That’s it folks, eat anything you want. Eat as often, as much, as passionately as you want…and your life and the lives of your family will change forever, for the better… really. How can this be? Well, there’s just one little rule you have to follow…you can eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself.
In his new book, “Cooked,” Michael Pollan explores the history of cooking, or as he calls it, “a natural history of transformation.” This is not a cookbook, although it does contain many wonderful recipes, but more of an anthropological investigation of cooking and what it has meant, and can mean, to societies throughout history. Citing cooking as the one thing that truly separates us from animals, Pollan also takes a look at our abandonment of the kitchen and the “food industry” that has encouraged, and even profited from, our move to less healthy food.
Pollan makes some interesting assertions, including the value of cooking at home, not just to our health, but to the fabric of our families. The time we “save” by not cooking is not a deposit in the bank account of time spent with loved ones, but is actually just the opposite. We spend more time shopping for food and looking at screens, and less quality time with our spouses and children. Cooking at home connects families. How many of us have found memories of our mother or grandmother’s kitchen, “helping” where we could, but usually waiting in heightened anticipation for that wonderful meal to make its way to the table. And that’s another thing. The food industry has allowed us to eschew the table for the counter, the lazy chair, the couch or the car, all places we eat more regularly now than around a family table.
Another insight is that in this new industrialized food economy, we actually spend more time eating. Because we don’t really have to cook anything, we can eat more of what we want more often: more fat, more salt, more sugar. Since 1970, “we’re consuming five hundred more calories a day,” mostly in snacks and fast-food. Obesity rates have been shown to be inversely related to time spend on food preparation. In fact, Pollan cites research that show that time spend preparing food is actually a better predictor of a healthful diet than social class. Poor women who cook at home are more likely to have a healthful diet that wealthy women who don’t. All of these “food conveniences” have also encouraged the regular intake of what were once “special occasion” foods, a dessert (or two) for every meal.
So why don’t we just go back to cooking healthy, fresh food at home, spending more time with family and passing on those wonderful cooking traditions we learned from mom? “Not going to happen,” says Harry Balzer, a marketer that has spent decades working in the food industry. Why? “Because we’re basically cheap and lazy, and the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation how to cook?”
Mr. Balzer’s statement is painfully poignant. “Cheap” seems to be the way we look at food? Where can we get more for less? What’s on the “dollar menu” and why not “super-size” that for me please. What the food industry doesn’t want us to think about is all we’ve lost for this new found “convenience.” We’re losing our health, losing our family time, and losing our abilities to provide for ourselves. And what have we gained? Besides weight, not much. Most of the time savings is spent waiting in restaurants, driving to meals, or in front of the television.
But even Mr. Balzer recognizes the value of cooking at home. “You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. Cook it yourself. Eat anything you want-just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.” So maybe this year, instead of starting a new fad diet, consider cooking at home, even just one night a week. The benefits of that one night might encourage you to expand to two, or even three nights. Get the whole family involved and make an event of it. You’ll gain so much: family time, healthy eating, creating new traditions… and the one thing you might not gain is…more weight!
Blessing in the New Year,
(all facts and research quoted in this post are from Michael Pollan’s book, “Cooked, a Natural History of Transformation,” ISBN 978-1-59420-421-0)