The Problem with ‘Mindfulness’ Consumerism

received_10154262227533071By Emma Harrison

I have started to notice that almost every time I leave my house these days, I stumble across some form of marketing display crammed full of the new “in” thing: ‘mindfulness colouring books for grown-ups’. I snorted to myself as I stumbled across one particular title a few days ago: The Mindless Violence Colouring Book from Modern Toss. “Perhaps this a bit more representative of what’s actually going on in everyone’s heads”, I thought cynically to myself.

Earlier in the week, I’d been scrolling through Facebook to find a series of personalised ads telling me to subscribe to online counselling, or to buy a new ‘self-help’ starter kit from new mental health businesses such as the Blurt Foundation. Got a friend who’s depressed? Cheer them up with this thoughtful box of pre-packaged ‘mindfulness’ treats! Are you depressed? Buy one for yourself!

After going through several spurts of anxiety, panic disorder and depression over the past five years, I have become reasonably well acquainted with the concept of ‘mindfulness’, having been pointed in that direction by a series of doctors and counsellors. ‘Mindfulness’ is a therapeutic technique, whereby one achieves a calm and undistracted mental state by applying focus to something in the present moment. It draws on physiological traditions rooted in Buddhism, but is now used in non-secular practices in the West.

From personal experience, I can certainly vouch for its benefits: reluctant to become dependent on medication for a series of mental health problems that seemed to be persistently in flux, mindfulness as a form of self-help seemed like a far preferable option for keeping me afloat. And indeed, in a culture that places heavy emphasis on working on one’s physical health, it seems only logical that we too take time to look after our mental health.

However, I can’t help but feeling as though something has gone amiss somewhere. While the abundance of self-help products available on todays market is, in some ways, indicative of the notion that we are finally growing more accepting of mental illness as a culture, it seems as though the first arena to grasp this idea fully by the throat is the consumer market. Everywhere I look now, I’m stumbling across new ways in which mental illness is being profited from.

On the one hand, perhaps this the only way in which we can respond – with austerity cuts to NHS mental health services instigating an “unsolvable crisis”, maybe these commodified remedies are the only solution in our current climate. And while colouring books may be an accessible gateway into ‘mindfulness’, I have begun to start asking myself if we’re wading into dangerous waters in dressing up mental wellbeing as a purchasable asset.

In refracting mindfulness through the lens of consumerism, is it not simply becoming embroiled in the quick-fix neoliberal paradigm that encompasses the rest of our culture? Is it really helping, or is it just whitewashing the issues at stake through providing tangible, buyable objects that allow us to reason ‘I’m helping myself’, or ‘I’m making progress’? Should we not be asking ourselves why there is suddenly a booming market for consumer goods dressed up in the name of ‘mindfulness’?

While I am by no means insinuating that it is a bad thing to dedicate time to looking after ones mental health, I can’t help feeling that we are losing sight of the very notion of ‘applying focus to the present moment’ by constantly scrambling for the next ‘mindfulness’ gizmo to throw money at. It’s like the very concept of ‘mindfulness’ is becoming a contradictory mishmash of ‘focusing on the present moment’ and snatching the next consumer-enabled dopamine hit.

The glittery exteriors of these mindfulness trinkets are masking a much deeper seated problem: that there is a stark lack of help available, and we’re desperate for other options to help keep us afloat. But the solutions shouldn’t be coming from market moguls dishing out quick-fix consumer items: we need better mental health services, unions, and more attempts at destigmatisation from outside of the consumer sphere. Depression is not cured with a goodie-box.

Patriarchal entitlements and Western society’s two cents on female bodies

Charlotte Godziewski

I was recently harassed on the street. A few weeks ago, some French cities tried to impose a ban on burkinis. My sister shared her annoyance about feeling judged for having stopped breastfeeding after 2 months. These events are completely unrelated, yet all three are symptomatic – and demonstrate the omnipresence – of an important patriarchal characteristic of Western societies: the entitlement to exert control over women’s bodies.

 Part 1:

Policing motherhood – pregnant bodies as public goods


“Fertility is a common good” Poster produced by the Italian Health Ministry released on the occasion of Fertility Day.

As the Italian Ministry of Health reminded us with its uncalled-for fertility campaign, women’s fertile bodies are often, albeit not always consciously, considered a public good. Society thus tends to feel comfortable to comment on it, criticise, give advice, congratulate and what not. Several studies and testimonies stress the feeling of pregnant women being constantly judged, some also reported having received unsolicited lectures and critiques by strangers (Meneses-Sheets, 2013 ; Longhurst, 2005). How is it that everyone seems to have an opinion on what a pregnant woman should and should not do?

You eat raw vegetables? That is irresponsible!

You don’t eat raw vegetables? Aren’t you a little paranoid?

Why does society feel entitled to shame a pregnant woman for having a glass of alcohol or smoking cigarettes? Don’t get me wrong – I am not denying the risks of alcohol and tobacco consumption during pregnancy. Information, prevention, advice and help from a gynaecologist or other relevant (para-)medical staff is crucial, it’s often welcome and sought by the women themselves.

What I find disturbing is this widely accepted notion that anyone, including random acquaintances or complete strangers, can feel free to advise and judge pregnant women. As if a healthy pregnant body was “everyone’s responsibility”. This strikes me as odd, particularly in a Western cultural context which usually emphasises individual responsibility.

As Longhurst (2005) explains, pregnancy is a phenomenon conceptualised within a socio-economic, cultural, political and sexual paradigm. In that sense, it is much more than the mere biological process and relates to practices, social norms, believes, emotions, rules, laws and so on. In the Western context, it seems like society is placing itself in a supervising position over the pregnant women and expects to have agency over their body. Pregnant women can sometimes experience the feeling of being under surveillance, or even being objectified as a vessel for a foetus (Longhurst, 2005).

Besides the bulk of unsolicited advice and opinions, a striking example of how pregnant bodies are considered “public” is the classic touching of the belly. Many pregnant women experience people touching their bellies, which is of course not always a problem. However, people that have a relationship with the woman in which physical contact is normally not included (for example: Lecturer/student, Employee/boss or shopkeeper/customer) sometimes still take the liberty to touch the pregnant abdomen without the woman’s permission (Longhurst, 2005).

