A culinary clean slate. Photo: Gallery Stock.
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Felicity Cloake: let’s face it, detox diets are making fools of us

In many ways, January diets are as self-indulgent as the Christmas binge.

Well, that’s Christmas done for another year, with only a spare tyre and some cheap chocolate to show for it. Already the cheery social media snaps of festively red-faced hordes have made way for the annual torrent of sludge-coloured smoothies. Welcome to January, the month of self-righteous cleanses and mindful eating.

Boring as the details are to listen to, at least the basic idea of the “juice cleanse” is straightforward. Even the dimmest of us can understand that replacing a diet that’s two-thirds Stilton with a few puréed green things will cause you to lose a little bit of weight along with the will to live. But if that stringy glass of cellulose sticks in your craw, the slickly written “science” that goes with it will be even harder to swallow.

According to a fashionable supplier of organic cold-pressed juices whose packages start from £80 a day (about the same as Ed Miliband’s idea of the average British family-of-four’s weekly grocery bill), cleansing is “a healthy form of routine maintenance” that helps the digestive system to rid itself of “accumulated toxins”. The benefits don’t stop there: the magical vegetal elixirs will also, apparently, transform your nasty “acidic interior” into an “oxygen-drenched alkaline” environment.

It’s pretty tempting, I’ll admit. The mere phrase “oxygen-drenched” is likely to put a spring in anyone’s step. But here’s the rub: according to the NHS, our clever old bodies can regulate their acidity levels anyway, “regardless of diet”.

The British Dietetic Association gives similarly short shrift to the claim that we’re all toxic time bombs, calling the whole notion of a detox diet “a load of nonsense”. It points out that filtering waste is what our kidneys do, whether we bombard them with £13 cucumber cocktails or not. It seems that if we really were storing up vast quantities of dangerous substances in our bodies, being a bit fat and spotty would be the least of our worries.

Yet apparently sane people – people who work with food every day, who write endless articles about the importance of a balanced diet and would rather die than be seen with skimmed milk in their trolley – still witter on about raw smoothies and “clean eating”. Clean eating, for those of you who are lucky enough to be unfamiliar with the idea, has nothing to do with the three-second rule: pick it up off the floor quickly enough and it’s still safe to eat. Instead it means consuming food “in its most natural state”, as an American magazine devoted to the subject puts it.

The problem is that food in its “most natural state” seems to involve way more chia seeds and hemp protein powders than you might imagine – fine if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, who has made a good deal of unnecessary dosh out of her clean eating cookbook (even the title, It’s All Good, is annoying), but considerably less realistic for us with lives to live and mortgages to pay.

These ridiculous January diets are every bit as self-indulgent as the Christmas binge that precedes them. Truth be told, we all already know the secret to healthy eating and it’s not cold-pressed or blonde or glamorous – it’s our boring old friend moderation.

Sadly, moderation doesn’t sell juices or require much in the way of scientific explanation; it’s tediously simple. It’s a couple of squares of chocolate after dinner, rather than the whole bar – or indeed an entire tin of Gwyneth’s spelt and brown rice syrup brownies with soy protein mayonnaise.

As my granny, who lived well into her eighties without the benefits of blue-green algae, used to say, a little of what you fancy does you good. In her case, that meant a mindful and moderate diet of jam doughnuts and Silk Cut.

Happy New Year, all.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here