“Think of your body as a fish tank….what if we throw in too much food or the wrong kind of food (acid-producing food like dairy, sugar, and animal protein) and the fish are unable to consume or digest it all, and it starts to decompose and putrefy” (Young, 2006).
This passage is from Dr Robert Young’s book The pH Miracle, the food-bible for all alkaline-extremists. In this pioneering book, Dr Young proclaims that pH is the most important measure of health, more so than any other biochemical or physiological test. Just like measuring the pH of a fish-tank to keep the fish alive, our pH is must be controlled to keep us healthy: Young believes that over-acidity is the single cause for all cancers (Young, p. 3 2006). Although Dr Young was arrested for fraud in 2014, (Allyn, 2014), his alkaline legacy has continued: a book talk and signing by alkaline enthusiast and author Natasha Corrett in Waterstones, Manchester in March 2015 saw Natasha speak of how influential Dr Young had been on her career. The almost exclusively female audience seemed engrossed by Corrett’s description of how the alkaline diet had healed her “toxic” body and have the ability to cure “incurable diseases” (Corrett, 2015).
The bit about fish almost seems reasonable in comparison…
The alkaline diet is founded on the belief that our bodies become acidic by eating unhealthy foods, as well from chemicals and toxins in our modern environment. I illustrate this in my piece by measuring the pH of ‘modern’ substances: bleach, alcohol and descaler rather than just foods. Their advice is not only a radial dietary change (similar to that of the plant-based diet), but also a daily measure of saliva or urine pH. They also suggest alkalizing the body in other more unusual ways, such as bathing in magnesium flakes or walking barefoot in soil (Bond, 2015).
Just be glad they haven’t suggesting drinking bleach.
Despite the fact that alkaline dieters ignore the body’s physiological mechanisms for balancing pH, and the fact that litmus paper cannot accurately predict saliva or urine pH (Dwyer, 1985), alkaline dieters seem convinced of its powerful health benefits.
My piece, a stop-motion video Fish-tank, is an interpretation of how the alkaline diet is visualised, assessing the body’s physiology through strips of litmus paper and Young’s analogy of the body as a fish tank. It allowed me to explore how the “inner geography” of the body is encouraged as part of our everyday imagination in the discourse of healthy eating (Lupton, p.75, 1996). A well-known example of this is when yogurt adverts make us picture the “good” bacteria in guts as “combatants…of our immune system” (Varul, p.10 2011). Likewise, alkaline foods are seen to actively fight against the “toxic acid” that builds up in our bodies as if it were the stagnant water of a fish tank (Young, 2006). I used stop-motion in this piece because its interrupted quality can be likened to the inaccurate, disordered or confused way in which the alkaline diet thinks about the body.
In this piece, the process of visualising the pH of the different substances made me realise how difficult it was to translate these colourful strips of information into any form of meaningful, let alone scientific understanding of pH balance. Furthermore, the colour that the litmus paper turned does not necessarily correspond with its internal pH: lemons are alkaline inside the body despite their acidic appearance. Therefore, my video demonstrates how the alkaline diet offers misleading visual representations of the body, but also how powerful these visual concepts have been in fueling the belief that the alkaline lifestyle is a better way of living.
Allyn R. 2014. “Controversial alternative health provider pleads not guilty to charges.” CBS8.URL:http://www.cbs8.com/story/24544235/accused–fake–doctor–pleads–not–guilty–to–felony–charges. Accessed July 2015
Corrett N. 2015. Honestly Healthy Cleanse. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
Dwyer J, Foulkes E, Evans M, Ausman L. 1985. “Acid/alkaline ash diets: time for assessment and change.” J Am Diet Assoc 85(7):841–5
Varul MZ. 2011. “The Healthy Body as Religious Territory: Health Consumerism as New Religious Practice?” In Emerging geographies of belief, ed. Brace C et al. 239-254. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.
Young RO. 2006. “Disease is Acidity! pH Miracle Living: Discover the alkalarian approach to optimal health.” URL:http://www.phmiracleliving.com/Articles/2006–10–28–DiseaseIsAcidity.html. Accessed July 2015.