industry that has a reputation for being sexist, describe wellness proponents as ‘stuck in this strange world of false belief, which is fascinating’. It wasn’t just his condescending fascination, though. It was also the alarming degree of anger he felt in reaction to the predominantly young women who are consuming a lifestyle that he simply doesn’t agree with.
I’m not about to defend the wellness trend, nor am I under any pretence of its lack of scientific basis. I’m more skeptical of the justifications given for the utter contempt shown towards these women, aside from a ‘critical eye’ and a ‘pretty good bullshit-detector’. It smacks of superiority, sexism and also irony: Warner condescendingly opines on his website that ‘I am sure that many of the people whom I direct my anger against are victims only of their own ignorance’. It begs the question: if you’re aware of the futility of directing anger at people that in your own opinion don’t know any better, then why bother? And what if, in a very misguided way, he’s right?
Perhaps one of the trend’s most ardent critics is food writer Ruby Tandoh. Yet unlike Warner, Tandoh’s analysis of the wellness trend carries a sincere and valuable message at its heart. Her 2016 article for Vice’s Munchies details the enabling role that wellness played in her disordered eating, and makes some valid points about the dangerous misinformation spread by a proportion of wellness bloggers and celebrities, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop or the Hemsley sisters. Orthorexia, the term for obsessive and damaging behaviour through strict adherence to or pursuit of an ideologically ‘healthy’ diet, is not something to be diminished or, as Tandoh puts it, ‘dress[ed]… up as self-care’.
Tandoh also argues that eating ‘clean’ or practicing ‘wellness’ is viewed outwardly as more virtuous and enviable by following its fluctuating rules, such as avoiding processed foods. And this is true, at least within the social media bubble of the wellness community itself. Step outside of these spaces, though, and the opposite can equally be true. In my own experience, I’ve found that making specific dietary requests in restaurants or cafés often leads to judgement, derision and, like Warner has exhibited, undeserved anger- especially from men. I was a vegan for a (shamefully short) period of time, and know the hum of embarrassment felt for making a fuss when requesting vegan alternatives to menu items (although admittedly, I have a very low embarrassment threshold).
It’s the pervasive perception of women as difficult, fickle or attention seeking. And it’s not just in the banal, every-day decisions we make. The trivialising of women’s beliefs and opinions threatens our lives, too. In her article for Dazed, Anna Freeman tells us what happens when even your expression of physical pain is minimised as a result of your gender.
Equally, there will always be those who purport to support a movement, when they are instead looking to exploit the most vulnerable in order make capital off the back of a movement or trend’s visibility, like Dove’s infamous “Real Beauty Campaign”. Companies like Dove don’t actually give a shit about your empowerment, despite what they put in their ads.
In the case of wellness, corporations are selling something deceptively wholesome, something that promises to help cure our every ailment. In reality, it’s just a regurgitated, body-shaming promise of reaching an arbitrary beauty standard that many of these corporations are responsible for perpetuating in the first place.
In a similar way, people like Anthony Warner vehemently oppose these trends, not because they’re trying to educate us with better food choices: that’s just a front to make their contempt seem legitimate. They just hate the thought of women getting involved in the boy’s gourmet food club.
If Warner really cared about making sure people were well-informed about nutrition, he would be educating people, encouraging them to get involved by offering alternatives and platforms for people to engage with food, not aggressively denouncing them and labelling them delusional.
Warner’s made it pretty clear that he has a very low opinion of the people who engage in these food trends, and like the corporations, he doesn’t give a shit about them. He’s that guy who points at your band t-shirt and says ‘Oh, you like insert generic male-fronted band here, do you? Name one song’.
To be continued: Part II published mid-October.