Last week Time Magazine featured Mark Bittman and a rant regarding “the truth about home cooking.” He wants you to know that cooking is no mystery, but I found his words far more than mysterious. Mostly I found his diatribe condescending, shaming and contradictory. I wonder if he convinced anyone watching TV food shows to start cooking for themselves. Did anyone stopped eating away from home?
I am mostly disturbed by distortions and disconnects throughout the rant. Mr Bittman trashes the iconic fast food hamburger and ridicules folks for eating too much pizza. Then later in his article Mark recommends preparing that hamburger at home and throwing a few vegetables on to of pizza so that cooking “feels more accessible”. People are also ridiculed for eating too many “food like substances”, but he encourages everyone to shop at the local market without acknowledging that the grocery store is exactly where most people are buying those “food like substances.”
THE COST OF EATING POORLY
You would need to be living in a cave to not realize that the increasing incidence of disease in the US is linked to poor food habits. As Mr. Bittman suggests, most of us will benefit from eating a good enough balance of whole foods. But I encourage Bittman and anyone one else trying to tackle this challenge to dig much deeper to address the core challenges at hand.
1. Most people I know who are not cooking are either too tired, too busy or don’t know how. It is not enough to tell these folks to try harder. They are already exhausted or overwhelmed. In order to help people find the time and energy to prepare food at home from scratch we need to role back our expectations of the work day, of homework, or commute times, and how much we are supposed to accomplish. Shopping, preparing and eating good food takes much more time day after day than Bittman admits. Learning how to do it will take even more.
2. We have spent decades ignoring food’s rightful place. Everyone needs to step up in order to change this culture. That means every work place, every school setting, every sports club or venue needs to stop expecting people to work or play right through meal time. Individuals alone will struggle to establish healthier boundaries until social expectations change. Every one of us is challenged to honor food’s rightful place all day long.
3. Ironically eating out was a part of Mark Bittman’s youth, and is probably still a part of his life today. Why is it not possible to more healthfully eat out and cook at home?
There are more and more opportunities to eat well eating out. Even at fast food establishments. It is time to call out tired euphemisms for what they are: lies. Averages don’t tell the whole story. Just one 3000 calorie entree from a sit down restaurant compromises the whole equation.
Many fast food operators serve more modest portions, include options for fresh fruits and vegetables, offer lean protein sources and increasing sources of whole grains. Many people eat better at restaurants–especially when at home they end up polishing off a bag of chips and a bottle of soda in front of the TV. Instead of chastising people for eating away from home, encourage them to make better choices. It’s not where you eat; It’s what you eat when you get there.
4. Poor metabolic health will continue to compromise many consumers. Food is only one piece of the problem. Time and opportunity to be physically active along with more effective time and stress management are key pieces of the puzzle. In addition, we need to acknowledge the increasing impact of pharmaceuticals and other environmental chemicals that influence energy metabolism. Cooking is a wonderful idea, but the remedy for most consumers struggling with poor metabolic health may not be as simple as cooking dinner at home.
Mark Bittman wants you to understand that cooking at home is something that should be a source of comfort, pride, health, well being, relaxation and socialization. I agree. Let’s figure out a way to focus on the process of helping people develop the skills to prepare food at home if that is what they need. Let’s support a culture shift that allocates enough time and energy to enjoy good food no matter where we are eating. I’ve yet to witness a successful outcome from a torrent of shame and blame. Instead of being preoccupied with the outcome, I invite Mark Bittman to use his formidable platform to engage in the process.