And after pregnancy, comes infant feeding. Breastfeeding is a case of culture and public health clash, as well as a complex ideological dilemma. With breasts being over-sexualised, breastfeeding in public is sometimes strongly stigmatised, from people insulting the mothers to others ridiculing them for trying to pump milk at work (Feministe, 2012). There is thus a very strong case for promoting breastfeeding, from a health as well as from a feminist perspective.

But this can be a double-edged sword. Nowadays breastfeeding promotion has become very powerful… with the unfortunate consequence of bottle-feeder shaming.

“Oh, so Mummy couldn’t be bothered to continue breastfeeding?” [comment to my sister]

A simplistic but dangerous dichotomy has crystallised from an initially well-intentioned public health message:

  • Breast is best, so breastfeeding mothers are good mothers
  • Formula feeding is “poison”, so non-breastfeeding mothers are bad mothers. (William, Kutz, Summers et al, 2012)

Of course medical professionals such as gynaecologists, who have a nuanced and comprehensive knowledge on the topic do not usually think in terms of such binaries, but very often society at large does. In turn, women who do not breastfeed tend to feel judged, stigmatised, ashamed of being seen as “a bad mother” (William, Kutz, Summers et al, 2012)

The female body ends up being subjectified as a battlefield for societal issues: Public health promotion, the fight against over-sexualisation of breasts, the de-stigmatisation of breastfeeding in public, the fight against “profit-driven pharma industries” …

I do not doubt the evidence that breast milk has many advantages over formula milk, and providing support for women who want to breastfeed, transforming the public sphere into a safe space for breastfeeding is paramount. However, good quality formula feeding with clean water is not poison, nor does it “merely keep the baby alive”; it is actually healthy, too. The advantages of breast milk are real, but they are given proportionally too much weight compared to the importance of mother’s mental and physical wellbeing (British Pregnancy Advisory Service, 2015).

The combination of stigmatising breastfeeding in public and condemning formula feeding as a moral failure implies that women should not expect to enjoy the same access to the public sphere as men. People expect a woman to breastfeed, but it goes without saying that this should be hidden. It is a patriarchal reminder that at least some parts of a woman’s life are socially expected to be confined in the private sphere, at home.

It is unfair of Western society to turn deaf ear to all the reasons why a woman might choose not to breastfeed, and to make any normative judgments on her choice (Dailey, 2012). Society is prompt to declaim its lectures on the benefits of breastfeeding, but few people, other than healthcare professionals and mothers themselves, are much aware of the prevalence and symptoms of plugged ducts, breast engorgement, mastitis, fungal infections, soar or inverted nipples, low milk supply, oversupply of milk, or breastfeeding-induced pain more generally. There are a variety of valid reasons to choose not to breastfeed (work-related, health and pain related, negative lived experience…) (Schmied and Lupton, 2001).

But most importantly, women shouldn’t have to give an account of their reasons to society at large.



Longhurst R (2005) Pregnant Bodies, Public Scrutiny. In: Embodied Geographies – spaces, bodies and rites of passage. (2005 Edition) Edited by: Kenworthy Teather E. Routeledge Taylor and Francis Group. London

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (2015). Breastfeeding and formula feeding. Retrieved from:

Feministe Blog, Guest “Blue Milk” (2012) Why Breastfeeding Is A Feminist Issue. Retrieved from:

Dailey K (2012) Formula v breastfeeding: Should the state step in? BBC News Magazine, Retrieved from:

Meneses-Sheets M (2013) Pregnancy, Politics and the Policing of Women’s Bodies. Truthout Op-Ed Retrieved from:

Schmied V, Lupton D (2001) Blurring the boundaries: Breastfeeding and maternal subjectivity. Sociology of Health and Illness Vol. 23 p.234 – 250

Williams K, Kutz T, Summers M et al (2012) Discursive constructions of infant feeding:
The dilemma of mothers’ ‘guilt’. Feminism & Psychology 0(0) 1–20



Thank you to my sister for sharing her experiences and allowing me to mention her.



“The new me!” Weight-loss, re-birth and the immorality of fat.

stock free

by Milly Morris

The young woman leans over, sobbing and shaking, begging Jillian to make it stop. Jillian only gets closer to her face and screams: “UNLESS YOU FAINT, PUKE OR DIE…KEEP WALKING!” The woman continues to walk, tears and sweat dripping down her face as Jillian shouts directly into her ears. (The Official Biggest Loser Season 6 Channel, 2008).

Another man is bent over wheezing as Jillian tells him that she will “break every bone in his body” unless he continues to run. A look of contempt and disgust crosses her face as the man begins to vomit, she tells him to “do it in front of her” so that she knows that he isn’t faking it (Jillian Michaels is god, 2008).

No, these are not clips from a bad prison drama. They are scenes that fans will recognize as normal to the prime-time reality show, The Biggest Loser. The premise of the show is that a group of “morbidly obese” individuals are sent to a ranch where they will compete to lose weight with the help of Jillian and Bob, the show’s personal trainers. Viewers of the show will recognise the “scale” scenes in which the contestants are stripped, weighed and forced to look at “what they have done to their bodies.” Likewise, on YouTube, fans of the show can be treated to an array of clips from past shows showing the contestants “first workout”, which usually involved the group crying and vomiting to the sound of Jillian’s “motivational” screams. At the end of each season, contestants are brought out in front of a live studio audience to show-off their achievement of re-shaping their bodies.

The Biggest Loser sets the standard outline for weight-loss TV; shows such as You Are What You Eat, Secret Eaters and Fat Families all follow this narrative of an “inspirational journey” where contestants can “better themselves.” Along the way on this journey, the audience relishes in the public belittling of bodies that have strayed from the norm. In scenes that are reminiscent of spectators at a Victorian circus, we gasp from our sofas at the up-close shots of their naked flesh, crying: “how could you let yourself get like that?!” and “why don’t they just stop eating?!”

