Clean Eating, or, What’s in a Couple Words?

Eating dirt appears nearly universal among children under 2 years of age. When I asked my 2-year-old daughter why she ate dirt, she just stared at me, her eyes wide open, a thick moustache of loam limning her lips. She must have decided that either what I had asked was unfathomably abstract or her answer would be far beyond my comprehension.



Clean eating. It just sounds good, doesn’t it? What could be wrong with a phrase that seems so clean? Clean is good, right?

Generally speaking, “clean” is considered a good thing. In a dietary context, “clean” usually seems to imply “healthy.” I’m pretty sure I’ve never come across a reference to “clean eating” where the author meant the phrase in a bad way.

But the problem with “clean” is it’s a tabula rasa—a blank slate. It implies an absence. But of what?

Of whatever you want.

There’s also a problem with the “eating” part of “clean eating,” because it implies a presence. But of what?

Of whatever you want.

Well, s***.

So the problem is twofold: That taking away—absence—is inherently good, when it may or may not be. And that the presence of whatever foods pass the “clean eating” test is also good, whether or not these foods are actually “good” or “clean,” whatever the hell either of those things means.

Clean eating can be defined so broadly that it’s practically meaningless. Which can be harmful when talking about topics as powerful and important as food, and health.

But there’s also this: Eating is a function of life, which is dirty. It’s the symbiotic, dirty sharing of the many, dirty elements of our ecosystem for nourishment.

Glad we cleaned cleared that one up.

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