“Βefore you open your mouth and blab, you should actually test the evidence. (If not) It’s anti-intellectual, it’s anti-fact, it’s anti-evidence based and it’s a very troubling narrative”
For more than a year now, my research has been focussing on ‘Wellness’ bloggers and their visual social media activity, with a particular interest in the so-called ‘queen of clean’, Deliciously Ella. The ‘clean’ fad, after all, is extremely popular on various social media channels, with Instagram playing a crucial part in its dissemination since it has not only revolutionised online image sharing but has also significantly influenced the way food is photographed.
‘Wellness’ bloggers do more than just offer food recipes. They also produce discourses around themes often described by the media or themselves as healthy lifestyle, cultivation of healthy vanity, nourishing beauty and glowing everyday life. Moreover, some of them argue that the healthy foods and recipes they propose helped them overcome various medical conditions and hence changed their lives. Some of their claims seem normative, aiming at establishing that these actors are wellness authorities with a right to provide advice to others. In many cases, advice amounts to a practice of exhaustive self-surveillance with regard to food preparation and consumption, involving an overall lifestyle of self-care and, as these actors often claim, a life of individual beauty inside and out, a healthy and happy world or a detox life. Hard scientific credentials rarely, if ever, back the authority claimed. Indeed, the actors’ relation to science seems distant: few of them have university nutritional qualifications and some prefer to take various online courses that in their eyes entitle them to act as ‘wellness coaches’.
Because of this research, I have talked with many food scientists and doctors and my plan is to talk with even more. So far, I have found that nobody is supporting the view that ‘going clean’ can cure diseases, or even help achieve a longer life. Of course, eating healthy is key for everybody and surely it is important for all people to have access to good quality and nutritious food (which also raises questions about social inequality as far as food is concerned, but this is a totally different discussion). But trying to cure diseases with plant-based diets only, or with fancy gluten-free, wheat-free techniques, special power food smoothies and acid ash diets without consulting doctors but only untrained individuals (with fake PhDs at times) can be dangerous and, indeed, in some cases even fatal.
It is very easy to take a beautiful picture of a smoothie or an avocado, label it ‘clean’ and claim that it’s good for you and will make your life better. It’s even easier to start a social media advertising plan towards popularity and influence and ride the media craze about ‘clean’ eating.
What is extremely difficult, though, is to be able to stand up to scrutiny when science asks questions. And this is what food scientists, nutrition medical advisors and doctors need to debunk vigorously, continuously and without any doubt.