Cupids Health

Snake oil is still snake oil, no matter which celeb extols its amazing health benefits | Catherine Bennett


As with so many of the family’s talents, a passion for food retail is a side of contemporary royal life you might never guess from watching The Crown.

Has there been any hint of the Queen’s long connection, via the royal warrant, with tomato ketchup? With Bendicks Bittermints? Admittedly, the series concludes before Charles developed his hugely profitable line in organic goods, Sarah Ferguson emerged as a face of diet products and Eugenie married into celebrity tequila, a context in which Meghan’s newly announced interest in foamy beverages can be seen as hardly less traditional than a move into competitive dressage.

The Duchess of Sussex has invested in Clevr Blends, an oat milk drink manufacturer in California co-founded by Hannah Mendoza and a man – perhaps a rather shy man? – called Roger Coppola, its chief operating officer. “This investment is in support of a passionate female entrepreneur who prioritises building community alongside her business,” Meghan told Fortune. “I’m proud to invest in Hannah’s commitment to sourcing ethical ingredients and creating a product that I personally love and [that] has a holistic approach to wellness.”

Meghan’s choice of a “wellness” brand that relies heavily, along with oats, on waffle about ritual and mysteriously mood-boosting, focus-improving, energising and stress-reducing plants, again places her firmly on the side of the Prince of Wales, who remains Britain’s most distinguished sucker for homeopathy and all things holistic.

Could her own venture into semi-spiritual microfoaming drinks even be the start of family healing? Long before Meghan fell in love with augmented oat-milky drinks, almost before the industrialisation of wellness itself, Prince Charles’s outfit had diversified into Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture, an artichoke and dandelion formula. And it might have done better had the NHS not confirmed at the time, “you don’t need to ‘detox’ because there is no evidence that it does you any good”.

As with mRNA vaccines, bizarre food product claims have advanced – albeit at their own, stress-free pace – and maybe nowhere more so than in California. Clevr’s powders are mixable using water and a holistic battery-powered item ($18) into various frothy drinks rhapsodised in terms that pass in the wellness world for persuasive. “Expect grounded, zen-like energy – perfect for long days of focus.” Again in line with commercial wellness tradition, a plus point is also what Clevr’s (non-recyclable) packs will not do – “long term energy without the crash or jitters”, as if a baked bean maker stressed that its product will not give you a hangover.

Another big selling point is “adaptogens”, which – the science gets a little refined for the layperson here – seems to be another word for plants and herbs with a rumoured beneficial if non-specific, unmeasurable and dependably non-guaranteed health benefit. If the term is unfamiliar, that’s possibly because the EU – not that this need now concern us – does not consider adaptogens “appropriate for a marketing authorisation”. Might we have found the upside, or even the remedy, to chlorinated chicken?

“The adaptogenic herbs,” the firm explains, “promote smooth energy, and help the bodies deal with the long-term impact of stress.” Though there is this caveat for anyone whose subsequent energy/stress was not as attractively described. “*The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. Our products are intended to make you feel amazing.” And what better time to test their powers, you might think, along with Meghan, than during a stressful pandemic, amid overflowing hospitals and a state mass fatality programme. As with Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo in the 1926 Wodehouse story, you can’t rule out yet undocumented potential, if only as a tonic to the trade.

That the wellness industry should be sustainable when only science promises protection from the virus must hearten investors who feared that, at some point, consumers might turn against products that have recently gone from merely insulting their intelligence to looking strictly indefensible – or comic, according to taste. There was always a chance a wellness influencer might contrast the evidence-based contribution to human health of, say, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, creators of the Pfizer vaccine, to the sort of costly wellness attributed, as it is on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, to “healing mushrooms” and find themselves feeling a little stupid – sorry, Stupd.

Nothing if not broadminded, Goop does consult a doctor on virus avoidance (social distancing), at the same time that it features, under a wellness heading, its own brand Perfect Attendance immune-something elderberry chews. “After my first week of taking Perfect Attendance,” says a Goop researcher, by way of evidence, “I feel great.” On adaptogens, however, we get the Paltrow equivalent of a full Cochrane review: the plants “merit a good deal of the hype they’re getting if Goop staffers’ experiences with them so far are any indication”.

If the wellness industry’s proved immunity to sustained scientific derision emboldened Meghan to declare her commitment to plant-based wellness in the time of emergency morgues, it must still have taken some nerve to depict Clevr as a notably female exercise in entrepreneurship, in a field where this is commonplace. The brand can, it’s true, be styled “woman-led”, but so could the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher. And if politics benefited from the appearance of a Tory party catering for both sexes, women hardly require further proof that they, overwhelmingly, are the principal targets of the wellness industry’s undiscriminating encouragement of magical thinking, from its anti-stress latte powders to Goop’s offer of Psychic Vampire Repellent.

The latter (offering protection from negative energy) was among “dubious wellness products” mentioned in January by Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, shortly before he became a household name. “Myths and misinformation have been put on steroids,” he said, “by the availability of misleading claims online.” They promise, with unstinting support from wellness professionals, to be one thing Covid-19 will leave unchanged.



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