No Nutribullet banana and raspberry smoothie

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I’m most likely to reach for a knife. As food writer Laurie Colwin puts it, most kitchen tools are frills and few are essential, after all, “Most of the world cooks over fire without any gadgets at all.”

Our obsession with buying the latest kitchen equipment is, I think, a symptom of our being ever sold to. More pertinently, however, it also points towards our increasing neurosis about food. I read a brilliant piece by John Lanchester in the New Yorker last year, discussing the transition of food from being about where we come from, to being about the person we want to become.

The most common statement we make about our eating now is by purchasing this cookbook, or that product, and displaying it proudly. Since I started this blog, I’ve been fascinated by the role food plays in connecting us to our family, and yet in spite of my digging, I rarely hear people say: “I eat this all the time, just because Mum did.”

As Lanchester points to in his article, contemporary eating habits are tribal in a commercial sense: we consume branded goods that make us appear well travelled or healthier. We are no longer ‘tribal’ in a familial sense, in that we eat what our kin always did. Michael Pollen says we would be better off eating like our grandmothers. Instead, we’re more likely to follow the nutritional advice of a machine that comes with a book, like the Nutribullet.

The Nutribullet sounds like a sex toy and purposefully so. It’s being marketed to people like me: conscientious women, mostly, who are concerned about their weight and/or preserving their health. Except, this offer is nothing but a false shortcut to what I think is now a lifetime’s work: nurturing a relationship with food as sustenance rather than as a route to becoming comforted, sexy, or otherwise special.

What the Nutribullet does is grind fruit and veg down to a smoothie – seeds, stalks and skins – so that you can drink it all down without needing to chop or chew. “The Nutribullet system is so easy… anyone can use it,” says the website. (What, even me?) You can then go to work feeling sure that you’ve efficiently ticked off your five-a-day. Even better for fussy kids – just blend up some kale with loads of sweet pears and they’ll glug it down without a thought. I’m no scientist, but as I understand it, your mouth, teeth and stomach are designed to grind down the food you eat so that nutrients can be extracted. If you can’t trust your body to do this, you have a problem.

My views on this are enhanced by the negative associations I have with pureed, or liquid, food. Complan: from when my dad nearly died of appendicitis; Ensure, from when my mum’s MS got so bad she could no longer swallow. My mother-in-law also endures a number of health problems, one of which is Barrett’s oesophagus. The other weekend, she showed me a ‘dysphagia diets’ brochure from Wiltshire Farm Foods, which contains such abominations as ‘pureed sandwiches’. It made me wonder, when soup is one of the most nutritious and diverse dishes known, why anyone would think it a good idea to puree fish and then reform it into a fillet shape.

Products like Nutribullet medicalise nutrition in the same way as these unappetising, illogical hospital foods, but they’re not marketed at sick people. Those of us in good physical shape are encouraged to put a prescribed amount of roughage into the machine and drink it down obediently like a sugar pill. We think ourselves healthier as a result, but are we?

One of the hot topics of the moment is that we should cut down on sugar, whether it’s alcohol, high fructose corn syrup, refined cane sugar, or concentrated fruit juice. By drinking juices and smoothies, we consume more sugar than we need, and our guts are also spared necessary effort in digestion. A Nutribullet may retain more fibre than a conventional juicer – well, it promotes giving access to “unused nutrients in the whole food” – but if we couldn’t eat the equivalent as solid food, or if our guts can’t process it naturally, it just doesn’t seem quite right.

Unlike old-fashioned soup, smoothies take the storytelling out of cooking and eating. Smoothies aren’t warming or soothing, they aren’t simmered and stirred, they are macerated mechanically and consumed quickly. While a soup can be made from scraps, a smoothie requires bulk. They are a capitalist’s dream food: you need an expensive gadget in your kitchen and an unending variety of fresh fruit and veg in your fridge.