Yes, fat is unhealthy. But why is it that we allow the humiliation and dehumanisation of people because it is “good for their health?” Can it be good for an individual’s health to have “entertainment” shows repeatedly insinuate that someone of your body type is lazy, gluttonous, out of control and – that all important catchphrase – a “drain on the NHS”? Why is it that we prioritize the physical over the mental, ignoring the fact that self-hatred and body-shame are not good for one’s health either? For example, Secret Eaters supports the notion that fat people are not to be trusted, claiming to show individuals “what they think they eat and what they really eat” for the benefit of a smug audience who can rest assured that the fat woman in the office who eats a salad at lunch “isn’t just eating that.” Likewise, Fat Families – a UK reality show based around Steve Miller’s attempt to “wipe out the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the UK” – shows Miller travelling around the country raiding fat people’s fridges as “proof” that being overweight is the responsibility of the individual. As Miller states, they need to “get off their wobbly bums and melt that lard”, implying that fat people need a stern hand to guide them towards the right way of living (Kaibigan, 2015). Once they have completed their weight loss, the “new” individual is subsequently cast off into the sunset to live their more-fulfilled lives “re-born” as a hetero-normatively attractive citizen, reminding the audience that they too can escape the “threat of obesity” and lead a “cleaner” life.

Since the rise of social media, individual’s “weight-loss journey” has been easier to document. One only needs to type in the hashtag “#beforeandafter” or “#weightloss” to find an array of images documenting an individual’s “journey” to a new and shiny body. Whilst these posts can act as a connector to a community struggling with body-shame, they can also obsessively document an individual’s “journey” to a more socially acceptable body and their “re-birth” as a health-conscious citizen that will no longer be a “drain upon society.” Alongside these images, the “clean-eating” movement has become a prevalent part of Instagram; kale and chia seed smoothies, avocado on toast and no-sugar diets all represent individual’s documentation of their “pure” existence. Whilst it must be stated that there is nothing wrong with enjoying a healthy lifestyle, the posts all possess religious undertones that allude to the moral superiority of the “clean eater.” For example, the notion of “clean” foods – vegetables, fruit and grains – compared to dishonest or “sinful” junk-foods play into the concept that those who possess a slimmer body are living a more virtuous life.This can be seen in posts by “clean-eating” Insta-famous individuals, such as Clean-Eating-Alice. Her book, “The Body Bible”, aims to support dieters on their journey to a “cleaner” life and her Instagram feed is decorated with an array of colourful foods to “cleanse” the soul (clean_eating_alice, 2016).

Thus, it is no wonder that we feel it is acceptable to shame fat bodies into “cleansing themselves” of their sins. We have given meaning to each morsel of food that we eat; a chocolate bar is laden with gluttony, shame and weakness whereas a piece of kale represents truth, confidence and will-power. Yet, why is it that the person that relentlessly documents their salads and smoothies online is considered to be any healthier than the person who secretly eats chocolate late at night? The glorification of thinness that pervades our culture has allowed us to view the former as acceptable, as a trait to be praised as inspiring. Social media is based upon the presentation of the “best” version of ourselves, a “highlights reel” in which we gloss over the tarnished aspects of our characters with a pretty filter. The documentation of a “clean-life” or a “journey” to thin body simply reflects the sentiment of what shows like The Biggest Loser – as well as the wider media’s obsession with the “obesity crisis” – have drummed into us about how we are supposed to be happy. However, perhaps the time has come to reconsider our stance on health and happiness with self-acceptance being prioritised over what clothes we can fit into. Likewise, in 2016, compassion and empathy shouldn’t be determined by one’s body size and so rather than pointing and gasping at the fat people trying to run on TV or struggling in the street, maybe it is time for us to look inwards and ask why we are tuning in to watch in the first place?

clean_eating_alice. (2016). clean_eating_alice. Date accessed: 6th August 2016. Retrieved from:

Jillian Michaels is god. (2008). “…I’m proud that I made him vomit”. Date accessed: 5th August 2016. Retrieved from:

Kaibigan, K. (2015). Fat Families S01 E03 Season One. Date accessed: 5th August 2016. Retrieved from:

The Official Biggest Loser Season 6 Channel. (2008). Biggest Loser 6 – Jillian’s Hell & the Yellow Team. Date accessed: 5th August 2016. Retrieved from:



“Shut up and read more Aristotle!” Or: Towards a feminist mode of academic relating

Irma Allen

At a recent PhD summer school I attended, in the middle of responding in a critical way to the discussion (as requested by the seminar leader), a male fellow PhD student in the group abruptly and aggressively waded in to shut down what I was saying, not through intellectual argument, but by telling me that I was making ‘autistic comments’ that were ‘irrelevant’, that I was being ‘arrogant’ and that I should ‘stop talking’ – and apparently read more Aristotle… (who felt that women and slaves were inherently inferior beings – was that what I was supposed to understand?) Looking directly at the male Professor who was leading the seminar whilst speaking as a way to exclude my presence, this student insisted that the class ‘please carry on to engage with the text at hand’ (I thought I was…). When I, and others in the room who leapt to my defense, told him this was a totally inappropriate way to interact he said ‘I don’t care, I don’t care about her, she is wasting my time!’ gesticulating in my direction, followed by telling a female colleague who defended me that she should ‘be quiet’. Only when told by other male members of the group that he was being disrespectful and inappropriately personal and rude did he quieten down.

The organizer of the seminar was not present in the room, but the guest seminar leader, a male Professor whose work we were discussing, did not intervene. He simply laughed and watched passively as the group tried to deal with the situation. I had only met my attacker for the first time the day before and had not spoken to him individually. He was able to remain in the seminar, and for the rest of the week he largely remained quiet, yet was, at times, invited to voice his own comments by the course leaders – which he did in a confident, critical and questioning manner – no shame – whilst I, and others, remained quieter, more hesitant, and fearful of this harshly judging presence.

