I can’t stop looking at the Schisandra Beauty Ball photo. The snack that appears on Amanda Chantal Bacon The Moon Juice Handbook: Adaptogenic Recipes for Natural Stress ReliefIt looks like a contemporary sculpture that just sold for $100,000 at Art Basel. The Beauty Balls — which contain dried apples and cherries, raw sesame butter, hemp hearts, and schisandra (also known as the “five-flavor berry,” widely used in traditional Chinese medicine) — are for your “beauty health,” according to the recipe’s main notes ‘, and although the ball itself looks a bit like an owl pellet, it was photographed on a tiny gold base, on a gold plate, on an unpainted concrete slab. No part of me wants to eat it; I just want to admire it.
The first rule of wellness food is that it shouldn’t look like food. You may recognize some components of the food as food, but there should be plausible denial – they might as well be non-food. These zucchini ribbons could be part of a floral arrangement. The raw cacao could be mulch; The seaweed seems freshly plucked from a reef. It is important to avoid any association with consumption. These dishes can and should be savored just like feeling the spring breeze on your skin.
The first rule of wellness food is that it shouldn’t look like food.
“Wellness” is such an ambiguous term that it is important to define the term. The kind of wellness rabbit hole I threw myself into while writing my novel, The glow, was the kind that catered to very wealthy, very thin white women—women with the means to afford health of all kinds, including beauty. I would argue that extreme wellness food had its first viral moment in 2015 when ell published Bacon’s Banana Food Journal.
As the founder of Moon Juice, the LA-based “adaptogenic beauty and wellness” company that sells nutritional supplements, snacks and skincare for holistic health, her diet was suitably complicated. For “delights” there was plenty of “deeply mineralizing” sea veggies, cordyceps and raw cacao. (There were no real bananas in play, such as a 2016 article in the same journalbacon later revealed that she made her smoothies with frozen avocado instead to reduce sugar consumption.) The internet broke hot takes– The headline of Jia Tolentino’s Jezebel article about it was “I’ve never heard of any of the foods in this Juice Lady’s food diary, let alone eaten‘ – which generated plenty of free publicity for Moon Juice and later for his compelling cookbook of the same name.
But in the years since Bacon’s food diary garnered so much attention, with the help of Instagram and Gwyneth Paltrow, even the most extreme wellness practices have permeated our cultural consciousness. Because wellness foods are inextricably linked to the way your skin looks, now you can shop at Sephora for Moon Juice powdered supplements like Magnesi-Om™ powder and the much-hyped (and ridiculed) Sex Dust®. Sea moss, a vitamin-rich red algae with myriad purported health benefits, by Soothes the skin and regulates the intestines, has made its way from a popular smoothie add-on with the Erewhon set – including Kim Kardashian and Hailey Bieber – to the shelves of those “health food bodegas” that sell lära bars and four kombucha bars alongside their diet coke and tortilla chips. have brands on offer. Once esoteric wellness foods aren’t quite mainstream anymore, but are widely available to anyone who’s craving them.
Where I live in Richmond, Virginia, you can find sea moss not only at the local grocery store, but also at Walmart — priced at just under $19 for eight ounces. These foods no longer suggest wealth craze, only wealth — bee pollen is the edible gold leaf of our time.
“It’s Soylent for girls,” my friend remarked when I showed her my research, and it seems natural to me that feminizing meal optimization—rather than eliminating the hassle entirely (ready-to-drink!)—would involve an incredible amount of extra work . “Now you’re about to make your own fountain milk every week.” The Moon Juice Cookbook advises, “You undoubtedly have a stash of dehydrated nut mash in your pantry” that you can use to make “delicious batters” for things like homemade chocolate chaga donuts with “sprinkles” made from “activated” (read: sprouted) quinoa. Beet and Turmeric Juice and Coconut Nectar.
My experience with wellness foods is that the more attempts are made to alter the ingredients, the worse the end product tastes. A large salad or green smoothie that’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and refined-sugar-free tastes normal, maybe delicious. A brownie made with cocoa and Medjool dates tastes like Medjool dates, but sandier and more bitter.
Of course, the work of making perfectly good food taste worse can also be outsourced, with companies like Sakara Life offering meals “based on cutting-edge nutritional science and traditional healing wisdom that give your body what it needs to thrive.” Offerings at Sakara include The Metabolism Reset, The Gut Health Reboot, and – ominously – The Bridal Program, priced at $1,610, $2,275, and $1,680, respectively. In Sakara’s Instagram captions, the flavor is only mentioned in passing, if at all: “delicious” in parentheses. White beans are described as “grounding” and “satiating.” A Black Garlic BBQ Burger is “obvious for its appeal”.
The photos on Sakara’s Instagram page are beautiful—edible flowers that dwarf the Trader Joe’s bouquet on my counter, granola bar wrappers I’d like to use as wallpaper in my hallway—but they don’t make me hungry. They just make me want my house to be nicer.
The work that makes perfectly fine foods taste worse can also be outsourced.
Supposedly, “clean eating” means eating whole, unprocessed foods to avoid all kinds of “toxins,” whether specific or not. However, the more time I spent deep in the world of wellness food on Instagram, the “cleaner” I felt like the “clean lines” of, say, a $25,000 ecru couch. There is no sense of deprivation here – no “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” – instead there is a sense of indulgence and virtue. As in a minimalist home, too much, be it too many items or too many processed ingredients, is not only cheesy but somehow immoral. It is secret nutritional wealth.
Striving for optimal wellness, whether as a billionaire trying to age backwards or a radiant dust influencer forever calibrating her microbiome, is a lonely endeavor, so it makes sense that wellness eating is, at its core, a lonely experience . Increasingly, a nominal community can be found in the growing universe of goop summits and cruises. But if every ingredient needs to be tailored to an individual’s specific energetic needs, then truly anyone who is fully committed to their own wellness journey can do so share a meal?
Writing about a woman trying to monetize another person’s true belief in the power of a nightshade-free diet, I was struck by the absurdity of esoteric food descriptions. My characters ate cashew zucchini sponge cake with seaweed croutons, seaweed rolls stuffed with bee pollen, seaweed broth with mushroom dust and alkalized almonds, and drank alkalized mushroom water, alkalized turmeric water, and ice water just as a special treat. More often than not, however, I fell for the idea that food is both medicine and mood, and the loneliness that comes with eating so well.