This past weekend brought a huge infusion of information and inspiration (and, to be honest, a little bit of depression and resignation) into the way I think and write about food and cooking. As the editor of Edible Ohio Valley magazine, I joined my lovely colleagues in NYC for several days of business meetings. Then on Saturday, the open-to-the-public Edible Institute brought together speakers and experts from all around the country, people who are deeply involved in and passionate about healthful, sustainable, local food. The issues are enormously complex, and yet we are making progress toward a healthier food system.
I hauled out of bed early Saturday morning because I was most excited to hear from Mark Bittman. I’d read Bittman’s “Minimalist” recipe column in The New York Times for years, and have followed his work now that he writes about the politics and practicalities of food and nutrition. I’d heard that Bittman can be a bit bossy in both his material and in his presentation, so I was braced to be put off a little, even though I’m certainly among the converted to whom he was preaching. Instead, he surprised me by saying, “We need to NOT be dogmatic about eating healthfully.”
He said that if we want to have any influence at all over the food system in America (and I hope to), we need to be OK with incremental change. He described a “spectrum of eating” that runs roughly from a diet of Big Mac and fries to a diet of celery and carrot sticks. No matter where you are on this spectrum, from wildly processed food to completely unprocessed plants, it’s important to move toward the healthy end, bite by bite.
Eat less generally, eat less of the bad stuff specifically
… and don’t worry about it.
He also said, “The most radical thing you can do is to cook at home.” And this idea is very close to my heart. “Almost everything you cook at home is better for you; almost everything you buy that’s been prepared by someone else is not. Cooking gives you control. We outsource decisions about what we put in our bodies to companies that don’t care. That’s reckless.”
When you look at nutritional or dietary claims about food without looking at the food itself, you’re missing the point. Oreos are vegan. Cheeseburgers can be organic. Potato chips are gluten-free. None of these are particularly good for you.
Cooking at home. I understand that cooking isn’t the joy for everyone that it is for me. Not everyone knows how to cook. (I’m hoping to change that, incrementally, with this recipe blog and its emphasis on seasonal and healthful recipes.) And there’s a small portion of our population that simply doesn’t have the resources—time at the end of a two-job day, or equipment other than a microwave—to cook at home.
Want to send the big agricultural concerns and the massive manufacturers who are churning out cheap, crappy food a HUGE message? Want to help small to midsize farmers and producers have a fighting chance?
Every meal that you prepare for your family, from whole ingredients (wherever your procure them, though local is ideal) is a win. Just when I feel disempowered and frustrated by the enormous influence of those companies cranking out sugary soda and artery-clogging frozen dinners, just when it all seems so hopeless … I realize that simply sauteeing some fresh spring vegetables is an act of defiance. We have more power than we think.
So, what’s on YOUR menu tonight? Will you join the Cooking Revolution with me? It’ll be delicious.