Junk is cheaper than healthier food, but only if you pay someone else to make it for you. Over the last century Americans have spent more and more on food that they didn’t prepare themselves. I think this is in part because we tend to equate eating out as a form of entertainment, so we don’t necessarily factor it into our eating expenses. While most Americans have no problem spending 30+ dollars on a single meal for two at a restaurant, we somehow can’t justify spending 100 dollars at the supermarket for a week’s worth of food.
When looking to cut costs we usually try to determine what we can take on ourselves in order to avoid paying someone else to do it for us- make our own coffee vs. paying a Starbuck’s barista five dollars, giving ourselves a manicure vs. spending 15 dollars at the salon, etc. Since eating is a mandatory aspect of life and we must do it several times per day, it only makes sense that preparing meals at home would be the most practical way to eat better for (a lot) less money. So why are so many of us resistant to the idea of cooking our own meals at home?
In our current state of ill-health, Americans have begun to look to other (healthier) cultures around the world to determine what it is exactly that we are doing so wrong and they are doing right. Everyone has heard health claims based on ‘The Mediterranean Diet’, the ‘French Paradox’, and various other regional cuisines that appear to provide superior health and longevity to members of those societies. We try to pull fragments of these particular diet/lifestyle rituals and incorporate them into our fast paced, rigidly scheduled lives with (seemingly) little positive impact. I believe that this unsuccess is due in part to one common and vitally important aspect that these healthy populations share- the art of cooking in one’s own home. I’m not talking about being an incredible home-cook, or even cooking particularly well (although like anything, practice makes perfect). But I truly believe that the health of more ‘traditional’ societies is largely based upon the fact that there is at least one member of the household who devotes a great deal of time to planning and preparing meals at home.
Until pretty recently in Greece, you wouldn’t hear any discussion about calories, carbs, fat grams, antioxidants, or other ‘scientific’ nutritional markers. People knew what to eat because people had been eating the same thing for literally thousands of years. Women were traditionally the keepers of the home, and were taught basic food preparation by their mothers and grandmothers. (I think some of the traditional integrity is beginning to be lost in Greece, just as it is being lost in most other industrialized nations as both men and women leave the home for work). I don’t necessarily support women (or men) forgoing their careers to stay home and take care of the family, however, I do think that when traditional roles of food preparation are outsourced to fast-food and take-out, a society’s health will begin to suffer as a consequence.
So what’s missing from the American diet?
In regards to a culture’s overall health, I think the women of traditional societies have played the most vital role (as opposed to the specific diet being eaten). In regions all over the world, the women have taken the knowledge passed on to them from their mothers and grandmothers and used that knowledge to provide the lifeblood to the following generations. This lost art of culinary transference is one of the main reasons I believe Americans are suffering from being simultaneously overfed and undernourished. It is the forgotten customs and traditions we have traded in for convenience that have resulted in our current state of ill health. If we could only commit a little more time to honoring the culinary heritage of our past, I think we can reignite the health of our nation and ensure the wellbeing of our future generations.
Don't let me do all the talking! Let me know what you think in the comments.