We Spoke to Deliciously Ella Fans About What ‘Clean Eating’ Means to Them
We went along to a talk given by hit blogger and cookbook writer Ella Mills (a.k.a. Deliciously Ella) to find out what those attending think about our new obsession with all things “wellness.”
"Oh, she's the one who spiralizes courgettes. Deliciously Ella? More like Deliciously Never-Does-Anything-Fun."
It's not the most eloquent of put-downs, but it is one of the first things I hear as I walk on-site at Wilderness, an arts festival that took place in Oxfordshire earlier this month.
Blogger-turned-cookbook-writer-turned-cafe-owner Ella Mills—a.k.a. Deliciously Ella—has built an empire around a lifestyle and diet she claims cured her of postural tachycardia syndrome, a disorder of the heart rate.
The reason behind the festival-goer's outburst is the sight of a pop-up of Mae Deli, the London cafe Mills co-owns with her husband. Alongside the matcha lattes and coconut chips on sale is a poster advertising a talk Mills will give here the following day.
A few paces later, I see another girl notice the poster, turn to her friends, and say: "Oh, you know Deliciously Ella? She's just this girl who has some really healthy cookbooks and opened a deli."
As more people walk past the Mae Deli pop-up, Mills' name is muttered in conflicting tones. Within the space of ten minutes, I witness a microcosm of the "clean" vs "dirty eating" debate.
Unless you've been hiding under an avocado for the last few years, it's hard to miss the steady rise of clean eating Instagram accounts (there are currently more than 24 million posts with the hashtag), and the accompanying dirty eating backlash.
For every Deliciously Ella, there's a Deliciously Stella—one preaching wellness through kale juice, the other getting their ironic electrolyte fix with coconut-flavoured rum smoothies. The domestic goddess herself, Nigella Lawson, perhaps summed it up best in a Radio 4 interview, when she said: "I think behind the notion of clean eating is an implication that any other form of eating is dirty or shameful."
But even Nigella couldn't resist jumping on the avo on toast bandwagon and using chia seeds ("just because I love them though") in her most recent television show.
While food writers like Ruby Tandoh and Anthony Warner a.k.a The Angry Chef have spoken out against certain wellness bloggers and their dud nutritionist credentials, we still seem to be as confused as ever about what constitutes a healthy diet.
So, back at Wilderness, I decide to go along to Mills' talk to find out what the Deliciously Ella converts—and their obliging friends—really think about our new obsession with wellness.
First, I meet Hannah and Cathy, who have dragged their other friend Jasmine along.
"I'm not much of a healthy person. I'm just quite interested in how it all works and I guess try to be more healthy. They're the ones that push for health," shrugs Jasmine.
But Hannah is quick to jump in: "Well, I'm vegan and I got into veganism for ethical reasons and then got into healthy eating."
I can't help but think of the criticism aimed at a recent BBC documentary about clean eating bloggers, which seemed to lump veganism with dangerously restrictive dieting.
Hannah continues: "I don't know why Deliciously Ella and the wellness trend has got so popular. I think people are obsessed with looking healthy."
I suggest that perhaps people care more about looking healthy, than being healthy.
Cathy chips in: "Well I guess it's better than being healthy is a trend rather than being unhealthy."
Hannah adds: "The people I follow on social media are more concerned about ethical eating so they aren't about extreme diets but I think some people do [take diets to the extreme]. But it's hard to differentiate between them sometimes."
Another attendee, Emily, who has also dragged her friend Dom along, echoes Hannah's parting sentiment over blurred lines.
She says: "I got really into healthy eating and clean eating a couple of months ago. I think the fact that Ella managed to cure herself probably appeals to quite a lot of people. So many people have intolerances now and I think it was good for those people. She's like the light at the end of the tunnel."
But she adds: "I am also of the opinion that clean eating could be dangerous because there have been more things recently debunking myths around it. Some stuff is worrying like people saying they're nutritionists and they're not."
I quiz another couple comprised of one eager beaver and one guy who gives me the "I've been dragged along" line.
"I've got Ella's book and I'm really interested in healthy eating and alternative cooking," says the eager beaver.
I ask whether she subscribes to any sort of "free-from" diet.
"No. Well, actually I was wheat-free for a little bit and now I'm back to eating everything! I was doing it because I thought I was maybe allergic to wheat," she says, before lowering her voice. "But I went to the doctor and I wasn't."
She raises the volume of her voice again and says proudly: "So now I'm back to eating all breads again!"
I manage to sit through half of Mills' talk without waving my "EVERYONE JUST EAT WHATEVER YOU WANT" flag. But the holier-than-thou dial is ramped up from the beginning, as Mills is brought onto to the stage with the introduction: "This is someone who fixed their own life and then helped everyone else."
And when Mills reveals to the audience that when she finds herself without healthy food in the house, she'll end up "eating three boxes of dates for dinner" (happens to us all), I have to leave.
Because let's be honest, eating less meat and having more greens is probably better for you and the environment. But when your fridge is empty and you can't be bothered to go to the shops, there's nothing wrong with having a bowl of Frosties and stray beer from the back of the fridge for dinner.