Kale. I’d never heard of kale until it became a superfood.
Spinach. Popeye, and fascination with how a vast quantity of leaves could condense into so little when thrown into a pan of boiling water.
Avocado. Memories of working at Pret a Manger – chopping dozens of them each morning to fill their (delightful) chicken and avocado sandwiches.
Botanical extracts, Blue Green Algae, Chlorella, Spirullina, it sounds more like a David Attenborough documentary than my morning pick-me-up.
I’m certainly known to down a bottle of green sludge now and again. But I can’t quite get excited about throwing green fruit and veg into a blender in the way I do when rolling a meringue roulade or at the annual gingerbread house construction party – yes, this is actually a thing, although the destruction is also quite fun.
Some foodstuffs are just more exciting than others. But somewhere along the line we decided that some were clean and some were sinful.
I’ve been told ad nauseam that the Great British Bake Off is about to begin again. As if I would have missed it. When it clashed with my small group I rushed home, refusing to look at Twitter en route so as to not risk any spoilers. To call me a fan is to misunderstand my devotion; I imagine concocting creations of epic proportions with delicate details and divine taste.
A kitchen is where I feel most at home, and cooking for other people is one of my greatest joys. When I go away with friends to a cottage in the countryside the first thing I do is check out the kitchen to ensure it is sufficiently equipped for my whims. One morning last year on such a holiday, a friend came down to the kitchen to find me watching the previous night’s Bake Off while stirring caramel for a banoffee pie. I was in my happy place.
Perhaps part of the appeal is in the supposed sacrilegious nature of indulging such lavish attention on things that we sort of feel we should avoid. Francis Spufford talks about how chocolate is one of the few contexts in which society still uses the word ‘sin’, we’ve reduced it to things we do, but feel a little guilty about. In recent years this has been complemented by an equal trend towards diets designed to cleanse us, juices to detox and paleo plans prescribed.
Against all this, the notion of whipping up a batch of crème patissiere just seems wrong, almost like leading the weaker brethren into sin. How can I justify bringing a mascarpone-coated carrot cake into work* when it might cause someone to stumble?
There are also calls of sense against the neurotic anti-carb brigade – we don’t have to starve ourselves into self-esteem, we don’t need to plunder our meals from all traces of fat to eat without guilt. Balance. Balance is what’s needed in what we eat, we shouldn’t treat cake as a sin to indulge when no one’s looking, but as a normal part of our eating habits. With the latest outing of Mary and Paul and their eager contestants onto our screen we can enjoy watching their creations and attempt to recreate them without becoming the big bad wolf.
But clean living is still a curious idea. I find it fascinating that sin and cleanliness has once again become about what goes into our bodies. Does living clean really mean regulating what goes into our bodies? It reminds we somewhat of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, when the voice came to Peter saying: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” And before that Jesus taught it was not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out (Matthew 15:11).
Cleanliness is not about ensuring we eat the right things, it’s not about ensuring we get enough kale in our diet. Likewise, sin is not about the things we feel a bit guilty about. And when we talk about chocolate as sin, we are not latching onto an area of cultural common ground, we are trivialising sin and relativising cleanliness. When it comes to sin, balance isn’t an adequate response, a 5:2 diet won’t do.
The moral of the story? Enjoy what you eat, and don’t look too deeply for theological truths in the vitamins it might or might not contain. Also, the Great British Bake Off starts on 5 August – don’t miss it.
*I’m actually in trouble at work at the moment for failing to bring in baked goods after suggesting I would.