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The sustainable, ethical, natural way to eat – the ‘clean’ approach

Have you ever heard of clean eating? No? I hadn’t until I started preparing for the Living Smart session I presented on Healthy Homes, Healthy You back in November.

Food is one of my passions, and I wanted to cover a range of things: eating natural, whole foods; the importance of organic; shopping locally at farmers’ markets; avoiding packaged products filled with preservatives; the evils of mass-produced processed foods – low or no nutrition, fake ingredients that our bodies can’t recognise; and the huge unethical corporations we support when we buy the brands they own (and the 10 biggest companies own almost all of the everyday brands we that buy).

This is the way I eat, although it was a transition that didn’t happen overnight. As I’ve said so many times, it started with Plastic Free July – cutting out plastic meant cutting out junk, buying more raw ingredients and making more from scratch. I began to seek out organics and shop at farmers markets as I became more committed to sustainability. I also started taking a lot more interest in my health. Whereas in my twenties I could eat anything and everything and get away with it, my thirties have not been so forgiving, and my digestive system no longer appreciates being bombarded with junk. I have found that a simple approach to food is the answer. Eating fresh, nutritious, healthy food every day actually makes me feel good – and tastes delicious.

Until I started my research though, I’d never thought about a way to describe my way of eating, other than plastic-free, which doesn’t quite do it justice. Or maybe whole foods (meaning food as close to its natural state as possible), but that doesn’t cover the ethical aspects. “Plant-based” doesn’t fit because whilst I eat a lot of plants, I also eat eggs and fish. Then I stumbled across the term “clean eating”, and I realised, there was a word that described how I eat after all, and so perfectly.

Clean Eating – What does it mean?

It’s actually quite simple. There are plenty of people out there who have dreamed up complicated rules for clean eating, saying all kinds of things like: you shouldn’t eat after 6pm; you shouldn’t eat gluten, or any grains, or even things that look like grains but actually aren’t; or you should only eat by the light of the moon (okay, I made that one up – but you get the idea). I think such rules are unnecessary. Why make things complicated? The way I see it, there’s just one guideline:

“If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” ~Michael Pollan

So simple!

Of course, it can’t be taken completely literally. There are plants that are poisonous. Fish, meat and eggs may not be plants but that doesn’t mean they are bad for us. Following this rule doesn’t mean we all have to turn vegan. It’s more about understanding where our food comes from. Free range chickens that roam around in grassy meadows in small-scale farms are very different from battery chickens that have never seen daylight and are forced to live in confined, unhealthy conditions before being processed – in factories.

To me, clean eating encompasses a few things. Eating organic, and buying as local as possible. Shopping directly with producers and cutting out the middle-man (by which I mean, the supermarkets). Using ingredients that are as close to their natural state as possible. Cooking from scratch. Choosing the best quality ingredients I can afford. Avoiding anything with preservatives, additives, or containing ingredients that I haven’t heard of or can’t pronounce. Choosing free range and fair trade (food produced by workers who are exploited can hardly be called ‘clean’).

Food is so important – we literally can’t live without it. Our food needs to be real in order to nourish us and keep us healthy. It needs to be grown in ways that are sustainable so that the land (and waterways) will continue to feed us for generations to come. And it needs to be grown the way nature intended. Not pumped with chemicals and drugs, or fed inappropriate feed (jellybeans, anyone?). Or worse – synthetically manufactured in a laboratory from man-made “ingredients” so it looks and tastes like food but is devoid of any actual nutrition. The only thing healthy about this is the profit that these companies generate for themselves.

“I prefer butter to margarine because I trust cows more than chemists.” ~Joan Gussow

Green smoothies

Until about two weeks ago, I had no idea what a green smoothie was. I had on occasion seen other people drinking murky green drinks and turned my nose up, but nothing more. And I was sure it was going to stay that way, but somehow it didn’t. You know how you hear about something for the first time, and then all of a sudden it’s everywhere you go, everyone seems to be talking about it, it’s in the newspapers, on the internet… Well that’s how it was for me. Everyone seemed to be drinking green smoothies, or writing about it, or talking about it, or maybe even all three. And I’m a curious kinda girl, and I was intrigued.

This intrigue coincided with a few other things. Firstly, my boyfriend owns both a juicer and a blender from a previous life, and in the 15 months we’ve lived in our little flat they have been stored out of sight in the cupboard. We neither have the space nor inclination to keep things that could be put to much better use by someone else, and we’d already decided that we should dig them out, dust them off, give ’em a go and figure if they were worth keeping or whether they were going on Gumtree. So we were already set up for the green smoothie experiment.

Secondly, my boyfriend has been ill with a cold/flu virus for what has now been three weeks. He took the first few days off work as he couldn’t get out of bed, but as he started getting better he went back to work, and two weeks later he still can’t shake it off. Increasing our fruit and vegetable intake seemed sensible.

Thirdly, I make my own sourdough, which is absolutely delicious. The downside of this is that I have a tendency to have toast for both breakfast and lunch. Tasty, but not very nutritious.

So I decided that this week was going to be a week of green smoothies for breakfast. My boyfriend, as you can probably imagine, was underwhelmed, but duly trudged along with me to the Farmers Market on Saturday to stock up on kale and bananas. The challenge was on.

We tried our first one on Saturday afternoon. 3 kale leaves, 1 banana, 1 cup of water and juice of 1/2 lemon per person. Surprisingly, it was quite pleasant (drinkable at least!), although the green colour takes a bit of getting used to. (My brain kept trying to persuade me it was full so it didn’t have to drink any more, but my tastebuds were fine with it.) On Monday morning I used lime instead of lemon. Couldn’t really notice the difference. This morning I juiced an apple to replace some of the water, and the extra sweetness was much appreciated. The extra washing up was not. (I had to use the juicer as well as the blender.) Not only that, but I didn’t secure the lid properly so coated myself and the kitchen in finely ground apple.

So…do I feel any different? Well it’s only been three days. But there’s a definite smugness to knowing that you’ve drank four portions of fruit and vegetables before you’ve even gone out of the door in the morning!

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Ingredients for one green smoothie: three kale leaves, one banana, juice of half a lemon or lime, and 1 cup of water (or apple juice)