Britain’s Healthy Honeys

Jon Burgerman

The women behind England's clean eats.

I never thought I’d say this, but it’s possible that our tiny nation owes Gwyneth Paltrow a debt of gratitude. This has nothing to do with her taking Chris Martin off our hands for a while (well, maybe a little) and everything to do with the fact that Gwynnie, as she is affectionately known here, singularly changed the way we Brits eat. Not only that, but Gwynnie’s particular style of smug Web foodie journalism, initially derided by the tabloids (and thus by extension the whole country), has spawned a phenomenon—an entirely new genre of cooking writers and bloggers—the Healthy Honeys.

Paltrow is the patron saint of the Healthy Honeys—preternaturally great looking, well educated, and in good shape. She’s the perfect excuse for men to look at a cookbook. (And believe me, her It’s All Good is required reading for many British men. Do they cook? Who knows.) Call her the anti-Nigella, if you will, but there’s little doubt that Gwynnie proved to be, for us cynical Brits, the living, breathing testament to the aphorism “you are what you eat.”

Nature abhors a vacuum. And when Gwynnie left Blighty for more-familiar shores, one-time model Ella Woodward (daughter of a former Labour MP and a supermarket heiress) rose speedily to fill the space. Diagnosed with postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a little-understood condition causing her constant pain, Woodward blogs hyperbolically about healthy vegan raw food, to which she attributes sustained recovery from her illness, and which she can also thank for her best-selling cookbook, Deliciously Ella; another book is on the way. At around the same time, the two-for-one double act of the pulchritudinous Hemsley sisters emerged, conversely advocating cooking with bone broth, butter, and buckwheat. Their less puritanical attitude, underlined by the principle that one should never “deprive” oneself entirely, has won them thousands of fans; a book, The Art of Eating Well; and a column on Vogue U.K.’s website.

But qualifications still matter to us latterly kale-eating Brits, and justifiably there has been plenty of criticism about the Healthy Honeys’ lack of bona fide food and cooking chops. Step forward former Jamie Oliver-protégé Anna Jones (behind A Modern Way to Eat and A Modern Way to Cook) and nutritionist Amelia Freer, former personal assistant to the Prince of Wales (author of Eat. Nourish. Glow. and the coming Cook. Nourish. Glow.) to plug the gap. 

Spotting a trend here? As if things couldn’t get any more Healthy Honey, Lily Simpson of The Detox Kitchen might just out-Gwyneth Gwynnie. She started her business as a delivery service, dropping off a daily menu of expensive but undoubtedly healthy food to friends who wanted to lose weight. Now she has celebrity fans, including Elle Macpherson, Sophie Dahl, Suki Waterhouse, and Lara Stone; a successful book, The Detox Kitchen Bible; a tiny deli off London’s Carnaby Street and another in Harvey Nichols. 

As I write, the newspapers are full of the shocking news that Britain’s tea and biscuit consumption is plummeting—the reason? Greater awareness about healthy eating and drinking. I don’t think Gwyneth is entirely to blame, but I couldn’t swear to it.