It’s almost six years since I took my first steps into the weird and wonderful world of ‘wellness’. It was quieter then. Pioneering organic chefs like Alice Waters and food writers like Michael Pollan had yet to be overwhelmed by the blogosphere. ‘Radical’ functional doctors like Mark Hyman and Frank Lipman weren’t mainstream. And GOOP – that purveyor of well-trendy news and natural face cream – was in its infancy.
Since that time, an entire eco-system has grown up and around the hallowed ground of ‘health’, whatever ‘health’ truly means anyway.
And it’s a good thing. The more everyone talks about being healthy, debates being healthy, prioritises being healthy – the more the ripple effect spreads outwards. The more people thrive. Superb.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows in wellness land.
What might appear, from the outside, to be a bunch of glitter-sprinkling evangelists united in a common cause, is – to my eyes at least – in fact several several disparate tribes. Who, moreover, fire pot shots at each other over the terrain, while the general public wander around confused.
I imagine it all like this:
Tribe A: The scientists
Composition: Doctors, researchers, nutritionists.
Location: Formerly dead centre. However a recent mapping exercise undertaken by Tribe A resident Hans, revealed that an uneven distribution of newer camps leaves them in danger of marginalisation.
Chief enemy: Loathing is divided between the the Extremists and the Enthusiasts, for their insistent support of cleanses (colons are self-cleaning, nitwits), wilful elimination of entire food groups, high-intensity exercise and coconut in all its forms, although the Scientists are secretly holding out for the era when their saturated fat intake wipes both camps out entirely.
Overheard: ‘Until I see results from a randomised control trial about the efficacy of juicing I’m sticking to Nescafe. Pass the sugar.’
Tribe B: The Holistics
Composition: Functional medics, TCM practitioners, coaches, healers
Location: Next to the communal herb garden, clearly.
Chief enemy: The Innovators, owing to determined efforts to create food without soil, air and sunlight, which is a crime against nature. And humanity. And gut bacteria. Scientist Deirdre from Tribe A also swears that whenever a Holistic walks past they smile sweetly then turn around and flip her the finger.
Overheard: ‘I need to go and relieve my base chakra. I may be gone some time’.
Tribe C: The cooks
Composition: The cupcakes, the new wave spiralisers, the cordon bleus
Location: They insist they’re dead centre. They are not. When was the last time you saw allotments occupy prime real estate?
Chief enemy: The Cooks rarely bother with cross-camp warfare, preoccupied as they are with inter-camp rivalries. HQ is strewn with bloodied rolling pins and pulverised courgettes owing to frequent fracas between the refined sugar/flour and gluten-dairy-sugar-free alternative factions. Nevertheless, both are united against the Olaf, the Norwegian chef who cultivates micro-funghi behind the long drop.
Overheard: (Variously) ‘I made these macaroons with the cloudy pus juice from a tin of butter beans.’ / ‘Tate & Lyle deserves a Nobel prize for bringing essential calories to the masses.’ / ‘Funghi is the future.’
Tribe D: The Enthusiasts
Composition: Bloggers, yogis, trainers, gym bunnies
Location: Founded on a hill over yonder, witnesses will attest to the slow but determined movement of Tribe D towards central territory. Confrontations about this matter have proved futile as disgruntled parties are advised to practice self-love, forgiveness and hugging.
Chief enemy: Believing as they do in the forces of karmic retribution, the Enthusiasts attest to having no enemies. However they recently ejected a long-term member after she admitted to a PhD in biology, and she strongly suspects that the human faeces left outside her relocated tent in Camp A was their work, owing to it being flecked with bee pollen.
Overheard: ‘Um, the Vitamix seems to be broken. The Vitamix is broken? GOD HELP US THE VITAMIX IS BROKEN!!!’
Tribe E: The Spectators
Composition: Journalists, documentary-makers, pro tweeters
Location: A treehouse, whose vantage point provides a pleasing view of the melee and from which poison darts can be fired into warring camps to reignite hostilities during quiet periods.
