Since the 90’s I have been protesting against the inequalities of global capitalism and marching against climate change. Now I am increasingly finding peace in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and creating new recipes. Am I growing old and enjoying the simplicity of home life, leaving my socially subversive days behind? Quite the contrary. As I was reflecting lately, there’s a revolutionary behind every home cook.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a 5 x 15 talk. Food Fight was its title and the guests were Jamie Oliver, AA Gill, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, professor Phil James and broadcaster Michael Mosley. The first to take the stage was the diminutive professor James, who told the audience in no uncertain terms the current food system needs to change. He traced the current obesity crisis back to a system that made simple, nutritious food more expensive than junk food.
Governments support the food industry who has no interest in people cooking their own meals. Better to sell them their ready made products, packed with low quality ingredients and embellished by clever advertising. Food is everywhere, quick, convenient and hard to resist. Manipulated in the factories, today’s food products are geared towards stimulating our neurological centres and make us want more, but have little nutritional value. Nutritionally starved people are the paradox of this age of obesity. When we “grab something to eat” or “grab a coffee and go” we so often nourish ourselves on ideas and images, skilfully packaged and sold to us by marketing men.
James’s words brought to my mind the first chapter of the excellent ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation’ by Michael Pollan. First published in 2013, the book has now inspired a film, screened from tonight on Netflix. In the chapter Pollan reflects on how the division of labour in our modern society has made us specialists at producing one thing, while we consume and outsource all others. Our health is our doctor’s concern, our entertainment has been ‘outsourced’ to the media, oil to the oil company and so on it goes. The problem with this division is that it tends to obscure all “lines of connection, and therefore of responsibility, between our everyday acts and their real-world consequences”. Specialization, he says, “makes it easy to forget about […] the backbreaking labour it took to pick the strawberries for my cereal, or the misery of the hog that lived and died so I could enjoy my bacon”.
Cooking, in this light, enables us to reclaim power from a food industry who would like to turn us all into compliant junk food addicts. Cooking can transform us from consumers into producers and reduce our reliance on greedy corporations. And it is good for our health too. We all know it, people who regularly cook their own meals tend to be happier and healthier and consume less sugar and processed foods. Below you will find this clever info graphic I stumbled upon. It effectively illustrates the far reaching benefits of cooking your own meals.
And if we ate properly who knows, maybe we wouldn’t be so fat anymore. I loved it when AA Gill said: “we don’t need diets, all we need is manners”. By which he meant: do not eat while standing up, do not eat from a packet, throwaway cups or plates, not in front of a TV or a computer. Eat three times a day, with a fork and a knife, sitting at a table.
And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced he’s right.