Philosophically, that is.
First, this is the kind of journalism I grew up on and studied. Thoroughly researched, well-written, air-tight and passionate. No holes. The kind of story that probably took him weeks, if not months.
Secondly, the premise of the story itself is brilliant. We as a society lament our sad physical condition – overweight, underpaid, woe-betrodden, making ourselves feel better by scarfing sweets, fried fatty foods, and other junk and saying it’s all good because the really overweight or obese folks don’t know any better.
What Mr. Bittman is saying is, hello, yes they do. We all know better. And even if we don’t, to write this huge societal malignancy off as well it’s cheaper to buy junk food than it is to buy healthy food is just plain wrong.
He says: “A typical McDonald’s order for a family of four” costs between $28 and $23. Turn around and make a healthy fresh meal at home – roast chicken, veggies, salad and milk – and you’ve spent $14. Make it beans and rice, and you won’t break a $10.
So the point is that we are lazy. This is no secret. We are working harder than ever for less pay, with priorities that are all out of whack. (Have you seen the cars, clothing and bling that “low-income” folks spring for?) I’m as guilty as the next person. I have 2 flat-screen TVs in my house – is that necessary? Of course not! It’s a luxury and one that we say we must have.
I won’t let my kids have hand-held electronics and frankly, I don’t let them watch TV, use the computer or play on the Wii during the school week. I’d rather preserve their innocence and creativity and foster independence – when they have to think about what to do, they end up coming up with creative games in the yard or which involve piling the couch cushions incredibly high.
I tend to cook for my family. From scratch, farmers-market-fresh, making it up as I go along, trying to limit or do away with altogether any processed, preserved, boxed or bagged ingredients whenever possible. I’m a fanatic about what we put in our bodies because I’ve read so much that it hurts.
But there are nights when gymnastics goes until well past 7 and everyone’s starving and tired and sweaty and cranky and I throw water in a pot to boil and grab a box of Annie’s mac and cheese, thinking because it says organic, it’s healthier than the other boxed mac and cheese with orange powder that is supposed to tell me it’s close to the real thing. I’m not even kidding myself in those moments.
I’m just saying I know what it’s like to want something fast, to not really want to get up at 5 a.m. to make a quiche or think enough in advance to buy the ingredients for an all-day crock-pot simmer that will satisfy everyone. I don’t give in often, only sometimes.
How do you change a culture? Mr. Bittman asks. The cultural lies in celebrating real food; raising our children in homes that don’t program them for fast-produced, eaten-on-the-run, high-calorie, low-nutrition junk; giving them the gift of appreciating the pleasures of nourishing one another and enjoying that nourishment together.
It’s about slowing down and simplifying, about understanding what it means to satisfy, why it’s not ok to let my oldest son have his Kindle at the table. It’s about cherishing what we have before us, recognize the flavor and taste, noticing the nuances of our moments rather than rushing through them.
I am the most impatient person on the block, but I love to cook. I learned to love it when I was a new college graduate living in New York City and after a long day of taking two buses to work and pushing past people with blue paper coffee cups and determined grins to get where I needed to go, my roommate Lydia and I stripped out of our work clothes, set the CD player to jazz, poured glasses of white wine and started to cook.
The cooking helped us unwind because we knew there was nowhere to go but wait until the chicken was cooked through, the broccoli crispy. For the past 18 years, it has been cooking that has forced me to savor the moments, to breathe, to be.