A matter of opinion: demonising food groups

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Food writer Bee Wilson on the dangers of demonising whole food groups while fetishing others

How vast the garden of modern ingredients is, I think, every time I go to Borough Market—you could lose yourself in the cheese alone. Here are whole worlds within worlds: stalls of bright, glowing citrus, heaving tables of dark-crusted bread and pastries, and more fish than you could dream of. 

It makes me sad to think that so many of us come to see this kind of food paradise as something threatening, full of foods we mustn’t eat and joys to be avoided. As a teenager and young adult, I used to be like that myself. In those days, it was fat that we were taught to be scared of. When slender friends told me they adored cheese, I simply didn’t believe them. Now, it is bread that is the demon, along with other carbs. One ‘clean eating’ book that I read said that all bread was ‘junk’ and suggested that a lettuce leaf makes a good substitute.

This is dangerous nonsense, but there is so much of it around that it’s hard to ignore. Cut out gluten and you will glow! Drink green juice for breakfast! Rice makes you bloated, so why not grind up cauliflower into rice-like particles instead? I could think of a few reasons why not, to be honest. 

The whole food supply
It’s one thing to eat a limited diet because you have to—you’re diabetic or coeliac or have some other intolerance—but it’s sad when so many people eat as if they are allergic to the whole food supply. We seem to have forgotten that our bodies get no goodness from the foods we don’t eat, only the ones we do.

As someone who used to be stuck in a cycle of bingeing and dieting, I know how liberating it feels when you find yourself adjusting to healthier habits of structured meals with predictable gaps in between. But you don’t reach this point by demonising whole food groups and fetishing others. Guilt never taught anyone to eat better. Our first task is to nourish ourselves. Good food—in modest portions—is the solution to our diet ills, not the problem.