Can Food Be Dirty (or Clean)?
Every six months or so it seems like a new fad word takes over the food scene and every diet, menu, and recipe tries to use it to drum up interest.
These days the word is “clean.”
Clean diets, clean detoxes, clean smoothies, clean cleanses?
This one sentence sums up her point pretty clearly:
“It implies that anyone who doesn’t eat in the way you deem ‘clean’ is eating ‘dirty.'”
As someone who writes a lot about food, I struggle with this. I don’t think that people who write a new clean diet mean to impose that kind of judgment on others.
I think what they really mean is healthy, but even that is kind of a loaded term if you think about it. If I were to describe a menu as “healthy” does that mean that your menu is unhealthy if it doesn’t equate?
Is Clean Dirty?
The real issue with using words like “clean” to describe a menu in my mind is twofold.
First, what’s clean for you is almost certainly not clean for everybody. Because of allergies, intolerances, or dietary restrictions what you think is clean might be very dirty for someone else.
Second, it might miss the problem with food in America. The problem is larger than that and includes nutrition education, access to affordable food, and many other complicated subjects.
Adjectives: Facts or Judgments?
I guess the way to avoid this problem is to describe recipes and menus using adjectives of fact instead of judgement.
So I could say something is “low fat” if it is, in fact, low in fat, but calling something healthy is completely relative.
Judgmental Recipe Title: Delicious Clean Sauteed Spinach (this would be made with water instead of oil and low salt, but plenty of spices and herbs)
Non judgmental Recipe: Low Fat, Low Sodium Green Sauteed Spinach (exact same recipe with fact adjectives)
The non-judgmental version is, well, kind of boring.
My Defense of Clean
At the end of the day, I actually think I’m okay with writers describing things as clean. Personally, I’m not sure what the hell it means, but I also read stuff every day like:
- The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe EVR
- The Most Delicious Macaroni and Cheese
- Killer Steak Sandwiches
As the reader, I have doubts that those are the best cookies, that is the most delicious mac & cheese, and if those sandwiches are actually killer sandwiches.
So, my defense of writers who use the word clean (maybe I have even?) is that you have to read it in context to decide whether or not that particular writer is worth their words.
On its own, clean means nothing. But, if a writer expands on that word and you learn that the writer is just using it as a placeholder for fruits and vegetables, then so what?
So, in conclusion, I do not believe that FOOD can be clean or dirty and you probably won’t see me use those words (unless I post a dirty rice recipe – note to self: post a dirty rice recipe).
But, a food writer should be able to use those words to describe food based on their goals and circumstances.
What do you think?
Does an adjective like “clean” help you or is it just a buzzword that you ignore? Can it be harmful?