Gracing the most recent cover of Newsweek, Michelle Obama's initiative to combat childhood obesity has gotten some attention this week. "Let's Move" is Obama's campaign to help this generation shape up to a healthy weight by the time they reach adulthood. The program focuses on encouraging healthier food at home and in schools, and more physical activity. And while our nation's obesity problem has no simple solution, one suggestion that Obama has recommended is the simple act of cooking.
"Back when many of us were growing up, we led lives that kept most of us at a pretty healthy weight. We walked to school every day, ran around at recess and gym and for hours before dinner, and ate home-cooked meals that always seemed to have a vegetable on the plate....With many parents working longer hours, or multiple jobs, they don't have time for family meals around the table anymore," Obama wrote in Newsweek.
In a country where many people spend more time watching cooking shows on TV, rather than cooking meals for themselves, it is not an easy task to get busy families to step away from pre-packaged meals of convenience. But many chefs are trying to teach Americans that cooking is not so difficult, after all. On March 26, ABC premieres "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," in which the celebrity chef swoops into Huntington, W.V., one of the unhealthiest cities in America, to teach families how to cook and eat nutritious food. One of the improvements he organizes for the town is a community center where anyone can come in for free cooking lessons, learning to prepare simple, healthful meals with inexpensive ingredients.
Chef Laura Stec, too, believes that Americans would be healthier if we learned to cook for ourselves. A personal chef, culinary instructor, and one of the authors of the book "Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming," Stec espouses the virtues of cooking at home: It's not just beneficial for our health, but also for the environment. Cooking with local, fresh ingredients produces less waste and uses less fuel than eating processed or prepared foods. And she'll be the first to remind you that learning to cook - especially foods that are "high-vibe," her term for the most nutritious, fulfilling and vibrant foods - is a forgotten pleasure. I spoke with Stec earlier this year for my article, "10 Ways to Save by Going Green." Here's what she had to say about the five reasons we all should become home cooks.
Home cooking is easy:
"The reason many people don't cook is that they don't know how to cook," said Stec. "Eating and cooking is something we do at least three times a day, and yet, most of us don't know anything about it. We can't save money and benefit from good food if we don't know how to make it. Most people don't even know how to keep a knife sharp, and if you don't know how to keep a knife sharp, you won't want to cut a carrot. The best way to save money and make better food is to learn technique. It's salt and pepper with a college education. Simple technique will help us understand how to eat at home, make food taste good, and get that high-vibe food we want."
Home cooking is green:
"One of the most positive effects you can have on the environment begins on your dinner plate," said Stec. "So the greenest solutions are to eat less livestock, eat foods that are grown without pesticides and fertilizers, eat foods that are local when we can, or not flown in from foreign countries, to do something useful with our food scraps, and to look at how we're traveling to pick up our food. We are eating a machine cuisine. As we move to a cool cuisine, we will use less fuel."
Home cooking is healthier:
"Cooking at home gives you the option to get quality food that you wouldn't get if you buy prepared food, which has way too much salt, and way too much added sugar." said Stec. "You can get more calories per serving from a bag of Doritos than from a carrot, but we don't need more calories, we need better calories....We're not satisfied with what were eating. We're blessed to have plenty of food, but if quantity was the goal, we would have been fed by now."
Home cooking is cheaper:
"The average meal out costs us $10 for lunch, $15 for dinner," said Stec. "If you cook at home, you could cut that in half - you could easily eat for $5 or less per meal. What's key in this is realizing that higher quality food may cost more, but in the end we're looking for pay a little more, get a little more, and eat a little less...People say that [eating well] is a rich person's diet. But the poor people have one up on us - less-developed countries have known how to season grains and beans for years. It's not a rich person's diet."
Cooking at home is pleasurable:
"Eaters are motivated by pleasure," said Stec. "We want to help people to see how eating green tastes better and gives people high-vibe foods. Guess what happens when you eat high-vibe foods? You become high-vibe. We need to expand the idea of what it means to be fed - to feed not just our stomachs, but our heads and hearts."