What is wrong here? I could not help to think a number of things all in a rush at once. Would he have told a male colleague that they were being ‘arrogant’ for voicing an opinion that differed to his in a confident, even direct, manner? Would he have told a male colleague to be ‘quiet’ for intervening and disciplining him? In fact – when this happened – he did not. It was only then that he checked himself. What did he mean by ‘autistic comments’ and was he not aware that this was offensive on many levels, implying both that myself and people with autism are not intelligent beings worthy of respect. Should he have been ‘allowed’ to stay in the room and participate in the discussion, let alone being invited to contribute, having violated norms of conduct? Who had the right and power to make that decision? And how is it that four other women commented to me that they felt uncertain and reluctant to speak up after that outburst for fear of being likewise attacked, whilst shame was not apparent in his ongoing engagement? This abrupt interaction not only succeeded in shutting me down but silencing others. The violence still hung there in the air the next day and there was a tension in the group that had not been apparent beforehand.

Whilst this is perhaps an extreme example of chauvinist behavior in such a mild context, it points to wider structural issues that remain unaddressed and usually hidden, except in moments when they burst through so plainly like this. Where do we draw the line around gender-based discrimination, even violence? Are words, bodily postures and attitudes not part and parcel of the everyday practice of sexism, even violence itself? On the last day of the week-long course he again attacked a fellow female student, tearing into her personally by heavily implying that she was stupid and ignorant. As a result I walked out. In a follow up email with the seminar leaders, they stated that they felt that he had ‘not openly discriminated’ against other students, and that ‘we have to accept that some students behave badly’. I think they did their best – but it was not enough. I do not agree that we should accept that some students behave badly. He will most likely pass the course – is that the correct message? That intellectual ideas are divorced from the ethics and accountability of interpersonal relations? That is a deathly creed – yet, again, the rational/emotional, individual/relational dichotomies it rests upon are masculinist in essence. Is this not part and parcel of the same creed which protects male professors who sexually harass female colleagues because of their genius? I only wonder what clues and crumbs of crumby behavior were apparent earlier on in their careers that were enabled to continue through no resistance.

As a female starting out in academia I often feel caught between two binary modes of professional behavior – gearing myself up to be confident, speak up and speak strong in order to be taken seriously and be heard, or alternatively… stay silent and mute as a safe alternative. I do not seem to know how to navigate or practice a middle or re-defining ground. If I speak confidently I am arrogant. If I have a strong opinion, aggressive. Yet it is well known that male counterparts are considered worthy of respect, intelligent and probably in line for a promotion if they act similarly. I have a constant sense that some sort of particular behavior is expected of me, and my fellow female colleagues, yet I do not know what it is. At the same time I seem to spend mental energy trying to figure it out – indeed I am required to. It appears that staying silent, or perhaps speaking with more uncertainty, hesitation and a gentler tone works ‘better’. For some, that is their preferred register. Yet for me, quite a vocal lass, I feel that I regularly fail at this game. Each time I ‘fail’ is another time I learn that who I am is not good enough, is not ‘right’. I am not being woman enough. I am not being feminine enough. I am not doing it right.

Yet it is true that this experience shook me up in other ways. It made me question (yet again) my own manner of engagement. Something I, and I know a number of my female friends, do often. Perhaps he was right, my mind said. in some way – was I being too vocal, too critical, too direct, too outspoken, too hard? Too too…? Perhaps I do not know what I am talking about after all – he’s right, he’s right, I should keep quiet until I’ve read Aristotle… until I’ve read… EVERYTHING THERE IS TO READ…. Not possible… Whilst this mental-chatter overdrive was typically overdone, I couldn’t shake an acute feeling of shame at my own contribution to the set up. Of course nothing justified the manner of his outburst, but it was perhaps true that I had been too forceful in my critique of the work of the guest academic who had had the courage to sit in the firing line and open himself to comment. Later someone said ‘he probably felt he needed to defend the academic, you were destroying him! No, it was good!’ That word ‘destroy’ vibrates with a harsh telling. It is the masculinist mode of competitive and individualized engagement academia largely endorses and socializes one into. Was I just reproducing that? Were my own critical words doing a violence to the vulnerability of any person presenting their words and work to a new audience? Was my shame a form of self-violence, social disciplining, or a basis for agency?

What, then, if instead, I employed a feminist way of speaking up? What might a feminist form of academic communication and intellectual engagement look like? Perhaps for too long women, once allowed into the ivory tower, have seen the only way to be truly accepted is to adopt the tower’s own modes of interaction and augment them, turning up the volume, sharpening the intellectual knife, in order to be seen and heard. I’d like to be able to practice compassionate, yet astute, emotionally resonant yet respected, gentle but determined, personal and entangled engagement. I’d like to contribute to shifting the manner in which communication is conducted in the first place, to something more expansive, care-ing and diffractive. Something non-violent. Not easy. At the same time, I do not want to be an apologist for female assertiveness, in the affirmative sense. I look forward to the day when a female impassioned voice that says ‘I disagree and here’s why’ is not considered ‘brave’, ‘shrill’ or ‘conceited’ by anyone in the room and where gendered violence, where and when it happens, is recognized, called out, and rejected in all forms and at all scales, including in that microcosm that is the precarious and politically-charged space of the classroom, where academic life begins.

Kale and chia seed smoothie, anyone? Instagram’s clean-eating trend, classism and the misrepresentation of veganism.

By Milly Morris & Katie Oliver 

In 2016, Maria Strydom died whilst attempting to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Strydom and her husband were attempting to climb seven summits in seven continents. Yet the tragedy of Strydom’s death was overshadowed in the media by her commitment to a vegan lifestyle; she had previously claimed that her expeditions would prove that “vegans can do anything” and break the stereotype of the sickly vegan suffering from a “lack of protein.” The headlines that followed her death insinuated that Strydom was foolish and arrogant to make such a statement; titles such as ‘Proud vegan climbs Everest to prove haters wrong, dies’ are laced in a smug satisfaction that can loosely be translated to “we told you so, veganism isn’t healthy or safe!” Despite the evidence showing that Strydom’s diet could not be linked to her death, her colourful life as an academic/experienced climber/wife/sister/friend were boiled down to her veganism, sparking debates about the safety in avoiding meat and dairy (Orde, 2016).

