While driving home through Sydney's Northern Beaches today, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with 'Health'. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider 'healthy' to be synonymous with 'happy'.
The five words I would normally list as follows: Mindfulness. Energy. Nourishment. Stability. Self-awareness.
However, after a morning of wandering around various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze -- acai bowls -- I landed at the following five: Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.
This morning I brunched at a trendy, local hot spot for beachy health-lovers in Manly (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.
As an ex-vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we've forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does "organic" mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I've begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.
Health-food aisles are stocked with words like 'paleo', 'whole' and 'clean'. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94 percent saturated fat (that fat we've been taught to avoid like the plague -- the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats).
Do customers see an 'insert word here -- free' product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It's similar to the 'ancient grain' movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these 'superfoods', it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.
As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, but current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.
When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us?
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We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it's all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the 'health' food I'm exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.
I've done the juice cleanses. I've eliminated all animal products. I've lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren't setting up a good or realistic mindset for what 'being healthy' actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.
Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that's on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.
Read more from Catherine here.
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