I want to talk about money. Yes, dirty filthy money. When it comes to the topics of health and lifestyle, money, or the lack of it, either tends to get dismissed as a feeble excuse of the unwilling or thrust in the face as an unsurmountable obstacle.
Now we need to remember that the origin of the movements like Paleo are among the upper middle class University-educated elite. I am not saying it’s a good thing or that this is how it should be. This fact becomes quite apparent when the advice given out by some nutrition gurus out there misses the mark for everyone who has an under-6-figure household income.
This does not just apply to Paleo but also to the whole range of labels associated with New Nutritionism: vegan, free range, organic, gluten free, sugar free. If you doubt that Paleo or Gluten free is a premium label you are kidding yourself. Go to any health food store and compare the prices. Yes, I know that these producers need to feed their children. There is no doubt in my mind though, that for every organic farmer who is doing the best for the environment and has to charge $10 per dozen eggs just to survive, there is an international food conglomerate hiding behind the new “all natural” product.
I won’t lie, I am in a fortunate position. I am now in my 4th year out of med school and our household is probably in the top 1% in New Zealand. It’s a nice return for years of study. But I still remember what it’s like to have $20 allocated to your whole food budget for the week. I remember buying a textbook for my first university degree fully aware that this meant that my electricity is about to be disconnected for late payment. I remember crying with despair when I conceded that I had to go on welfare just to continue studying as a divorced parent of a 3 year old. I am still paying off debts racked up from the total of 8 years of tertiary education.
So when I see well-meaning folks from this community dive into the world of product advertising my blood boils. Sure, it’s not the same as selling your soul to McDonald’s, Coke or KFC. It’s only those shameless actors, athletes and celebrities who do that and we totally condemn them. What’s the harm in announcing to your social media that this is your favourite brand of sugar-free ketchup or I-can’t-live-without-it kombucha brand? So we Insta-Face-Twit it and people love it: “Where can I buy this?”, “Where to order?”, “I need this now!” Next we start getting “care packages” from these new age producers. That’s the new slang: “care packages”. I wish somebody would send a hungry student on a meagre allowance “a care package”. Somehow it is always the people who can afford it anyway and who also happen to have a large social media reach who get that lovely privilege. Of course, it does not carry any obligation! So what if a nice jerky company sent me some samples to try? I have my integrity and I will absolutely not be swayed by their generosity to advertise their products against my better judgement.*
*Do you notice anything familiar about this scenario? Have you ever raged out about medical professionals accepting seemingly trivial gifts like pens, notepads and coffee mugs from pharmaceutical companies? Doctors also believe that they can remain absolutely impartial in spite of receiving something for free.
This is not an accusation of anyone in particular. Hell, I am in this myself. I’ve done it. It’s part of our culture, to share our new finds and discoveries with our community. Where do we cross the line? Where is the problem, you say?
Let’s swing back to the money topic again. We fight tooth and nail against the money-hungry tactics of the Big Food. We shout till our voice is hoarse that EVERYONE can afford to eat well. We resent the Elitist label and proclaim that “Good Food on a budget” is not an oxymoron. And then we post pictures of us eating out in our favourite gluten-free eatery or cooing over another $12 jar of raw sauerkraut. A certain Paleo chef in Australia recently advised his starry-eyed followers that the best way to make the all-healing bone-broth outside is to purchase a special heating element, they are really cheap, like a 100 bucks.
Can we all just get off our fucking soft’n’cushy upper middle class pedestal for a second?
You cannot tell the populace that eating Real Food is affordable and cheap then litter their social media feed with Products at a premium price, with the implication being that your diet is not healthy enough unless you include coconut aminos, ancient pseudo-grains, sparkling water from the Pyrenees, a new brand of vomit-coloured juice, and magical cacao macaroons. In the real world buying salmon is expensive. So when somebody suggests that unless you eat salmon 3 times a week you are a failure, I get pissed.
Yes, let’s talk about food spending priorities. Let’s point out that if most people stopped buying processed crap they would have more money for fresh produce, seafood and quality meat products. By all means, let’s have that discussion. Let’s tell young women that they will save money if they avoided those expensive snack bars and $6/cup smoothies and just ate a few eggs for breakfast. Let’s tell those busy mums that they have been lied to, and their kids do not require sugary snacks just to stay alert at school, what they need is 3 solid meals a day. But for heaven’s sake do not follow up that advice with posting a recipe for paleo dessert creation which requires chia seeds, almond flour, coconut flour, flaxseed meal, real maple syrup, organic vanilla essence, coconut water, cacao nibs and more. Here is the price list of the new age staples for your average enlightened consumer:
Chia seeds $11.99 per 250g at Countdown
Almond flour $9.50 per 400g at Countdown
Coconut flour $8.79 per 800g at Countdown
Real maple syrup $10.99 per 250mLs at Countdown
Cacao nibs $15.99 per 250g from LifeFoods
Organic maca powder $28.98 per 250g from LifeFoods
Total for one-off shop: $86.24.
Almost a $100 for 6 items none of which are actually FOOD.
You notice I haven’t included any really wanky fancy stuff like (quoting from a real life person who is looking for guidance on where to find the following ingredients necessary for their “programme” as per the guru): “chilli infused olive oil, sugar free fish sauce, onion powder, sumac, pomegranate molasses, sugar free shrimp paste, water chestnuts, vegetable starter culture, coconuts, chicken feet, fish carcasses, daikon, juniper berries, Korean chilli powder”. No need.
I am not going to go into why the dessert paleofication is harmful from the point of view of health, both for your body and mind. If you haven’t yet read Jamie’s rant on the subject I highly encourage that you do.
And yes, some of these products are not really bad at all. I buy sauerkraut myself. And coconut water, and kombucha. I can afford it. But I have a problem of being a public figure, a nutrition guru of sorts, and devoting your social media presence to Products. In my view, this does 2 things:
- Encourages mindless consumerism on behalf of those who can afford it and who would be much better off spending their money on less Stuff.
- Indirectly tells the 99% of population, who struggle to feed their families, that eating healthily is out of reach for them. You are setting them up for failure.
I know you don’t mean it. But you also don’t think that $6 bottle of kombucha is a lot of money.
Let’s all be mindful of that.