Friday, 28 August 2009


“The healthy being craves an occasional wildness, a jolt from normality, a sharpening of the edge of appetite, his own little festival of the Saturnalia, a brief excursion from his way of life.” - Robert MacIver

It is an obsession of our times (at least in certain parts of our communities) to eat “healthful, organic, additive-free food”. It is part of the “greening”, carbon footprint reduction, environmentally friendly revolution that is occurring world-wide. Don’t get me wrong, I too am environmentally conscious, I do my bit to reuse and recycle, we grow our vegetables and herbs in the backyard, we are water conscious and don’t waste our resources.

However, I refuse to go out of my way and search for organic, certified pesticide-free foods and do not waste my time searching in the markets for the “pure and natural” produce. Not so with some of our acquaintances. There is a woman we know who even goes and busy “organic” toothpaste (at $9.00 a tube!). The other day I saw a bottle of “organic water”. Once upon a time “organic” meant “manure” – as in “organic fertiliser” (which I love and spread liberally on our garden). Nowadays it is trendy to have organic everything. Even toothpaste!

Hence the obsession I mentioned at the beginning. Well, now it appears that the latest research into this organic craze has classified a new psychological disorder: “Orthorexia” (from Greek, orthos, “correct” and orexis “appetite”). People who suffer from this orthorectic disorder worry much about their health and the purity of their meals, they will only eat what they consider a healthful meal, organic produce and may deny themselves entire food groups. The typical person suffering from orthorexia nervosa is well-educated, middle class and over 30 years of age.

These orthorectics may eliminate sugar, caffeine, salt, alcohol, wheat, gluten, yeast, soy products, corn and dairy foods form their diet. Foods that contain pesticide traces, or have additives like MSG or preservatives may also be avoided. Nowadays, they may also go out of their way to hunt down and eschew genetically modified foods. The older term for these people was “food cranks”. Once again, don’t get me wrong, we all have our quirks about food. Even though I am of Mediterranean origin, I abhor black olives and fetta cheese (funnily enough I eat green olives and every other kind of cheese – now how cranky is that?). Also, we should exclude people with food allergies, who can have serious or even fatal reactions if they eat the allergenic food (eg, peanuts, seafood, egg, etc).

Orthorectics often have rigid (although, often completely irrational rules) about what they eat. This can lead to malnutrition and can make eating well nigh impossible, especially socially, putting a great strain on relationships and friendships. In their concern over the quality of food they put into their bodies, they reduce their quality of life and will often compromise their physical health as well as their mental health.

My great grandfather used to eat everything and anything. However, he always ate seasonal, fresh food and he ate sparingly. He used to say that when at table, you should always eat as much as would curb your hunger and no more. He said that if you left the table, you should have eaten so much that if you were compelled to sit and eat again at another table, you would be able to comfortably eat as much as you had eaten already. He lived well into his late nineties and was as healthy as an ox.

What I know is that there is a very fine line between those people who eat a healthful, balanced diet and who avoid the obvious “bad things” (too much salt, sugar, alcohol, preservatives) and those who are fully fledged orthorectics. Anything carried to excess is unhealthy, and perhaps even healthfulness being pursued to excess is unhealthy, as the studies show. Moderation in all things (and the occasional indulgence!) seems to lead to a better life all around.

Enjoy your weekend!


  1. It must have been the great-grandparents on my father's side also believed it was good manners to leave something on your plate after a meal and also leave the table hungry. I don't know how much of that stemmed from the time they were short of food during the droughts in Australia. If they ate at all they were lucky so no one complained about still being hungry perhaps it was seen as being ungrateful. I'm afraid I wouldn't know the difference between organic and the non-organic if it bit me on the nose.

  2. It's a joke trying to eat healthy food coz we're surrounded by additives and toxins and pesticides. What your gramps did is probably the best.

  3. I always try to buy organic, even if it costs more. It's just healthier. I sure don't think I am paranoid about it. I think my health is better since I eat organic.

  4. This so-called disease is a made-up disease in the usual psychiatric mode of finding some aspect of human behavior, labeling it (without evidence) a mental illness and making money out of prescribing dangerous psychotropic medications to "treat" it. People interested in the psychiatric trickery of inventing profitable mental illnesses should go to

    Now the effort is to convince people that concerns about eating healthily can mean they are "mentally ill." In other words if people are doing something the drugs'food/psych industry doesn't like (ie, take care to eat food that is healthy) they are crazy. This is appallingly bad science. In fact it is propaganda masquerading as science. And people BUY this psychobabble?

  5. Do you suppose they will come out with a pill to cure this disease?
    I would hate to think someone might slip me a pill and I'd find myself wolfing down burgers and fries at MacDonalds!