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.