Taken from The Guardian

‘I think we have an obsession with diets. With fad diets.” This was Ella Mills, the food writer behind Deliciously Ella and bestselling author of arguably the most successful fad diet cookbook series in recent years. Her eponymous first book was the UK’s fastest-selling debut cookbook ever, and she has since gone on to launch two central-London delis, create her own range of “energy balls” and even release a skincare range in collaboration with Neal’s Yard. Speaking on last Friday’s Today programme, the blogger was keen to distance herself from so-called “clean eating” and, cleverly, from the crescendo of criticism surrounding the trend.
“I’ve never described myself as ‘clean’,” said Mills, nimbly shadow-boxing with a litheness that probably shouldn’t surprise us, coming from a 25-year-old yogi. She described her frustration at being dubbed the “queen of clean”, and was quick to point out the moralistic overtones that language such as “clean eating” ascribes to food. It was a smart move, preempting the backlash that would come from that evening’s premiere of the BBC documentary Horizon: Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth.

I think that "ascribe to" is just another phrase for "due to". But here in the bold sentence, what does it mean? Mills was quick to point out the moralistic overtones that language such as "clean eating" due to food? I don't think I can grasp the meaning of it, could anybody help explain this to me? Thank you very much.

  • Whichever dictionary you are using is leading you astray. Can you say why you think the verb ascribe has that meaning?
    – mdewey
    Nov 30, 2020 at 14:48
  • I think the use is an error. Nov 30, 2020 at 14:49
  • @mdewey Could you elaborate? I checked not only one dictionary but here is one from Google. Ascribe means regarding something as being due to a cause. For instance, "he ascribed Jane's short temper to her upset stomach"
    – Y.T.
    Nov 30, 2020 at 14:53
  • 1
    Actually, I just read it a little more carefully, and it isn't really an error. But the author is trying to be entertaining, and playful. Don't try too hard to understand; there isn't anything important to learn here. Nov 30, 2020 at 15:05
  • 1
    In your bold sentence, add the words "suggest are" - the idea is that using language like "clean eating" suggests that eating healthful food is a matter of morality, and is 'virtue signalling' Nov 30, 2020 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


The author is pointing out that the term "clean eating" has a deeper meaning for most people than simple eating certain types of food. I believe their meaning is that it conveys more of an overall lifestyle choice and goes beyond mere diet.

The "moralistic overtones" is due, I believe, to the idea that "clean eating" implies that not only should the food be "clean" but that where it comes from, how it's produced should also be "clean". Beyond that, the person should live their life in a "clean" fashion.

Much of this seems to be tied to the local culture around this particular personality, Ella Mills, and it may not translate well into other English-speaking communities outside the UK.

  • This makes sense to me. Thank you!
    – Y.T.
    Nov 30, 2020 at 15:10
  • I don't think she's saying that the moralistic overtones are about where the food comes from - rather that food faddists often think that eating their way is not only nutritionally 'good' but, in some way, morally 'good' in itself. Nov 30, 2020 at 18:03

Taking the section

She [...] was quick to point out the moralistic overtones that language such as “clean eating” ascribes to food.

So, if you speak of clean eating you are, according to her, ascribing moralistic overtones to food. A synonym for ascribes here might be attributes.

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