More recently, the Italian government announced a proposed plan to send parent’s to prison who “force a vegan lifestyle upon their children”, suggesting that it causes children to be deficient in Iron and other important nutrients. In the UK, many children become malnourished from a diet of processed foods (including meat and dairy) (Deardon, 2016; McVeigh, 2014), yet the news from Italy was followed with headlines such as: “can vegans ever be good parents?” and “is it abuse to put children on a vegan diet?” arguing that vegan diets often lead to children being deficient in iron (Orde, 2016)

So, why is it that veganism seemingly causes such animosity and frustration from the media and wider society?

Veganism has been mocked, dismissed, and vilified in both the media, and in wider society. Those fighting for animal rights are not seen as liberators, because their fight is too far from the norm, and perspectives are tainted with speciesist norms that put human suffering above non-human. A major (inaccurate) criticism of vegan activism is that there is so much human suffering, that we must first “sort out” ourselves before we can focus on the lives and deaths of our non-human sister species. But with an increased interest in intersectionality, theoretically and in practice, and both in academia and popular discourse, it is time to acknowledge and more deeply consider that no suffering stands alone, and that a society built upon violence towards animal bodies can never be one that eradicates human—human violence.

In June 2016, the BBC aired a documentary called “Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets”, hosted by “body-positivity queen” and blogger Grace Victory. She followed a variety of clean-eating diets promoted on Instagram and YouTube to reveal the damaging effects that they could have on the body and on an individual’s mental health. After visiting a whole foods store and gasping at the extortionate prices of certain “super-foods”, Victory states that this “clean eating, vegan thing” is about class rather than health, suggesting that it is a “very middle-class” lifestyle that is unaffordable for the majority of the public (BBC, 2016). This ignores vegan movements such as A. Breeze Harper’s ‘Sistah Vegan’, decolonial and black feminist theorist who approaches veganism from a black perspective, and expresses how it is inherently harmful to associate veganism with whiteness (Harper, 2015). When we are seeking to approach oppression holistically – intersectionally – the dismissal of veganism as a “diet”, instead of the liberation movement that it is, negates the struggle of non-human animals, and misrepresents actual vegans, as opposed to those following a plant-based diet. It is a distinction that is made frequently, even by vegans themselves. Veganism is not a diet. It is a belief system, and a liberation movement. Diet is just one aspect of that.

When we are seeking to approach oppression holistically – intersectionally – the dismissal of veganism as a “diet”, instead of the liberation movement that it is, negates the struggle of non-human animals, and misrepresents actual vegans, as opposed to those following a plant-based diet. It is a distinction that is made frequently, even by vegans themselves. Veganism is not a diet. It is a belief system, and a liberation movement. Diet is just one aspect of that.

Throughout the documentary, it becomes clear that Victory is struggling with her new diet – including a 30 day “potato cleanse” – as she becomes tired and develops bad skin (BBC, 2016). The show concludes with Victory suggesting that vegan, clean-eating is a potentially dangerous habit that can lead to eating disorders. However, Victory failed to point out the distinction between “eating clean” and following a vegan diet; an individual who eats “clean” is doing so for health purposes, whereas veganism is not about losing weight or even being healthy (although the facts show that veganism is perfectly safe and healthy). In contrast, veganism is simply about eating – and living – in a way that is mindful of the planet and of other species.

Reducing veganism to just a diet, and to being solely about the Self, and Self-body, in a confusion with those following a plant-based diet, dismisses the importance and larger message of veganism. Veganism is always already about Other, and Other-bodies, because it is a practice of non-harm, whether this originates as animal-oriented, environmental, or health-based, there is always an Other who is being affected (albeit positively) from the rise of veganism. Conversely, there is always an Other’s suffering and death involved in carnism, in eating and using flesh and animal bodies for human pleasure. The animal-as-food becomes ‘the absent referent’ (Adams, 1990). When the flesh is eaten, it is food, it is not body or being, it is not death, but instead presented as sustenance, life-full, and life-fuel. It cannot be that carnists are unaware of who they are eating, but that there is a carefully curated system in place to ensure that there is no ‘seepage’ of life, or living, in the consumed body. This has been linked to the distance of slaughterhouses, and factory farms, away from populated areas and also to the rise of the presentation of animals raised in ‘family farms’ (see, for example, Lidl’s latest advert, and a desire for a connection to our food (local food movements, British farm standards…), but it fails to show the actual truths behind what is on your plate.

Because veganism is so embodied – it is literally a bodily change and a new practice of everyday life – it is difficult not for it to become an important part of life that vegans want to share. When we see oppression around us at every meal, in all parts of our lives, how can we but use our voices to speak against this? Just as, you would hope, racism, sexism, or any other oppressive practice would be spoken and acted against, so should be speciesism. The problem that the animal liberation movement has to come to terms with, and to continue to work to find ways around, is that it relies wholly on the oppressors liberating the oppressed, and on (human) representatives enacting struggles on behalf of animals. Appealing to the moral sensibilities of carnists to disregard their own pleasure and change their own lives will always come across as “preachy”, but this should not stop vegans continuing to fight for animals, and to expose the lies of happy farm animals and pain-free slaughter that are widely believed. It is perhaps necessary to be preachy, because even if there is only one person who understands, and cannot unknow what they have come to know, it is estimated that in a lifetime, a vegan will spare the lives of 198 animals a year (PETA, 2010).

So, where has this confusion between ‘clean-eating’ and veganism arisen from? 