Now, in spite of my prejudices, I do make smoothies now and then. My daughter thinks they’re fun. She chops up some bananas and we put them in the freezer overnight. In the morning, we put the banana in a flask with some berries, oat milk – target demographic or what? – and a spoonful of honey. I whizz it up with a hand blender, and then we drink it through colourful straws. No Nutribullet required.

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About Chloe King

I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.

9 comments on “No Nutribullet banana and raspberry smoothie

  1. March 9, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Chloe, these are all points really well made. You’ll probably have seen that I praised the Nutribullet on my own blog a few months ago. I did breakfasts with them for myself for about six weeks before having to give up using it – it has seriously dicked with my digestion. Tummy aches, terrible bloating and the associated bad-tummy-and-bloating symptom I’ll leave to your imagination. My children have totally gone off them too, and having thought it a good way to get nutritious stuff into my fussy one, I’m now back to thinking what’s the point in that, because I want him to love FOOD and not liquid. I think his not getting his first tooth until he was 16 months is the root of our problems with food anyway, because he had to eat mush/puree for longer than is usually required. Food is just something really boring to him. I massively applaud your blog post and am only using my own bullet now to make soups (which as you say, are one of the loveliest things about food). I also have more money in my pocket – it was getting VERY expensive with all the fruit and veg you need to buy to make them. Like i said, all points really well made. x ps. we still need to meet up, I’ve still got your liquorice from Finland to give you!!!

    • March 9, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Kate, thanks so much for your comment, it’s really interesting to hear your experiences as someone who has actually given it a go. I’m quite relieved you agree it’s not all it cracked up to be! I rather went off on one already in this post but I do think these products are much like many others sold with ‘planned obsolesence’. I used a breadmaker for a while, inherited from my folks, and then I realised that the bread tasted really weird and yeasty compared to simple loaves made my hand, and it actually demanded more thought and planning from me because the recipes used more ingredients like milk powder, for instance. It’s now gathering dust on the top shelf of my larder cupboard. Would so love to meet for that drink, I’ve been getting my head around big stuff since new year but I think K and I might finally have a plan of action so feeling much more positive! Will message you xxx

  2. March 9, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Yep, great post. This sentence “Smoothies aren’t warming or soothing, they aren’t simmered and stirred, they are macerated mechanically and consumed quickly” made be think of retro science fiction, where astronauts or people dressed in silver foil jumpsuits and probably living in the future – 1980 or 2000 or something – would completely miss out on the pleasure of preparing and eating real food by just popping a pill or sucking a tube from a silver pouch.

    • March 9, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Hahaha, thanks Daniel 🙂 I am a fan of science fiction, perhaps it’s wept through into my ranty food blogging…

  3. March 9, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    I am much of the same opinion. And, I’ll add in ‘over-processed soups’ too. I’m the owner of a superblender and while I like it for making nut butters, I much prefer my hand blender for soups. I’ve tried to fall in love with making my soup ultra smooth and frothy, but I like the lumps of veg and the bits of meat to chew on.

    • March 10, 2015 at 7:08 am

      I’m with you Fiona, hand blenders are perfect for soup and easy to clean. Nut butters however, now you’re talking! Would like to try making those (may have to take it all back?) xx

  4. March 13, 2015 at 12:38 am

    Really interesting Chloe! The Nutribullet is yet another gadget that gets in the way of understanding food in the guise of health and well being. The march of the kitchen gadget revolution is depressing, before long there will be a generation of people who think you can only make coffee using a pressurised machine plumbed into the mains with a ‘steamer wand’….

  5. April 13, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    Really interesting piece Chloe. I’m a big fan of Micheal Pollen and if I’d read this before I acquired my high speed blender I think I might have been inclined to agree with you. But I’m loving being able to make smoothies without bits in. It’s a great way to use up the copious amount of kefir we make and I genuinely enjoy drinking them. Making nettle smoothies has been a complete revelation.

    • April 13, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      Some good points C – as I wrote on your recipe for that delicious cashew spread I didn’t really consider the other culinary uses of a super blender when I wrote this post!

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