Why the “wellness” craze is just as bad as the next fad diet – and probably that thing you smell.
Recently, when Googling “brownie recipe”, one of the first recipes I was met with was one for “gluten-free avocado brownies.” A frown, step back and sigh. What fresh hell?
It’s not that I hate avocado. I actually quite like spreading some on a slice of Brennan’s brown with a squeeze of lemon and a perfectly poached egg. It appeals to my inner koala bear. The point it becomes an issue is when it tries to worm its way into my brownies.
Look: if I wanted green brownies, I’d ask my friend’s pothead boyfriend to make some for me. But avocado brownies don’t send me to heaven with a smile, they make me feel like I’ve made one of those terrible snack combinations you make when you’re just in from a massive bender and raiding the fridge for literally anything edible that you can smush in between two slices of wheaten.
When it comes to “bad food”, I’m a serious purist. I won’t tolerate alternatives to my food-related mischief. But today’s wellness brigade is telling me different. It’s an inescapable movement hellbent on making you spiralise courgettes like a madman, detract gluten from muffins and use almond milk (which is actually almond water), instead of regular milk in your bowl of Golden Nuggets, as if that’s going to make any difference. I’m eating Golden Nuggets, for God’s sake. I’m a lost cause.
These impossibly lively-looking, peppy, flicky-haired health gurus remind me of the Hare Krishnas that parade around the city centre once in a while, wearing dresses and deranged smiles, dancing around you and insisting that you will lead a better life just by reading their leaflet, listening to their CD and allowing God to come into your life. But whereas most of secular society know that having God in your life is more cumbersome than not having him in it, like a distant cousin crashing on your sofa for a month as they try to “catch a break”, modern society has grasped onto the Wellness Brigade’s parables like the second coming, with Deliciously Ella standing on the pedestal in her Free People off-white peasant dress and wicker sandals, telling of greener pastures and greener smoothies, healing the sick with gluten-free banana bread and putting the sinners on the better path with blueberry-quinoa puddings. It’s as if the entire Western world have turned into rabid wellness zombies, bingeing on kale chips like it’s going to turn them into Gwyneth bloody Paltrow, when in fact the kale probably lost all nutritional value through the cooking process and has been glazed with enough oil to make the chips taste semi-normal, so that they are probably just as fattening as a packet of good old fashioned cheese ‘n’ onion Kettle Chips. God, I’d love a Kettle Chip right about now.
You can’t enter the cookery section of a bookshop these days without a thousand titles screaming at you to just slice up some beetroot, glaze with Albanian linseed oil, season with rosemary plucked from the garden of a rich Mongolian widow, cook in an antique clay oven resurrected from the Roman Empire for forty days and forty nights, sprinkle with green Slovakian sea salt and it will be a hit for brunch with friends. Every single smiling maniac is telling you that you can eat pasta every day and still fit into those size eights, as long as you eat the pasta uncooked with no sauce, just a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Purple pepper, only available from Thai monks. Price upon request, so good luck contacting the monastery.
I tried spiralising once with a “Kitchenmate” and was left, predictably, hungry and dissatisfied. Food should not make you feel like that. We deserve better. Kitchenmates are not your real mates. Or they’re the kind of mates that take picture of you while you throw up a veggie kebab on the street, or tell you that you can’t pull off high-waisted shorts because your bum’s too big. Kitchenmates are jealous of your jelly, they ain’t ready for it. They wish to make you weak as a courgette, so they may spiralise you into an anaemic wreck of curly vegetable slices.
Alright look, I might be exaggerating slightly. I’m sure there are some “health gurus” who actually believe the jargon they peddle relentlessly and want others to benefit from their life of enlightenment and permanent meditative state. But it seems that the wellness wagon is creaking under the weight of so many tagalongs, so many tourists looking to hop on while the going’s good (and the profits are high). It’s become a carnival of herbivorian insanity. It’s infiltrated our cookbook section, our supermarkets, our lunch spots. Where once there was the option of sausage in a bap or veggie sausage in a bap, there is now halloumi and courgette on rye and chickpea and cousous salad, served with artisanal brown bread (okay, admittedly, artisanal bread is actually rather tasty, if overpriced). Your ice creams are now frozen yoghurt, because the movement dictates that it tastes the same with half the fat, which is as ludicrous as suggesting you get one bowl of side chips instead of two. It’s shaving the layer of fat off the top of your life, leaving you with a watery liquid resembling what Oliver Twist wanted another bowl of in the orphanage.
I like sugar. I like gluten. I like carbohydrates and refined flour and all the beautiful preservatives that preside in my chocolate. Additionally, I’m not one of those mad addicts you see late at night on ITV2. I don’t casually eat massive blocks of cheese on the bus at every hour of the day. I’m under no apprehensions that eating these foods in excess is good for me. But I know that eating it in moderation won’t do much harm either. There’s nothing wrong with eating gluten unless you really are intolerant of it and as long as you keep it within reason, which everyone was probably doing anyway, before they even knew what it was. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t eat bad stuff all the time. Not the whole bottle of wine every day. Not the whole box of chocolates. Choke down a couple of salads now and again. Fruits and vegetables are good for you and your body. Cigarettes and cocaine, unfortunately, are not. But one or two full-fat, high-sugar brownies on the weekend won’t kill you.
Furthermore, adding avocado instead of eggs doesn’t mean you can eat more of them. It’s just that eating the avocado brownie won’t be as much fat, but will also taste worse. So my view is – if you’re going to be bad, be bad. Follow it through. Do it right. Life’s too short to mess around with one lovely sweet artificial-sugar-filled brownie, which is much more satisfying than three of Deliciously Ella’s no-gluten no-sugar high-fibre low-calorie avocado brownies. Doing an extra lap in the swimming pool is a small price to pay for having the thing that you like, the thing that puts a spring in your step during a hard day.
So I await in my chocolate palace for the inevitable backlash that usually follows trends like these. Once the wellness cookbooks disappear from the Bestsellers table, I anticipate the replacement to be titles such as Just Be Bad, Eat Sugar Be Happier, Fat’s okay in Moderation, Who Wants Abs Anyway?, et cetera. Look out for my own cookbook, out soon, called “Just Eat The Damn Brownie.”