Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Just cook.

I have spent the last ten years exploring a simple solution to a complex problem. I’m not sure I have the perfect solution either, but I’ve come to believe that perfection is overrated. The problem is the food environment in which our three children are growing up. We live in the United States, but this kind of food environment and the problems associated with it are spreading steadily to other parts of the world, even as I write.  The solution I’ll propose may disappoint you at first. It’s surprisingly low-tech and I can’t even call it mine. It belongs to my mother and my big sister, who taught me everything I know about simple home cooking. And, in some ways, it belongs to every parent who ever passed on a family recipe to the next generation. Little did they know, that food-splattered index card might hold some of the secrets of their family’s long-term health and happiness.

Am I being too dramatic? Maybe. But the truth is that eating in America is becoming a question of survival. Not survival as it was in the old days, when people were fighting for every scrap and every calorie (sadly, many people in the world still are) but in the US, the epidemic of childhood obesity threatens to leave our children with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Survival, for them, now means having the sheer strength to go against the unrelenting messages being delivered to their 5 senses via fast foods tailored to addict and ubiquitous food marketing, designed to make them consume.

There’s no doubt that this problem is complex, but the solution doesn’t have to be. Here it is: Just cook. If you have a kitchen, no matter how small, and if you have access to a source of fresh foods, you’re in business. We have come to see cooking as a series of dangerous and complicated stunts – acts that should not be attempted at home and ones that should only be performed by trained professionals. We have come to see cooking as a luxury activity that demands significant time, money and preparation.

My grandmother never learned how to drive a car and certainly never attended culinary school, but she could roll out a dozen perfectly round rotis (Indian flat breads) with her eyes closed.  She learned to cook because the kitchen was her workshop, her artist’s studio and her temple all rolled into one. Kitchens were where food came from in those days and in her kitchen, she was the Queen.  My grandmother had no professional training but, like many grandmothers, her meals are talked about and celebrated generations later. They represent all of the love and care she passed on to her children and to theirs. And because of that love, they were inherently healthy.

When we cook for our families, we have control over the ingredients we’re using and ultimately, over the nutrients that are supporting our family’s health. Even if we’re just beginning on this journey back to the kitchen (back to a healthy, gratifying and celebratory way of eating) we are on our way to a sustainable solution. Just cook, especially if you have kids. Just. Cook.


  1. Dear Ms Maya Adam,

    My name is Dimitris Lourakis and I have the chance to live in Greece where things aren't yet as dramatic as in the US regarding nutrition. I am an English teacher (I own a small private language school). I attended your course in coursera and I found a lot of interesting and useful nutrition tips. My wife and I really enjoyed the assignments and we made some greek traditional dishes to present to the community. Here in Greece thankfully a lot of cooking for the children especially babies and toddlers is done thankfully by the grandmothers
    who usually take care of the children because both parents work in the mornings. We have a five-year-old boy and I have been cooking for him every day since he was 6 months. I have this luxury because I happen to work in the afternoons and my wife in the mornings. I try to read books about nutrition to provide healthy meals to my family. It would be extremely useful if you provide healthy and smart combinations of foods. For example, which foods should or shouldn't be eaten together. For instance, if you eat rice with lentils, this combination will give you a first class protein.
    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Dimitris Lourakis

  2. Dear Dr. Maya Adam,

    My name is Zynhia Barrios. I am one of the students who attended your coursera course, and I'm most grateful for it!
    I am Peruvian, and we don't have the alarming rates of childhood obesity you explained that the U.S. is experiencing, but there is a risk that we might get there soon.

    So, I wanted to let you know that we have improved our food choices at home: we are now eating more vegetables, fruits, and homemade treats, than we used to eat; and since the course started, we managed to keep ourselves aways from fast foods and processed food. :)
    I am also spreading the word on healthy food choices thru my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/AtoZimage). And last month the Peruvian president issued a law banning junk food in schools, and it is supposed to be mandatory in a couple of months.
    So those are some good news from Peru. :)

    I will be following your blog, and reading your recipes!
    Thank you very much, one more time.


  3. Hi Dr. Adam,

    I really enjoyed your Coursera course. It was great having a cooking challenge each week!

    :) Diana

  4. Dear Maya Adam,
    I am a Coursera fan and I have discovered your classes there with enthusiasm! You are trying to promote back a healthy lifestyle that can be of such benefit for our families! 'Just cook' is a simple yet powerful solution to many problems. I have loved the graceful simplicity and efficiency of your classes, it was full of smiles, wisdom and good tips!
    I live in France where I strive to do exactly the same: cooking most of our meals, getting the whole family to enjoy home-made food, sharing happy breakfast/lunch/dinner moments that also become savoury memories! Luckily I believe eating together at fixed times of the day is still (more or less) a tradition in France, although professional life doesn't always allow that now. We do have less and less time and I think we have to bear in mind that it is not only essential to take time to cook (even if it is just a little) but to eat too.
    Your classes also make it clear that it is not excessively difficult to cook, and it is beautiful and fun (and even more fun with kids around!)
    I'll be delighted to follow and support your blog!

  5. Dear Maya Adam,
    I am Luciana Podschun and I am one of your students who attended the course on Coursera, I am so glad for having enrolled in your course, it was my first on Coursera and the experience was very positive. Here in Brazil, we have the same problems as in the USA, child obesity. Your course gave us an insight how we can make balanced meals in a simple way. Since I started the course I have changed my children' meal for better. They have always enjoyed vegetables but now they are enjoying much more. I am also thinking about writing a blog with my own experiences in the kitchen. Many mothers need to see how easy is cooking, they need to be inspire to make healthy food for their children. What I have to say is a BIG THANK YOU!
    Luciana Podschun

  6. Thanks for this! I am really looking forward to this website. I STARTED the Coursera class and did not want to become one of the statistical majority that would not fulfill all of the requirements, but then my husband hit his doctoral comprehensive exams and we have gotten very busy around here! Busy, but with healthy cooking going on in the middle of it all! Long live steel cut oats!

  7. Dear Dr. Adam,
    Thank you so much for this course! I enjoyed learning the basics of how to get back to home cooked meals. I admit our family had fallen into the trap of eating out too much, eating a lot of processed foods and sugars at home, and drinking way too much soda. As I learned more about the commercial food industry, I was shocked, and I became anxious to start making healthy choices about what I served my family. We gave up soda in January, switched to Stevia as a sweetener, I began baking our own bread and we started a small garden. This course has helped me take those steps toward a healthier diet with much more focus. I really am grateful that you have extended the community that was developed during the course, via this website, Facebook, and your blog. This is just the motivation that I need to keep making the positive changes that are healthy for my family. :)

  8. http://gardenprogram.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/life-after-poor-soil/