I began my career as chef in the mid
1990’s just as the Food Network was gaining steam and chefs were
beginning to be regarded with what only can be compared to rock star
status. It was here the world of food began to change significantly.
Food took a huge shift from being something that sustains us and
gives us energy to thrive, what I like to call everyday food, to
almost mythic status. Elaborate dishes that no home chef would ever
make because of the multitude of ingredients or the amount of time it
would take. A truly unsustainable way of feeding yourself and your
family especially if you are subject to things like a busy work
schedule, children and of course a budget.
Food and how we feed ourselves has
become increasingly complicated, but ironically rather than hosting
shows that actually teach people how to cook, the cooking shows now
drawing an audience are all competitions, which serves only to make
more home cooks feel even more inadequate. The desire for these
foods pushed many of us into restaurants and out of our home
kitchens. The result has been an enormous increase in obesity and
all the diseases associated with it. Even worse we have become a
nation of eaters who rarely sit down around the table for a family
meal, and eat on the run from fast, casual restaurants in disposable
packaging that isn’t just destroying our health, but the health of
the planet as well.
I am trying desperately to gauge when
exactly we became so disconnected from the food chain that we now
simply ignore where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It
was not that long ago. I teach cooking classes to seniors quite
often, and when I speak to this generation of 70 and 80 somethings,
they all distinctly remember milk delivery in glass bottles, going to
the butcher to pick up their meat wrapped only in butcher paper and
twine, and their kitchen gardens, a must have for all rural dwellers.
Even my childhood growing up in the 1970s, grocery stores were a
fraction of the size because we simply did not have all these
packaged and processed foods and drinks. We drank water out of a tap
or a water fountain, not disposable plastic bottles. So my best
guess is about 30-35 years ago we had a major shift in how we view
food and where it comes from.
Most of the time I tend to fall into
the trap that it is America’s addiction to cheap food as the major
driver, but a trip to Europe last winter proved me wrong there. Every
meal we went out to, was probably ½ or 2/3 of what I would have
spent in the U.S. for much lower quality food. So in fact our food
isn’t quite as cheap as you think, and when people consistently eat
out, it is quite expensive. We could then blame many of the
additives and ingredients in packaged food that trigger those same
dopamine receptors as heroin, causing us to become actually addicted
to those junk foods. While we
all talk about how to deal with the opioid epidemic and the growing
numbers of deaths related to it, why aren’t we talking about
addiction to sugar which kills more people annually through diseases
such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer than drug addiction.
Perhaps the sugar industry has a better lobbyist than the drug
As I continued to struggle with the
idea of when and how we made this shift, my husband who is a bit
older and a child of the 60’s, reminded me it was all about
convenience. As women made the shift into the workplace, this did
not absolve them of their so-called wifely duties, such as cooking
and cleaning. However there are only so many hours in the day, so
companies designed products to help those busy women. We started
with items like Hamburger Helper and Shake and Bake, but in 50 years
we have evolved into complete frozen meals and aisles and aisles of
packaged foods to help cut your cooking and prep time. All of this
created in the name of convenience and making life easier.
Here is a fundamental question, Is all
of this convenience food making our lives easier and better?
I don’t have an answer but, I can
confidently say as convenient as all this may be it is causing a
whole host of environmental and health degradation that are having a
significant impact on our communities. It is great to have all this
convenience food that makes dinner prep quick and easy, but if the
ingredients in those foods can lead to poor health outcomes and
chronic illness perhaps we should think twice about purchasing these
products. I tell clients all the time that those these foods seem
inexpensive and convenient at the time, but you will pay with your
health later on.
The conversation could go on and on,
but the why’s at this point aren’t that important to me. What is
important is how do we change our patterns of behavior and learn to
embrace, or should I say re-embrace a simpler way of life, which
inevitably includes how we feed ourselves. The task is monumental
and when looked at as a whole, rather overwhelming. Like most
change, it is hard to do but if you approach it in small reasonable
ways, you can successfully change how you do anything.
So here are 3 easy steps to get you on
the path towards a better way of feeding yourself and your family.
If you get coffee out, which why would you when home brew is a
fraction of the cost, use a re-usable thermal mug with a lid and
never be without your re-usable canvas shopping bags. 2 small steps
which can make a big difference for the planet but the last one is
for your health. Aim to eat 1 meal everyday that is from only whole
plant based foods, aim for absolutely no plastic films as well.
These small steps go a long way to improving your health and the
health of the planet.