Cooking Like It’s 1965

I’m slowly making my way through Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food.” “Slowly” not in the sense that it’s complicated, but I like to read books like this when I’m riding my stationary bike and I haven’t done much of that lately since I’m taking advantage of the nice weather and exercising outdoors.

Many of you may know Pollan’s tagline: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” (Full disclosure: I’m totally on board with that tagline.) “In Defense of Food” outlines the rise of nutritionism and nutrition science and how the food industry has turned many whole foods into processed pseudo-foods containing ingredients we can’t even pronounce.

The section I’m reading now is called “Getting Over Nutritionism” and how we can escape the Western diet. He writes: “A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap, and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food (as opposed to the Italians and French who spend 14.9 percent of their income on food and the Spanish who spend 17.1 percent). (Americans) also also spend 27 minutes a day preparing meals, 4 minutes on cleanup and 65 minutes eating. In 1965 the figure was 45 minutes of preparation, 21 minutes of clean-up and 68 minutes of eating.”

I’ll address the money and the escaping the Western diet parts in later blogs, but right now I want to talk about the amount of time we spend preparing meals.

I was a little surprised by how little time Americans spend, on average, in contact with their food pre-consumption. I mean, I’m not naïve. I know people consume a lot more fast food and prepackaged/processed food than they did in 1965, but seriously, 27 minutes A DAY for prep?

Even when I was 300 pounds I spent more time than that making food.

I know people are busy, and cooking is usually the last thing you want to do after a long day. But I also believe we make time for what’s most important. It’s not a stretch to conclude by Pollan’s stats that for most Americans, cooking for themselves, and in most instances, themselves and their family, isn’t that important. They may think it’s important, want it to be important, plan to strive to make it important, but 27 minutes doesn’t suggest much importance.

Absolutely there are days when I heat up a Boca burger, slap it in a pita, squirt on a little ketchup and call it dinner. Or I throw some yogurt and fruit in a bowl and call it breakfast. Or eat a string cheese, a handful of almonds, an apple and some carrots and declare it lunch. But those are the exception meals, not the rule.

It’s not like I’m a slave to the kitchen. On average, breakfast takes me 10 to 20 minutes to prepare, lunch another 10 to 20 minutes, and dinner about 30 to 60 minutes, not including cooking time. And I know a lot of you (based on the blogs I read) find ways to cut your prep time. Granted, sometimes my prep minutes include thawing and heating up meals I prepared ahead of time and put in the refrigerator or freezer. But the time spent in putting a soup or other recipe together is usually an additional hour or two a week.

Eating real food requires real cooking. Maybe people really can prepare three healthy meals consisting of whole and not processed foods in less than 30 minutes per day. If so, clue me in because I would love to know how that’s done. I made a tasty Swiss chard concoction for lunch a few days ago and it took 30 minutes start to finish. Not bad time wise, but 30 minutes is the same amount of time most people spend preparing their food for an entire day.

I’m really not trying to be heavy fisted and judgmental. I’m just trying to figure out how people eat. I mean, seriously, at my heaviest I spent more time in front of the stove than the microwave or on the phone ordering out. Not that that made me a saint. Good lord knows preparing cheesy potatoes takes over an hour to make and yet adds a pound or two to my waistline. My favorite pot pie recipe takes an hour to put together and includes all kinds of things I no longer eat. So time prep isn’t so much the issue, is it?

It’s about choice. Anyone can make a solid, healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack in less than 10 minutes. But it takes a lot of planning ahead to make many of those healthy choices. They aren’t on every street corner and certainly not on every take-out menu or prepackaged package. Choosing to eat and preparing whole REAL food takes time.

So my question is: Is Pollan right? Do you think most Americans A) care; and B) want to try to find the time to make their meals? What will it take to get us back to 1965?

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