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

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times