Every November, the erudite British council behind Oxford Dictionaries picks a word of the year to signify the term that most influenced society in the previous 12 months. They picked the word "selfie" in 2013. "Vape" was the winner in 2014. Last year, it wasnâ€™t even a word. It was an emoji (the one with the tears of joy). This year, if current trends are anything to go by, it would be "detox."
What is "detox"? Itâ€™s an increasingly popular therapy that originated in the self-care industry to get rid of imaginary toxins. Detox treatments are varied: from diets of broccoli smoothies to fennel tea. The promise remains the same â€" to give people a "cleansed" body, as fresh as a baby's.
Retreats based on detox are now a vacationing option, provided you can afford to pay between $2,000 and $5,000 for a single week. And are willing to hear your stomach growl in your five-star hotel room.
You can find detox syrups, capsules and other powders in organic, health and beauty stores. Online, the word demonstrates magical properties in attracting readers with such headlines as: "10 Delicious Detox Water Recipes To Cleanse Your Bodyâ€, "Top detox dietsâ€, "Cleanse Your Body With These Detox Teasâ€, and "Want To Lose Weight & Cleanse Your System? Try A Birch Sap Detoxâ€.
Women's magazines have even started talking about a jet black "detox ice cream" made out of "black coconut ashâ€ and set to become the latest summer trend in New York.
Gian Dorta, a doctor at Lausanne University Hospital, is annoyed by the detox trend.
"These detox things mark the return of charlatanism," she says. "We have absolutely no need for detoxification since the human body does it itself with the liver and the kidneys, which are dedicated elimination organs.â€
French playwright Molière wrote about an imaginary invalid who was fond of bleeding and enemas. Almost 350 years later, some people discreetly indulge in â€œcolon hydrotherapyâ€ â€" a technique that consists of cleansing the colon with liters of water injected through the rectum. Self-proclaimed "hygienists" claim this method removes toxins that have accumulated in the intestines, and promise countless more benefits such as beautiful skin and the energy levels of a Marvel comic superhero.
Dorta is appalled by these claims, which she says are false.
What could have led us to this desire to have an internal body as shiny as a floor cleaned with bleach?
"As French philosopher Baudrillard would say, we're trying to "whiten" the body, that is, to conceal its natural state, which we see as flawed. Total purification is the sign of a persistent unease in the Western world regarding the natural and imperfect body that releases smells, and which, we think, we're improving through cleansing," says Yannis Constantinidès, a philosopher and author of the book Le Nouveau Culte du Corps ("The New Cult Of The Body")
"This is a metaphysical guilt. The disappearance of religion left a void that's filled by this second religiosity, a sum of vague and confused beliefs, without any form of transcendence. We thus maintain old rituals, even modernize them, but their deeper significance is lost," says Constantinidès.
The longing for purification exists due to the surfeit of material things in society. Consumerist urges, too often out of control, are now believed to affect our serenity and our productivity. "Detox therapies and their emotional asceticism mumbo jumbo lead people to think that there's an existential Eden somewhere, accessible only through exercises prescribed by self-esteem dealers. And the message is always the same: You're only using 10% of your capabilities but you could soon be at 90% if you follow these new dogmas everyday,â€ says philosopher Vincent Cespedès.
Cespedès says that these beliefs have taken hold as weâ€™ve become more addicted to brands, TV shows and high-technology gadgets in an age where weâ€™re always surrounded by new time-consuming distractions that alienate us.
Thereâ€™s even a detox in case you fail in your detox plan and are feeling guilty. The "sorry detox," is a therapy to quickly learn how to stop apologizing.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.