Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too rich to eat properly

Chef Jamie Oliver complains that people don't know how to cook. He worries that, especially with an economic slowdown, people's reliance on fast food will cost them too much, and cause them to be malnourished (and obese.) Proper nutritious cooking is the answer to saving money, increasing health, and reducing obesity.

He probably has it right on the dot. But how do we fix it? And how did we get here in the first place? (Alas, he mentioned that America is already off the deep end... But maybe we can still survive.) There seem to be a near infinite number of 'culprits'. Urbanization disassociates people from their food sources. It's not far to see what people eat being disassociated from food. Or perhaps the problem is feminism. Women wanted to do everything that men traditionally did. Unfortunately, men didn't want to do everything that women traditionally did. This led to the 'outsourcing' of traditional domestic tasks (cooking) to McDonalds. And need I mention the car? The symbol of laziness also allows people to work further and further away from home. Too far to come home for lunch, so you must go out. And since your spending so much time in the car, might as well just get more food on the run. (Don't want to waste any time eating.) The list can go on and on...

The fixes? Well, one suggestion he had was doing more "cooking training". That could help people go beyond pressing a few buttons on the microwave. Its a shame that 'homec' classes have disappeared from high schools. While scoring well on math and reading tests may help a school to "look good", scoring well on cooking can actually help people to live. I heard an NPR bit a few years ago about a big name chef who was cooking lunches at a school. As I recall, he received rave reviews for cooking healthy, nutritious, varied meals at the school, while involving the students. Perhaps school lunch could be a nutritional training ground instead of a USDA excess goods disposal location.

What about taxes? Governments love to tax. Prepared foods could be an easy target. The markup is already so high, that a few extra cents would probably go unnoticed. You can buy a 3oz microwavable "pasta alfredo" that cooks in 5 minutes for $3. Or, for around the same price, you can buy a pound of pasta and a jar of alfredo sauce. Spend about 15 minutes cooking the pasta, and you could easily get enough 'pasta alfredos' to last all week (and then some.) Spend a little more time to actually make the Alfredo sauce and the cost is even lower. (And you can eliminate a lot of the strange chemicals added.) By packing the noodles in a microwavable package, the company has been able to charge a premium of at least 600% on the raw food costs. Who would notice a few cents more? Perhaps the government could even use it to subsidize local organic farms to bring fresh produce in tot he picture.

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