However, social media’s obsession with ‘clean’ foods has arguably led to the conflation of veganism with dieting. One only need to type the hashtags “#vegan” into the Instagram search bar to find an array of beautifully arranged green smoothies, elaborate salads and the – seemingly infamous – avocado on toast. Alongside these images, harshtags such as “#cleaneating” and “#health” are commonplace and imply that veganism is simply a good way to lose weight. Whilst this cannot be said of all vegan cooking pages on Instagram and Facebook, many social media “health gurus” propose that being vegan is about eating solely “clean” foods that benefit the body. For example, Naturally Megan’s Instagram is strewn with arty vegan dishes that showcase her ‘#plantpowered’ life. All the images contain descriptions of the foods in the caption, such as the following: “carrot cake oats with blueberries, strawberries and vanilla coconut yoghurt” with the hashtag ‘#veganfood’, ‘#healthyeating and ‘#eatclean.’ Whilst the motives behind these uploads may be harmless, these image insinuate that veganism is a pure diet that aims to give the individual the best health possible. Moreover, many of the ingredients on Naturally Megan’s page are exotic and seemingly expensive, such as the following:

“(…) avocado on brown sourdough, strawberries and a chocolate protein smoothie (1 banana, 2 tbsp raw vegan chocolate protein powder, 1 cup almond milk and a handful of ice cubes)” (Naturallymeghan, 2016)

As Zimmer argues, social media is based upon an ‘obsessive documentation of self’; Instagram acts as a ‘highlights’ reel for one’s life to present a polished and perfected version of users to an online audience (Zimmer, 2013). All the messy and painful parts of life are cut out so the viewer sees a neatly cropped square with beautiful lighting. In this sense, it can be argued that rather than getting the message out about an alternative and potentially more ethical lifestyle, these health bloggers are showcasing their status as individual’s who can afford chia seeds and quinoa on a regular basis. It is important to note here that there is nothing wrong with buying and enjoying these products, but that taking pictures of these types of food for an online following is arguably the equivalent of inviting all your neighbours around to watch you wash your brand new Ferrari.

Veganism is classed, sexed, aged, and raced. When veganism is presented over instagram as young, white, societally attractive women such as ‘delciously ella’, ‘freelee the bananagirl’, ‘the blonde vegan’, or PETA’s lettuce ladies, there is an immediate disconnect with non-white, non-middle-class, non-conforming people who in reality are the bulk of vegans. Our animal rights/vegan movement is tainted from the inside with the same problems that can be identified in our societies. Those who are praised and held up as examples and representatives of vegan lifestyles do not actually reflect the 99% of vegans, and we did not choose these people to be our representatives and they do not even stand for what we stand for. The presentation of veganism as a fad, or a weight loss trend, is fundamentally damaging for those of us fighting for liberation, and also for those of us who do not fit the norms of society. The vegan movement is following a similar path to the feminist movement, whereby certain vegans are being held up on a pedestal, and these “stars” of veganism are not chosen by the vegan masses, but by the media and by who will “sell” the most (Freeman, 1975). We saw this most notably in Gloria Steinem in the ’60s and ’70s in the feminist movement, and we can begin to see the same patterns and backlashes in the ‘stars’ of the vegan movement, with a rise in “normal” vegans who do not fit mainstream representations of what a vegan should look like (see Facebook group ‘What Fat Vegans Eat’) taking back the power and purpose of veganism.

There is a fundamental problem in the animal rights movement with misogyny and damaging behaviours towards women which have come to light in recent years, and this is not the only problem that is plaguing veganism. There are racial dynamics within veganism whereby non-white vegans are not afforded the same visibility and reverence that vegan ‘stars’ such as the aforementioned are. There is also the exploitation and appropriation of certain representation of non-white people to sell vegan books, such as the problematic debates around the book ‘Thug Kitchen’ (Bryant Terry, 2014). Non-white people are denied access, their position as vegans is negated because they don’t look or act the part that is expected of them.

Once this is conflated with the vegan lifestyle, the important message of veganism is skewed and becomes about class, which is ultimately tied up with race, and gender (Crenshaw, 1989). Consequently, individuals take may issue with the snobbery that has been associated with veganism, the actual core beliefs of the movement; it is essential that vegans make steps to move away from the assumption that veganism is a “pure” diet that will “cleanse” one’s body. This is a process that is currently in motion; Facebook community pages such as “Fat Vegans” are dedicated to sharing recipes for vegan sweet treats, The Vegan Society’s website allows individual’s to browse “how to be vegan on a budget” (TheVeganSociety, 2016). Overall, it is essential that the movement continues to fight these stereotypes and creates an image for itself that demonstrates its inclusive nature, diverse membership and willingness to occasionally indulge in junk-food.


Adams, C. (1990). The Sexual Politics of Meat. London. Continuum.

BBC. (2016). Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

Crenshaw, K. (1989)  Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex, The University of Chicago Legal Forum 140:139-167

Deardon, L. (2016). Italy’s proposed law to jail vegan parents for up to four years criticised as ‘discriminatory’ attack on human rights. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

Freeman, J. (1975) Political Organization in the Feminist Movement. Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:

Harper, A. B. (2015). Vegan Praxis of Black Lives Matter, Sistah Vegan Conference. April 24th-25th, 2015.

Lidl UK. (2016). #LidlSurprises: Lidl Deluxe Scotch Rump Steak. Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:

McVeigh, T. (2014). Rickets returns as poor families find healthy diets unaffordable. Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:

Naturallymeghan. (2016). Naturallymeghan. Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:

Orde, E. (2016). The death of the vegan climber was a tragedy, but her diet was irrelevant. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

Orde, E. (2016). Vegan diets for children aren’t abusive – raising a child to eat meat is actually more extreme. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

PETA. (2010). Vegans Save 198 Animals a Year. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

Sistah Vegan Project. (2016). Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:

Terry, B. (2014) The Problem with ‘Thug’ Cuisine. CNN. Date accessed: 24th August 2016. Accessed from:

The Vegan Society. (2016). Vegan on a budget. Date accessed: 23rd August 2016. Accessed from:


On clean eating

Bethan Irvine


Set against the backdrop of a so called ‘obesity epidemic’, these days it seems healthy eating diets are everywhere. As this recent article by Milly Morris on Instagram’s fitness trends has already pointed out, social media feeds are now bombarded with images of toned and tight bodies, kale smoothies and raw beets in hand. Accompanied by captions such as “eat clean, get lean”, “just eat real food”, or “you are what you eat”.  On the surface, clean eating trends appear to be a positive thing and are often situated within a counter-movement challenging fast-food culture and the businesses capitalising on the production of cheap and heavily processed food.  At first glance, those spearheading the movement appear empowered and in control, representing the pinnacle of morality, righteousness, and success.

