Healthy Eating is Bad for You. (Kinda)

Tommy Tiernan called it on Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge. The conversation was flying around the table on obesity, when Tommy did what comedians are supposed to do, and lobbed in a grenade. So rather than talking about man boobs and salt content, he said the healthy eating thing was just the latest excuse for a bit of hysteria. You could sense people looking at him with a mix of pity and despair. But then that’s always the way with soothsayers.

You don’t have to agree to Tiernan to acknowledge that he might have a point. Healthy Eating is the new orthodoxy in the western world – and we have our own clergy here in Ireland. The fact that most of them are celebs and retired sports people poses an immediate question – is this just all bollocks?

Rosanna Davison is High Priestess of the healthy eating movement here. In fairness, she is a qualified nutritionist and has helped people to create tasty, healthy meals with her cookbooks. But the reason we listen to her is because she takes a good photo and is a former Miss World. The attraction with Rosanna is Rosanna; one of her books is called Eat Yourself Beautiful. All the kale in the world isn’t going to give you her cheekbones. And yet, we don’t think it’s strange that we take what is effectively health advice from a former beauty queen. Just because someone is interested in world peace and working with children doesn’t mean they know the best way to tackle your cholesterol.

The Happy Pear twins are the most visible evangelists for Healthy Eating in Ireland. This is partially to do with their protein balls, but mainly because one of them did a handstand on The Late Late. It’s a peculiar mix of showbiz and handy, on-trend recipes. Again, in your darker moments, you might ask, why are we listening to these people? (Other than they’re good looking and on the telly.)

This healthy eating thing is a gift for athletes. It would appear there are two doors when you call time on your sporting career. One is marked ‘Go into Punditry’, the other says ‘Write a Cookbook.’ David Gillick, a popular winner of Celebrity MasterChef Ireland, built on his success with a cookbook and healthy recipes. Derval O’Rourke has a book called the Fit Foodie. Former camogie star, Anna Geary, is carving out a niche, promoting healthy eating.

There is nothing terribly wrong with this. It’s good to see athletes suggesting we use fresh food rather than anabolic steroids to boost performance.  They are photogenic, they’re fun and they add to the gaiety of the nation. But why are we letting them tell us what to eat?

Here’s the thing about the Healthy Eating Hierarchy. They are not like us. Just as the Catholic hierarchy are pious for a living, the top figures in Healthy Eating are attractive for a living. Put it this way, you’ve never seen a healthy eating activist who is less than a 7 out of 10.

These people don’t live the same lives as us. People with proper jobs like building, farming and child-minding want something more than a coconut smoothie when they get in from work. They certainly don’t need a lecture from a celeb who has ‘lots of air-kissing’ as part of their job description.

But, of course, you can’t fight back. Any note of protest against the cult of Healthy Eating is shutdown with the Fat Child argument. Agree with us, or else you are to blame for overweight kids getting bullied in school. You have to admit, that’s a powerful putdown. It’s up there with believe in me, or you will burn in the flames of hell.

Not many people bow down to that one any more. The facts changed on the ground and we all moved on to the next thing. We’re too close to it now to see what’s really going on with heathy eating. But in 50 or 100 years’ time, they’ll say the poor eejits back then believed that famous, good-looking people knew what was best for them to eat. And they’ll say something else – it was all about class.

This is the other thing you notice about the Healthy Eating crowd. They didn’t exactly grow up on council estates. You’re never going to see a cookery show called Decco’s Dinners, where a guy in a tracksuit comes on and says, “Me and the lads will stop at nuttin’ to get our hands on a bit of organic, wha?”.  What you will see is posh people, in expensive kitchens, with lots of time on their hands. It mightn’t be designed to make you feel bad about yourself, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

It will make you feel like a loser for not looking like a model, or having the self-discipline of a former athlete. It will encourage you to spend money you can’t afford, on ingredients that were flown half-way around the world. It will create a flurry of food photos on your Facebook timeline, posted by people who didn’t get enough praise from their parents when they were growing up. Watching a healthy eating show on TV will make you hungry, but you’ve three kids and work 10 hours a day, so rather than making an air omelette, you crack open a sharing pack of crisps.

Here’s the real problem with the Healthy Eating Cult. It doesn’t work. These people have been lecturing us for years now and we are still on track to be the most obese country in Europe within a decade. Maybe it’s because we drink too much or we don’t like getting lectures from people with posh accents, what with the 800 years of oppression and all that. But there’s every chance people will look back at the Healthy Eating years and say that was a big mistake. And they might also say, we should have listened to Tommy Tiernan.

What do you reckon?