Chief enemy: The Holistics…today; tomorrow is scheduled for the Enthusiasts. A shaky alliance has been forged with the Scientists owing to regular delivery of headlines.
Overheard: ‘New campers! Quick Cressida, grab the bubbly and lets see if they can’t be convinced to clean our tents. That insect farmer you picked up last time has got to go.’
Tribe F: The Innovators
Composition: Food scientists, hydroponic engineers, soy-lent geeks
Location: After discovering an optimum recipe for mud bricks, Tribe F HQ has burgeoned into a sleek, sun-baked three storey facility straddling the river, from which aqua-energy is harnessed to power 15 freeze-driers.
Chief enemy: All other tribes are generally regarded as pointless and infantile – because, face it people, quinoa not going to save humanity (and has almost bankrupted Peru). However a large entertaining budget is reserved for the Spectators, to be drawn upon whenever PR for their newest food-like product is required.
Overheard: ‘That magnolia skin tone is rather convenient for spotting you in the dark, Hilary!’
Tribe G: The Merchants
Composition: Potted chia pudding manufacturers, coconut oil importers, app designers
Location: Beginning as a small stall in a convenient, central location, Tribe G now dominates an entire block with its megalithic Whole Foods-style shopfront. HQ, located above, is nearly empty, save for crates of stock and refrigerated cold storage, while the Merchants themselves have relocated to a top-secret jungle bunker for a 24-hour strategy brainstorm.
Chief enemy: The extremists, who have, thus far, proven resolutely immune to commerce.
Overheard: ‘That’s got ‘franchise’ written all over it, Eddie.’
Tribe H: The Extremists
Composition: Raw foodies, fruitarians, calorie restricters, elimination diet practitioners and a 75-year old Atkins proponent called Chuck
Chief enemy: Firmly the Cooks, envious as they are of their curvaceous, casserole-created bodies and generous fat intake.
Location: Extremist camp is located alongside the main thoroughfare into Wellness Land, all the better to accost and convert enemy tribespeople. On slow days they have been known to go door to door asking wistfully, ‘Ever wondered if there’s more to life than glucose?’
Overheard: (Variously) ‘Lettuce and watercress tonight? My my, we are pushing the boat out.’ / ‘Don’t talk to me. It’s my 2 day.’ / ‘Bacon is your friend! Why does no one believe me?!’ / ‘Shut up Chuck.’
Alright, I’ll put my serious pants on now. Wellness land might not look exactly like a Lord of the Flies sequel, but I am, genuinely, tired of all the bitching.
The doctors who poo poo holistic approaches. The journalists whining about orthorexia. The chefs slagging off other chefs for slagging off pasta.
Can we call a ceasefire? Please?
In my opinion, everyone associated in any capacity with health and wellness needs a timely reminder of a few things.
- Our youngest generation is predicted to live a shorter life than their parents, i.e., we are dying younger every year. And that is shameful.
- Feeling better is the whole point. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – THE WHOLE POINT. Whatever works, that’s a WIN.
- Knowledge is no longer for the anointed few but freely available to everyone. And so it should be. Let us read. Let us research. Let us be empowered.
Scientists – honestly, what would we do without you?
Holistics – you go where other approaches dare not. Bravo!
Cooks – you liberated us from tins and packets. And margarine. Wow, thank you.
Enthusiasts – you throw healthy recipes around like glitter. They get everywhere!
Spectators – if it weren’t for you, no one would give a crap about any of this.
Innovators – please continue finding ways to feed EVERYONE.
Merchants – for making health food a legit way to earn a living, we salute you.
Extremists – when we’re fat, sick and sad, you take care of us.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that being healthy feels amazing, and everyone can help everyone else achieve that in their own unique way. And it’s always, always up to you as individual how to approach your own wellness and what kind of support to enlist in doing so.
There is room for everyone in wellness land. Doors are open. Come on in.