“Eating healthily doesn’t have to be expensive”, they cry.

“It’s just about making the right choices”.

Yet, despite my belief in the healing power of nourishing food which has been produced partly by my own bodily knowledge and experienc, so far my involvement in the healthy-eating movement has left me questioning whether eating “clean” food is always as “empowering” and “healthy” as it seems, and it appears I’m not alone. Recently there’ve have been others voicing their concerns over the damaging potential of today’s #CleanEating movement. For instance, this article by Protein Pow discusses the feelings of guilt and shame that many of us feel when we are unable to eat to the strict rules of eating clean. This week there was also a documentary aired by Vlogger Grace Victory on BBC Three encouraging viewers to question whether healthy eating diets are just eating disorders in disguise. And as I sit here hungry, stuffing my face with green vegetables worrying about today’s calorie intake, I am also troubled by the idea that disordered eating is being normalised and masked by a positive language of health and wellness.

But rather than asking the question: are healthy eating diets are good or bad for us? I feel it’s important to ask other questions such as: how is healthy eating being defined? How is it marketed and sold? Who is defining it? And, who is able to engage with it? To me, asking these questions seems crucial not only to challenging diet industry BS which is received and experienced in multiple and complex ways, but also in cultivating a more inclusive and compassionate fitness culture that challenges the broader systems of power which benefit from our obsessive self-care and preoccupation with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, bodies, and people.  When we ask ourselves these questions, we cannot ignore the political and economic context in which healthy eating diets are located; contemporary neo-liberal capitalism.

Within this context, the commodification of fitness and bodies has produced an array of confusing messages about food as markets seek out new opportunities for capital. Low fat diets, high carb diets, low carb diets, paleo diets, and raw vegan diets are just a few healthy eating fads to be promoted by businesses looking to maximise profit (Dworkin & Wahs, 2009).  But while food businesses do promote healthy eating trends, these diets are not just imposed upon us by evil corporations. Instead they are actively lived and reproduced within our everyday lives and interactions with others. We openly praise others for choosing salad over chips and punish ourselves for indulging in too much chocolate. We post ‘inspirational’ transformation selfies and hate ourselves when we can’t see visible abs.

This process of self-discipline and policing which lies at the heart of the #CleanEating movement demands we look beyond one-dimensional narratives of evil capitalists and brainwashed consumers. To reflect on the way in which the neo-liberal political ideologies of late capitalism are played out within our everyday lives and practices. Within the neo-liberal clean eating movement, food (and bodies) have become categorised as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as states strategically dodge the responsibility for health and place the blame onto individuals whose bodies come to reflect moral and social worth (Crawford, 1990). Those considered ‘too fat’ are persecuted for being lazy and lacking discipline, while toned, slender, and more recently athletic looking bodies are praised for their dedication to making the ‘right choices’ (Cairns and Johnston, 2015).  As the neo-liberal health food industry would have it seem, ‘healthy’ eating can be understood simply as a matter of individuals on a level playing field exercising free-will and consumer choice on the market. Everyone is expected to take personal responsibility for making ‘positive choices’ about their health and diet, regardless of their background (Guthrie and DuPuis, 2006).

Yet, as anyone who has had to cope with illness, injury, unemployment, low wages, a stressful job, life event, or even manage the conflicting demands of a family meal time will tell you, eating “healthy” food isn’t always that simple.  We’ve all seen it. Advocates of healthy eating preaching condescendingly to the ‘uneducated masses’ who are just too stupid to know how to eat ‘right’. Attacks being directed to people considered ‘too fat’ for being dumb and lacking self-control (Orbach, 1978).  But this neo-liberal rhetoric of ‘choice’ overlooks vast inequalities in wealth and resources, and notions of health that place blame onto individuals perpetuate ongoing class divides (Dworkin and Messener, 2002). Clean eating trends privilege and normalise the middle classes who can afford to adopt wholesome lifestyles considered ‘healthy’ and ‘good’. Consequently creating distance between the middle-class and the undesirable working class ‘other’ who simply don’t have enough money spend on raw organic extra virgin coconut oil (Lawler, 2005).

The notion of healthy eating as a personal ‘choice’ also overlooks ongoing gender inequalities. It’s not uncommon to see images of ‘strong’ and ‘empowered’ women who are able to take control, all the while still looking hot. Although men are in no way excluded, it should not be understated that women’s behaviour and bodies continue to be placed under significant scrutiny. As Bartkey has noted, “women’s movement is subjected to a still finer discipline” (1988: 30).  In the process of “choosing” health, many women find themselves caught in a balancing act trying to manage conflicting ideals of femininity.  Often holding themselves accountable to dominant images of ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ women that are disproportionately white, slender, middle-class, and (hetero)sexually desirable, while simultaneously being encouraged to be a ‘strong’, ‘empowered’, and active consumer (Dworkin and Messner, 2009; Cairns and Johnston, 2015). As mothers, women also continue to take a large proportion of the responsibility for children’s health, deemed a success only if they can make the ‘right’ choices about food and wellbeing (Cairns et al, 2013).

So, while it is great to see that more and more people are challenging contemporary healthy eating trends which risk masking obsessive and disordered eating. I urge critics to also think about the way that #CleanEating trends are washing away ongoing social divisions under the neo-liberal rhetoric of individual liberty and freedom to “choose”; a tactic which is unquestionably in the interests of consumer capitalism (Penny, 2015). Rather than directing our energies inwards, attacking ourselves for eating foods we consider “bad” and patting ourselves on the back for only eating 500 calories in one day, it seems important to begin challenging the wider economic and political agenda that lies beneath our self-hate.


