My passion is food and farming, which is how a person who doesn’t come from a farming background ended up starting Free Range Dairy Network with fellow Director Neil Darwent.
To me, food and farming touches on every part of life. How we survive, how the planet survives, animal welfare, our culture, social justice, access to good quality food, our health, who controls the production of food – the list goes on.
Over the next 12 months I want to speak with other women who are also interested in these issues and can bring a different perspective to dairy and food in the UK.
I’m starting with Eve Simmons, journalist and co-editor of Not Plant Based. The aim of Not Plant Based is to create and source honest, non-patronising advice, reviews and stories to aid those who are prone to unhealthy eating and/or fitness habits which have a negative effect on their health and how they view themselves.
Welcome Eve, I run Free Range Dairy Network, which is all about promoting the benefits of pasture based dairying. I love milk and dairy products and believe they have an important role in a healthy diet. Did you start Not Plant Based to provide a positive and balanced view on healthy eating?
Yes! Laura and I had both suffered with eating disorders and our journey through recovery involved learning that all the foods we were scared of – including dairy, fat, carbs and meat – were in fact needed to make us better, and help us to learn that nothing is quite as scary as we’d imagined. We hoped to alleviate similar feelings of anxiety in others.
In your article The Problem with Veganism in Eating Disorder Recovery you make some interesting points about how a restrictive diet can hinder recovery. Do you think the rise in veganism could mask eating disorders for some people?
Yes, I would never say that veganism ’causes’ eating disorders, because eating disorders are complex, serious clinical illnesses and to put them down to social media trends would be hugely reductive. However, I do think they disguise the conditions and normalise them as everyone around you is eating in a similarly disordered way simply because it’s trendy.
You’ve received negative comments for highlighting how celebrities will often talk about their mental health issues but not their eating disorders. Then they bring out cookbooks with recipes promoting very restrictive diets. Do you think it’s time for people in a position of influence to be more truthful about their relationship with food?
Yes, I write about this prolifically because I see first-hand, with the people who follow my website, how the words and images put out there by people with huge followings can dramatically influence the decisions made by vulnerable individuals. People with mass followings need to start taking responsibility for this and face up to the gravity of their role in the social media landscape. It’s not good enough to simply say ‘I was just putting it out there for ME’, when you have 100,000 people latching onto your every word. Whether you explicitly instruct people to do something or not, if you make remarks about the diets you’re trying, then your following will inevitably follow your lead, whether you like it or not.
You’ve been very honest about your own struggles with how Clean Eating became an eating disorder, would you like to tell us a little about your journey?
I suffered with anorexia aged 22. I started Not Plant Based not to belittle those who have found their “wellness” through plant-based diets or any other diet, but to highlight how these restrictive eating habits didn’t work for me, and they probably aren’t working for a lot of other people either. Any sort of deprivation for someone with a history of battling eating disorders and a lack of self-confidence can prove extremely triggering and dangerous, especially when advised by someone without a medical background.
I’m not prepared to dictate what you should and shouldn’t be eating or how you should and shouldn’t be exercising, because quite seriously I’m not qualified to. For that sort of advice, I believe we should go to the leading experts in the fields of diet, fitness and health rather than celebrities or others masking an eating disorder behind the guise of ‘Clean Eating’.
Many victims have a condition doctors call orthorexia – an obsession with healthy food, in part due to the craze for so-called clean eating, with meals advertised as free from gluten, dairy or sugar dominating Instagram and Twitter feeds.
Sarah Wilson, the woman who started ‘I Quit Sugar’ had an eating disorder for a decade and while I dislike calling her out on it, as someone with an eating disorder it’s time for us to be honest about it, rather than portray this as a healthy relationship with food to the thousands of followers who replicate her eating
I hear that people, especially women, tend to cut dairy out of their daily diets because they see it as a high-fat ingredient that adds calories to their meal. However independent nutritionist Fiona Hunter found this to be a common misconception, and in fact the high protein content of dairy products is extremely beneficial for keeping us fuller for longer and giving us the energy we need to get through the day. Do you think that we can find a way to love food and ourselves better and not see certain food groups as the enemy? I can’t imagine my life without whole milk, cream or cheese!
Oh! that’s such a tough question! I wish I could say I think it looks positive, but I am doubtful given our continued focus on perfectionistic images. I think there’s a great wave of body positive activists coming through, showing young women that it’s okay to love your body – in all its natural glory – but I think it’s going to take an epic culture shift to stop young women being ultra-concerned about the way they look and, as a by-product, what they eat.
The key is in expanding your horizon. Showing women that there are millions of objectives and goals they can achieve that have nothing to do with the way they look or how their bodies look and that will grant them a great deal more fulfilment.