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Weighing in on Clean Eating

I’ve seen a few articles going around recently about the idea of “clean eating.” And I have to say that the idea doesn’t sit well with me, for a few reasons.

A couple of the big issues are leading to orthorexia, and being judgmental not only of food but of people because of what they eat.

I definitely agree that both of those are an issue. And I’m not a fan of anything that tends to promote disordered eating.

I also don’t go in for judgment on what people eat. Or how they eat. Or how much they eat. I personally try to eat with balance, variety, and moderation, but if someone else chooses not to, I’m not going to condemn them for it. (Especially because sometimes I also choose not to.)

But clean eating has another shadow side I want to call out, especially since it doesn’t get as much attention: classism.

Consider. To be able to follow the “rules” of clean eating, you need to have access to unprocessed, whole foods, preferably ones that are raised organically. You also need to be able to afford them. And you need to have time to prepare them.

For the first issue, the sad reality is that far too many people live in food deserts. According to one website I found, “Approximately 2.3 million people (2.2% of all US households) live in low-income, rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.” (emphasis added)

How are these folks supposed to “eat clean”?

Then there’s the issue of cost. According to Consumer Reports, “On average, organic foods were 47 percent more expensive.” They did add that there’s a huge range, where in some cases (like carrots, maple syrup, and a few other items) organic may be slightly cheaper, depending on where you live, some are about equivalent, and sometimes the organic is enormously more expensive.

But still on balance, that’s a huge difference. This could be well outside your means.

And let’s not forget the time issue. Americans spend significantly less time on food prep and actual eating than many other countries (see this Forbes article).

It certainly takes a lot of time to clean, chop, cook, serve, eat, and clean up meals made with unprocessed ingredients. (Plus, there’s the money spent on fancy cooking gadgets, like juicers and blenders – which, incidentally, is just another way of processing food.)

But perhaps the lack of time spent on food isn’t surprising, when you consider how much we work: “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”

Maybe you’re lucky enough to work fewer hours, make quite a bit of money, and live near places where you can get fabulous food. (For instance, I’m thankful every Wednesday for the Farmers’ Market that’s just a three-minute walk from work.)

Then again, maybe you’re not. Or even if you are, you choose not to “eat clean.”

Either way, I’m not going to put my energy towards judgment or helping people be restrictive.

Instead, I choose to focus on trying to make sure everyone has enough food to eat, period.

Note: If you’re also interested in issues of food security, sustainability, and food waste, I invite you to learn about World Food Day on October 16.

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