“Cooking is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable.” -Michael Pollan-
Whatever happened to cooking? It’s become a spectator sport, hasn’t it? TV shows starring celebrity chefs are very popular, but it seems that cooking in our homes has become less so. We see chefs making wonderful meals on TV, along with all kinds of people competing to make the best recipes. But simultaneously, our supermarkets are selling more commercially prepared foods than ever. If they’re supplying, somebody’s buying! At the very least, chefs are now bringing us awareness about the types of ingredients that we should be using. They promote real food, often organic, which they sometimes grow themselves. When asked, most people will tell you that cooking takes up too much time. We’re very busy these days, especially watching our many different screens. Michael Pollan addresses these issues in his book “Cooked”. (You can also watch the series on Netflix). After reading it, I am more convinced than ever that we should be cooking our own meals.
Earth sustains us, help sustain the Earth
We can get a lot of satisfaction out of it. Cooking is another activity that connects us to our roots. Our ancestors, mostly women, have been cooking for ages. When we cook, we are participating in an essential activity undertaken by a lineage of souls throughout time. Cooking as tradition, but more than that, cooking as essentially human.
Cooking helps us to avoid all the chemicals needed to enhance and preserve processed foods. I know that food additives have been approved by food safety agencies, but let’s just say that I’m very skeptical about the findings done by various studies, given the influence of the lobbying industry. Some substances that have been approved are now linked to cancer and other health problems. If we want to avoid genetically modified ingredients and pesticides on our food, we can choose to eat organic. It can be more expensive, but not if we can grow our own. Like I said in my last blog, gardening keeps us outdoors, exercising, preparing meals with what we grow and as a result, staying healthy!
Another perk is that when we buy ingredients with minimal packaging, or grow them ourselves, we avoid all the plastic and wrappings that come with takeout or with the prepared meals we get at the supermarket. Look in your garbage can. How much of what’s in there is used to wrap the food that you buy?
The choices we make around food have a huge impact because we consume so much of it, we need it every day of our lives, multiple times a day. It impacts our health and the health of the planet.
Aren’t food blogs wonderful? The recipes, the videos, the gorgeous pictures, it’s all so motivating! What’s great is that we can search for recipes based on the ingredients we have in our fridges, or in our gardens. That way we don’t waste what we have. Here are a few of my favorites: http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/ https://www.101cookbooks.com/ http://kitchenvignettes.blogspot.com/ I really love watching the recipe videos on the Kitchen Vignettes blog. They are beautiful works of art!
It takes a real commitment to find the time to prepare healthy meals daily. It’s okay to make small changes gradually—baby steps! Otherwise we can get overwhelmed and lose our resolve. And when we take on something new, we should be willing to let something else go. Otherwise, we’re just adding stress to our busy lives, trying to cram too many activities into a limited amount of time. For example, instead of enrolling the kids in yet another activity on the weekend and having to chauffeur them around, can we use that time instead for cooking with them? Through the ages, that’s how children learned all their skills, by watching and helping their elders. We can plan the meals for the coming week together, then make healthy bars, cookies and muffins that can be put in everyone’s lunches. They’ll be zero-waste because they won’t come in a wrapper. Placed in the freezer and taken out later in the week for lunches, they’ll stay fresh. Baking with our children helps them to better understand fractions, so they get a lesson in math to boot! And they get what they probably need the most—our attention. How many pastimes do we really engage in with our children?
It also helps to prep our veggies ahead of time for the meals we’ll be having in the next few days. Eating meals based on plants, with a bit of protein in there, is the healthiest way to go. But it can be very time-consuming. Most vegetables can be prepped and cut a few days ahead of time.
Shredding carrots in the food processor doesn’t take very long and they can be used in soups, salads, muffins and the like. I add them to oatmeal, along with nuts, raisins and spices—delicious! This carrot cake oatmeal idea comes from my other daughter, Sarah. Both daughters are great cooks and we love sharing recipes.
When we make our own mayonnaise and salad dressings, we choose better quality oils and avoid all the chemical additives that are often in the store-bought ones. They take only minutes to prepare and will last about two weeks in your fridge. I know that there are companies out there that can ship you weekly meals with recipes and all the ingredients prepped ahead of time. It is convenient. But if you can do it yourself, the planet will thank you for not buying into all the packaging needed for this approach to cooking. Instead, use tips from cooks like Tamar Adler. She inspires us to be less wasteful and more efficient in the kitchen. I love the healthy and tasty recipes in her book An Everlasting Meal.
When Sarah was in her twenties, she started inviting friends over to her place for dinner parties. Not long after, she expressed how rewarding it was to have people rave over the food she cooked for them. She understood why I’m so passionate about cooking. She’s right, there’s a lot of positive reinforcement involved when you make delicious, pleasing meals for others. And when you know that it contributes to a lifestyle that makes sense for your health, for your community and for the planet, the food tastes that much better.