I recently finished reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. Most of what Mr. Pollan has to say, I agree with completely and always have. He espouses a lifestyle of food choices that is very much the way my family has always lived. His food rules in particular make me feel like AT LAST!!! Someone who isn't touting the next food fad, low carb, high protein, low fat, grapefruit, boiled egg kind of ridiculousness. Back in 2012, I posted a list of my own "healthiest eating tips ever". There are some definite parallels between Mr. Pollan's conclusions and my own. :-)
Mr. Pollan's points about cooking being about more than eating: about community, culture, connection, socializing and simple pleasure... he could not be more right, in my opinion. I think very much of what we teach our children we teach by the vehicle of cooking and food.
If you are over 50 or if you came from a family that still held a rich heritage of cooking and food, think back to what you learned from a life lived around the kitchen. In my house, we learned some very cool lessons. Like, the kitchen is not only a woman's domain. My Dad was the main breakfast cook in the house (Mom liked to sleep in). We learned the importance of planning. We learned the value of our grandparents and their wisdom. We learned that even very intelligent people do really stupid things from time to time. We learned about standards, about thrift, about making wise decisions with your money. We learned about priorities. We learned the pleasure of a task done well, and the simple joy of working. We learned about tradition, how to make oliebollen and a host of other important things. The kitchen is where most of the funny stories of my childhood took place because, hello! We were always in the kitchen.
He does make one point that I think completely overlooks my family and the many, many other families like us. Mr. Pollan writes about the statistics showing that Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than they ever have, and less than any other country in the world.
What I want to know, Mr. Pollan, does that statistic include the largely rural people like me, who do not spend all their food dollars at a grocery store, convenience store, restaurant or drive through?
We seldom buy meat. We hunt it. Those "food dollars" appear in our budget hidden in the costs of ammo or arrows, game bags, freezer paper and a lot of dish soap (processing game is messy!). Many of our "food dollars" were actually spent in the garden department of the Home Depot or a nursery, buying plants, seeds, bags of manure, fencing to thwart our 4-legged visitors, etc.We spent quite a bit of our "food dollars" on buying a pig at the local 4-H auction, and then having it processed. Some of our "food dollars" were spent in the form of a fishing license. Some were spent buying chicks and then feed at the local feed store. There are a lot of families just like us: hunting our food, fishing, growing a garden. We spend our food dollars in ways that don't look like we're buying food at all, at first, and ultimately, we get more food and more health for a lower investment.
I have never subscribed to any kind of food fad, never worried about how much fat or gluten is in our meals. I believe in cooking real food. When you grow a garden, you can't help but to eat seasonally and you can't get any more local than your own patch of ground. When the tomatoes are ripe and the jalapenos and green chilis are ready, we eat a lot of Mexican food. We eat pizza. I make it. We eat cookies and cakes and chocolate eclairs. I make most of them. I don't think a box of ding dongs is going to kill you, but it sure shouldn't be your main meal every day. Once, having been abducted by aliens or something, I bought a box of Hamburger Helper. It was horrid. I never learned how to "cook" with a can of cream of something soup poured over tater tots and topped with something else. Here's the thing, though. We don't do this to "be healthy". It is simply the way we have always lived. It is the routine of my life. Here we are, both over 50. We're healthy. We have both had health issues come up in the past, but were fortunately able to overcome them. Neither one of us takes any medication. Neither one of us has ever had a struggle with weight, and neither do either of our children, who both grew up to be excellent cooks. Go figure.
Strictly as an aside, Mr. Pollan also mentions the amount of time cleaning up after a meal, and aptly points out the if it takes you less than 5 minutes to clean up...what did you really COOK? If we were to count up the time cleaning up after the part where we just get ready to cook: after the butchering, after the gardening, after the hunting, after after after... we would totally blow the curve, I'm sure.
According to Mr. Pollan's food rules, we should avoid anything that our grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food, cuisine notwithstanding, of course, since no one in my family before my generation would have any idea what a tamale might be. He did later amend that to great-grandmother, since a grandmother today might well be young enough to have grown up on processed food. Mine was born 114 years ago, so I don't have to go back another generation. Grandma's diet was very simple and very predictable. Beans. Fish. Cheese. Lots of vegetables. A little bit of chicken. An occasional bit of bacon or salt pork, added for flavor. Some eggs. And bread. Lots and lots of bread, because Grandpa was a baker. That is a very good description of what I eat, a hundred years later, if you add in game meat.
Mr. Pollan writes one food rule that hits a particular nerve for me. "Cook". Yes, it's that simple. You will avoid many processed foods if you simply cook real food for yourself.
There have been many times over the years when I have encountered someone, especially if it was a family with children, where the parents would say they don't cook. Then I do one of those... shaking my head, "Huh???" things. How do you NOT cook when you have a family? I made no picture. How could anybody afford to eat out all the time, for one thing? And who would want to? But mostly, I just never have understood being able to say "We don't cook for our family" any more than I could understand saying, "Nah, my kids don't need to know how to read." I just... try to think of how that works and get...nothing. No comprehension.
Please don't get me wrong. I understand completely that time is an issue for many families. At least, it is perceived to be an issue. The families I know who "don't cook" DO have time to watch a lot of TV. They have time to "like" their friends' posts, peruse online auctions and read internet articles about the latest evil food additive and how it will cause the end of civilization. They do have time to drive into town, buy their greasy bags of fast food garbage and bring it home. Some of them have enough time to attend group meetings on how to lose weight. Many of them have the time to go to the doctor a lot. They spend as much time at the grocery store as I do: they're just buying different things: single-serve packages of this and that, little trays with processed meat, cheese and crackers apportioned out for them (that product completely baffles me), microwaveable pockets filled with everything from peanut butter to pepperoni. Some of them spend more time in the grocery store, simply because they are spending so much time looking at different varieties of foods, trying to find the ones that say they are 'low fat' or 'heart healthy' or 'less sugar'. So I don't think it's really a matter of time as much as it is a matter of priorities. Maybe by adjusting priorities, the meetings and most of the doctor visits can go away,