Yet Another Pious Diet Regime to Squeeze the Joy Out of Good Food
You will be relieved to know that today, before writing this, I showered. Soap was involved. I am therefore clean. In the matter of my danker, moist crevices cleanliness is clearly the way to go. Where my lunch is concerned, however, I do not hanker after anything that can be described as clean. Sure, I want my plates without skid marks, my lettuce leaves without half an allotment's sod. Sadly, though, that is not what the phrase "eating clean" now means.
"Eating clean" is a Thing. We know this because BuzzFeed.com, the arbiter of when something becomes a Thing, recently posted a "clean eating challenge". What does the phrase mean, apart from a wretched violation of the English language in a way that makes a good argument for corporal punishment? Oh, you know: it means joylessness, piety, self-regard, self-delusion and staggering pomposity. Gwyneth Paltrow "eats clean", which tells you all you need to know.
There are books: they have titles such as Clean Eating for Busy Families,Eating Clean for Dummies and The Eat Clean Diet, written by people called things like Tosca Reno, the latter's first name being just one consonant away from telling it like it is. There is regime and dictat and law. Generally it means eating more plants, less sugar, refined or otherwise, avoiding gluten, cutting down on carbs, and of course cutting out red meat, salt and laughing. I made the last one up. Or maybe I didn't. AsLV Anderson put it on Slate.com: "Clean eating can mean pretty much anything you want it to mean."
Mostly what it means is: "I'm much better than you." The opposite of clean is dirty. There's dirty politics, dirty money and dirty dealings. People who enjoy sex are portrayed as dirty. (Though Woody Allen's line that sex was only dirty "when it was done properly" is instructive here.) When junkies kick the habit they "get clean". Bad people "clean up their act". In short, if you don't eat clean you are lacking in virtue. You are not a good person. You are a bad person. You filthy, dirty dog.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in a balanced diet. But I also believe in honesty. So yes, I will confess to having eating Nando's and KFC, Burger King and even one of those worryingly sweaty sausages sold off carts in Trafalgar Square at 3am. (I was very drunk.) But I also like salads, real ones made only with green stuff. I do not always require something with a pulse to have died for my dinner. Sometimes I eat muesli for breakfast. I don't expect you to think better of me for this. And that's the point. We all know that only the most boggle-eyed ideologue, the type who would be in the vanguard of a murderous revolution stringing dodgy sorts like me from lamp-posts, could ever keep to a diet like this. The rest eventually crack, only to be found slumped in the corner of the kitchen sobbing, smeared in bacon fat, spooning cheap peanut butter straight from the jar.
Not that I advocate "eating dirty" as a protest. I am just as irritated by all that filthy Americana, the menus of fast food elevated only by the use of quality ingredients in the service of fat, salt and sugar. Sometimes that's OK. Sometimes it's great. Just as salads are sometimes great. But pursuing a menu of any of these things in isolation will not make you a better person. It won't make you more deserving of our admiration. It will just turn you in to a self-deluding, sanctimonious bore.