My true story starts about one hundred years ago in a village in a rural part of central Ohio. There a family (mother, father, and six children) had a small home with enough land to grow food for themselves, including apples, walnuts, and golden raspberries, as well as flowers to sell for income. The parents were such good cooks that they also ran a local restaurant.
The youngest daughter married a boy from a nearby small town. They were ambitious and both went to work out of the home to pay for their starter house. The mother, now a widow, took care of her two grandchildren, a girl and a boy while their parents were away at work. She cooked for them every day, and the boy learned to make pies from her.
Eventually, the daughter and her husband decided to leave the countryside and move to a suburb of a large eastern city. The husband bought a store, and he and his wife worked long hours to be successful. The wife continued to cook, but the food she bought came from the large grocery store nearby, and much of it was processed and packaged. There was a yard large enough to grow vegetables behind their home, but nobody had the time or interest in doing that. In fact, the father of this family believed that only poor country people too ignorant to know better would want to grow their own food.
Now it was time for their eldest daughter to have a family. She married a man from the Midwest, and she returned with him to live there in a suburb near a large Midwestern city. She cooked occasionally, but mostly she bought fast food and ready-made meals for her family. This daughter had always been heavy, and after having three children, a girl and two boys, she found that she could not lose the weight, no matter how hard she tried, so she had an operation to have her stomach reduced. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bariatric_surgery)
Meanwhile, her husband was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure and two of her three children also had serious weight issues. Her eldest daughter had to have stomach surgery too, and her youngest son became morbidly obese. The other son didn’t cook at all, and he married a girl who had never cooked. All their food is prepackaged or bought at fast food outlets.
This American family is middle class, educated, and health conscious. They use doctors and read articles about medical issues. They didn’t realize that they were choosing a way of eating that would give them obesity, diabetes, and other serious diseases. The information- why eating foods produced by industrial farming in the now normalized manner of huge portions with meat at almost every meal is unhealthy- was not available to them through mainstream media outlets.
Changes in the nutrient quality of the food itself as it is grown on exhausted soil through industrial agribusiness processes; the inexpensiveness of food (the U.S. has the cheapest food in the world!); and the idea promoted by advertising that food (and I use the word loosely!) should be processed and pre-cooked for immediate consumption (let’s not waste any time on that dreary chore of cooking!) are some of the complex causes for this weight gain in many Americans, but even doctors seem unaware of this or unwilling to talk about it to their patients!
I suggested in this story that there are furthermore two important cultural reasons for the disruption of healthy eating patterns: the loss of the skill of cooking in many families as processed and fast foods replaced real sit-down meals, and the deep alienation of Americans from the sources of their food. Joel Salatin, Michael Pollen, and Barbara Kingslover write about these major shifts in our American traditions.
Michael Pollen in his In Defense of Food has some good suggestions about how, through simple small steps, one can reverse this debilitating trend and bring back older more sustainable habits. His mantra is: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
So how does one begin cooking again and start reconnecting with the staples of a good healthy diet? First, buy food that is grown or raised locally. This food will appear to be more expensive than the stuff trucked in from thousands of miles away, but it will taste much better! Dallas, which is a great foodie city, turns out to have a lot of organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. I pick up my weekly box of vegetables every Friday from one of them (https://johnsonsfarm.com/farm-market/produce/csa/). Still experimenting with recipes to use up all the jalapeño peppers I got in my first order (did you know that you can make cowboy candy with them? http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/candied-jalapeno-or-cowboy-candy-453141)
Another great way to get into cooking is to grow one’s own food. This doesn’t have to be a big deal: a couple of containers with herbs or tomatoes or salad will work to begin. I have no garden in the apartment I rent in Dallas (though I am in the process of looking for a community garden to join), and my balcony is too shaded to grow much. However, I have installed a grow light (total price $35 with bulbs) in my kitchen to raise rosemary, cilantro, mint, basil, and chives this winter. And I have all these herbs right at hand when I’m cooking!
Cooking is a better choice for using your time, and growing food is the best choice for reconnecting with the earth beneath your feet!