In a series of interviews with Borough Market traders, regular blogger Victoria Brown continues to explore the inextricable ties between food and identity. This month she talks to Clare Skelton, owner of Flax Farm
Words and image: Victoria Brown
“I love food, but I also like to be healthy and feel good. Generally, I think you get to an age where you can’t just carry on abusing the body anymore.”
Clare Skelton started Flax Farm 11 years ago, producing linseed, linseed oil and healthy and delicious snacks, such as flaxjacks and cakes, made with linseed products. She tells me that linseed was her “first real taste of healthy eating that worked”.
Clare suffers from terrible back pain, joint problems and rosacea. She thinks these issues are either related to a severe wheat intolerance or leaky gut syndrome, which can flare up if you eat wheat. She hasn’t been diagnosed, but she saw a huge improvement when she cut out wheat and introduced linseed into her diet.
Before she made these changes, Clare was also suffering from depression. Partly because of this, but also because of her bad back, she wasn’t particularly active. These days she’s one of the most active people among her family and friends. “I’ve got so much more energy now and it’s completely related to the change in diet.”
Good food has always been important to Clare. “The whole family was into cooking and we grew our own fruit and vegetables.” She and her sister helped their mother prepare the fresh produce for dinner and in the process she not only learned to cook, but also learned “what good quality food should look like”.
Does she miss some of the foods from her childhood? “I think the only thing that makes me sad is that we were always really good at making pastry and I can’t eat it anymore.” That said, on the occasion that she has gone back and tried wheat she has found it disappointing. “The thing that I find amazing is that I love what I eat now.” Her stall sells gluten-free cakes—“as good as ones made with wheat”—and linseed has given her a great alternative for other things, like crackers and cereal. “I don’t really miss wheat at all.”
She does, however, find it frustrating how some people respond to her food choices. Dining out can be “an absolute pain: you get complete rubbish, everybody’s irritated by you. People just think you are being difficult.” I ask her whether she means the restaurant staff or the people she is dining with. “Both, funnily enough.” She explains that even her family find her diet a bit annoying, but are beginning to accept it because they can see the positive effects it has had. “You can’t really knock it, can you?”
For Clare, food is key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She believes that everyone could benefit from eating more lightly. “When you eat lightly and you meet every meal relatively hungry, the lightest meal tastes fantastic. The more you eat, the more you need richer foods, more calories, more sugar.”
She also believes healthy eating is key to a more active lifestyle. “I think I actually wanted to be more active; the fact that most people don’t is probably because they’re not actually feeling very good. I think a lot of people accept that as you get older you’re just going to feel lethargic and things are going to hurt, but it doesn’t have to be like that. The more you exercise, the better you feel.”
Delving deeper I find that Clare’s food choices go beyond connecting diet to a healthy, active lifestyle. They also point to a strong moral and ethical ethos about what is good to eat.
Clare mentions several times that she is not vegan “but has tendencies that way”. I ask her thoughts on animal welfare and it is clear that I have touched on something she feels very passionate about. She tells me about the problems with factory farming, industrial agriculture and aquaculture. She sees this as an issue not only from a health perspective (antibiotics and pesticides), but also because of their impact on the environment and the communities affected by that. “It’s just totally unacceptable.”
A positive difference
Good food not only makes Clare feel better physically, it’s also part of how she feels about herself as a person. “I don’t eat fast food, I eat something else, you know? I am something else.”
Clare’s holistic approach to food really sums up the essence of what this series is about. ‘I am what I eat’ can be taken very literally when we consider how her changes in diet have impacted on her health and, in turn, her lifestyle. Her food choices also tell us a lot about what makes her tick, her moral and political views, her values.
“Before I started eating linseed I hadn’t really eaten anything that made a positive difference. I think it gave me a huge appreciation for the connection between what I eat and how I feel. It made me think ‘I eat it and it makes me feel good. Oh gosh, I can really change the way I feel.’”