Saturday, September 27, 2008

On the Boil!

On Jamie Oliver’s new (UK) TV show Ministry of Food, a mother confesses to him that she doesn’t know what “boiling” is or how to do it. Another feeds her children potato crisps each evening for dinner. Almost none cook a meal.

When Delia Smith launched her TV series How to Cook, it was based in part on a survey which suggested that less than 15% of British families sit down together and eat a meal which has been cooked from fresh ingredients just once a week. The situation is not much different in Canada – cooking from scratch has almost disappeared from family homes as a regular event. Roughly 20% of all meals eaten in Canadian homes are “take out” meals from restaurants and take out specialist stores and 25% of meals eaten are eaten out. Many of the meals eaten in are “ready meals” from the grocery store – pizza etc.

Talking to a young friend (in her mid 20’s) she knows how to cook just wo dishes , she says. One is a slow cooked chicken dish (put all of the ingredients in a slow cooked and turn on) and the other is bacon sandwiches. She says her mum can’t cook at all.

I was talking to a seven year old the other day. I had just been to the farmers market. I showed him an egg plant (aubergine) and asked him what it was. He had no idea. I went through my produce – carrot, celery, celery root (celeriac) , spinach, leeks, onions, fingerling potato, etc. He didn’t name any of them – but was close with carrots (these were blue and yellow carrots, not the bright orange ones). I asked him about soup and he told me that it comes from a can and didn’t believe you could make soup at home with the ingredients I had in my bag.

This saddens me and worries me. I was born into a restaurant family – my French grandfather (Marcel Leclerc from Neville) owned a restaurant and was a Paris trained chef. I cook and all members of my family cook. We eat a fresh cooked meal every evening and, even though I lunch out frequently as part of the work of securing business, if I am not eating out we’ll have a home made Tuscan bean soup or a croq monsieur or a frittata – something quick and easy.

This total rubbish about not having enough time is a lame excuse for not having the skills and the confidence – it takes just the same time to cook a basic meal as it does to drive, queue, pay and then reheat a ready meal. There is more nutrition in a home cooked meal, its cheaper and, well I could go on.

There are strong links between the way we chose to manage our meals and health. Obesity is not an accident or some bug induced disease. It is something we eat our way into – as, for many, is Type II diabetes. There are strong links between eating as a family together and the social cohesion of families.

It looks like a lost cause. I was working in a school yesterday and chatted with them about school meals. Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthy food at school hasn’t reached here yet – its still pandering to the burgers, fries and generally fast food eating habits that we are trying to break kids from.

I have no solutions. As a parent I made sure that our children saw both of their parents cook and love the process and both are more than able to cook a range of meals and enjoy the process. We are cooking tonight for six (curries from scratch, including fresh ground which we grind) with the only pre-packaged ingredients being the nan bread. The pakora’s and all other components of this meal we have prepared.

As we look down our street, its sad to think that only 1 in five houses (if that) will be cooking tonight.

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