Bartky, S (1988) ‘Foucualt, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power’ in Diamond, I and Quinby, L (Eds) Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance (Northeastern University Press)

Cairns, K, Johnston, J, and MacKendrick, N. (2013) ‘Feeding the ‘organic child’: Mothering through ethical consumption’ in Journal of Consumer Culture, 13(2): 97-118

Cairns, K & Johnston, J. (2015) ‘Choosing Health: embodied neoliberalism, postfeminism, and the “do-diet” in Springer Science & Business Media Dordrecht, published online on 28 January 2015

Crawford, R. (1980), ‘Healthism and the medicalisation of everyday life’ in International Journal of Health Services: Planning, Administration, Evaluation, 10(3): 365-388

Dworkin, S.L and Wahs, F.L. (2009) Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness (New York: New York University Press)

Dworkin and Messner (2002) ‘Just do…what? Sport, Bodies, Gender’ in Sheila ScratonandAnneLintoff (Eds) Gender and Sport: A Reader (Routledge: London)

Guthrie, J. (2005), ‘Embodying Neoliberalism: economy, culture, and the politics of fat’ in Society and Space, 24: 427-448

Lawler, S. (2005). ‘Disgusted subjects: the making of middle-class identities’ in The Sociological Review, 53(3): 429-446

Orbach, S. (1978) Fat is A Feminist Issue (London: Arrow Books)

Morris, M. (2015), ‘#Gymlife: does Instagrams fitness trend have the potential to negatively impact female body image?’, Feminist Academic Collective,

Penny, L. (2016), ‘Life-Hacks of the Poor and Aimless’, The Baffler,

Protein Pow. (2016) ‘The Dirty on ‘Clean Eating’,

Not the Herring Song

A morale-boosting ditty by and for the Leicester PhD choir. To be sung very, very loudly.


Of all the ridiculous things I’ve done, starting a doctorate’s number one……

[CALLER – often passed around the group for each verse, but only if people are comfortable solo]

1 – What the hell’s a PhD?

Four long years of purgatory…..

PhD, purgatory and all good things.

2 – How do I do a lit review?

Simply cite Michel Foucoo……

lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things.

3 – What would I do with Jacques Ranciére?

Quote the idiot everywhere……..

Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things.


4 – What’s my supervisor for?

Just someone you should ignore……

supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things.

5 – What’s a methodology?

Whatever you did on holideeee……

methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things.

6 – I just don’t get S-P-S-S

It does not work, quicker to guess……

SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

7 – I’m so proud of my contribution,

Eight hund’red pages of confusion

contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

8 – I only cite from Wikipedia,

It’s there for the reluctant reader.

Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

9 – I collected lots of prim’ry data

I’ll find out it’s all rubbish later,

prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

10 – I have a sort of research question,

But it just gives me indigestion.

research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

11 – My colleagues all cite Judith Butler,

But I find half a brick is subtler,

Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

12 – I’ve got to use a ‘feminist lens’,

Although I have no women friends.

feminist lens, no women friends, Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

13 – Ethnography’s the trendy thing,

But very hard work, I’d rather sing!

trendy thing, rather sing, feminist lens, no women friends, Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

14 – I would teach a seminar,

If the students weren’t all in the bar,

seminar, in the bar, trendy thing, rather sing, feminist lens, no women friends, Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

15 – Eventually I’ll graduate,

And join the folk I’ve come to hate,

graduate, folk I hate, seminar, in the bar, trendy thing, rather sing, feminist lens, no women friends, Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things

16 – But now I have a doctorate.

And work in Tesco’s, very late.

doctorate, Tesco’s late, graduate, folk I hate, seminar, in the bar, trendy thing, rather sing, feminist lens, no women friends, Judith Butler, brick is subtler, research question, indigestion, prim’ry data, rubbish later, Wikipedia, reluctant reader, contribution, confusion, SPSS, quicker to guess, methodology, holidee, supervisor, to ignore, Ranciére, everywhere, lit review, Michel Foucoo, PhD, purgatory and all good things.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Not the Herring Song – a brief explanation

Andrea Davies & Angus Cameron

This song was produced by participants in the ‘PhD Choir’ at the University of Leicester.  The ‘PhD Choir’ was created originally by Angus Cameron and Andrea Davies (both School of Management) in 2014 as a means of providing some basic voice training for PhD students.  The reasoning was (and remains) that while Universities train PhDs to do all sorts of useful things (coding, stats, methodologies, theory, etc., etc.), the one thing we don’t provide training for is the one thing they’ll need every minute of every day of their research and subsequent academic careers – their voice.  As such, it is not a ‘proper’ choir, because we require no real commitment (other than the first few sessions which are part of a doctoral training programme) and we don’t prepare for performance.  We just get together once a week – in varying numbers – to practice warm-ups, to sing together and to reflect on the importance of the voice (sung, spoken, written and gestural) to what we all do.  Singing together in this way boosts confidence, personal resilience, physical and mental stamina, collegiality and general wellbeing.

Much of what we sing is based on the work of Chris Rowbury – a pioneering choir leader who specialises in those who ‘can’t sing’ (  Without fail Chris manages to get even the most reluctant of the ‘can’t sing won’t sing’ brigade, not just singing, but doing so in three/four part harmony, often within half an hour or so.  The results are usually astonishing and we’re delighted to have been able to produce our own success stories through the PhD Choir.

The ‘Not the Herring Song’ came about partly from a desire to differentiate ourselves away from reliance on Chris’ songs, but mainly so that we would have something of our own.  As its name suggests, it is based on a traditional folk song called ‘The Herring Song’.  There are many variants of this (YouTube will provide), but in all cases it takes the form of an incremental call and response.  The tune varies (and in our case ‘evolves’ from week to week): rhythm, pronunciation and enthusiastic participation matter far more.  In total it takes about 10 minutes to sing and, by the end, is a major challenge for breath control and vocal stamina.  For that reason it is not something you should attempt without doing a thorough vocal and breathing warm-up first – please don’t hurt yourselves.

It is, at one level, just a ‘bit of fun’ – a wry reflection on the PhD ‘experience’ in the spirit of the ‘world turned upside down’.  But our students also report that they find it inspiring, enthusing and a useful corrective to the distorted perspectives that academia often produces.  We hope you enjoy it too.