Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny
I think we've all heard these statistics by now, right? We're raising the first generation of kids who won't outlive their parents -- their life expectancy is 10 years less than ours. Obesity will cost $150 billion this year -- 10% of our health care costs -- and that's projected to be doubled by 2020. Diet-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, are by far and away the biggest killers, far worse than even auto accidents. Why?
Jamie Oliver, in his TED talk that has everyone talking, has pegged a couple of culprits. Fast food is one; sugar is two. And we're starting to realize that it's not just high fructose corn syrup that's bad; it's all kinds of processed sugar. Even that "raw" brown sugar in the sweet brown packets. Sugar in the chocolate milk (it's truly terrible; one carton of the stuff has more sugar than the American Heart Association suggests a child have in a day, and more than soda), sugar in the yogurt, sugar in the breakfast cereal, sugar in the ketchup, sugar in the peanut butter and the jelly and the bread, sugar in the pizza sauce for goodness' sake.
And where is this killer food being served? In our schools, first. Even when fresh local cooked-on-site food is available, there's an alternative that includes yogurt, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, pizza. In our homes, second. We're killing our kids. (Not just other people. Me. Everett's lunch yesterday: yogurt and "I don't want to talk about it any more.") What's more, in many classrooms Jamie's visited, kids don't even know what fresh food looks like. A radish is maybe celery, maybe an onion; an eggplant is maybe a pear; one kid doesn't recognize a potato in its skin. Jamie doesn't mince words: we are, he says, committing child abuse by feeding kids this junk.
His takeaway is this: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."
How can we do this? Here's one way: to cook, really cook, from scratch. I don't mean "a can of this and a can of that" from scratch; I mean carrots and potatoes and cabbages and dry beans. Take our kids into the kitchen (even if they're just playing with the water in the sink while you peel and chop); take them to the market; buy vegetables and fruits whole; plant a garden (you can put peas and spinach and lettuce and broccoli raab in now!). Here's one recipe I've been making that's easy, easy, cheap, and delicious -- Everett likes it just plain but I dress it up with plain yogurt, hot sauce, and some braised kale or cabbage:
Black beans with orange peel
- A cup or two of organic black beans (People's has a local variety in the bulk bins)
- A few garlic cloves, peeled
- One-half yellow or red onion, peeled and chopped roughly (about 1/2" cubes)
- 1 tsp sea salt
- A few small pieces of orange peel (I saved the peels from yummiest organic tangerines I bought in January, scraped off some of the pith, and let them dry on the counter; you could just use fresh, organic orange peel; using a paring knife, scrape off as much of the pith as you can)
- 3 cups water
- Rinse the beans; if you like, soak overnight in warm water on the counter. Drain the beans.
- Heat the oven to 275 degrees.
- Put all ingredients in a crock with a cover (you can use pottery, glass, or a stainless-steel pot with a lid). Put in the oven. Cook for a few hours, until the beans are tender.
You can do this recipe with just about any kind of beans; you may want to change out the orange peel for other flavorings like fresh thyme or rosemary (come pick some from my garden if you don't have a plant :).
And if anyone who doesn't know how to cook wants a lesson, please, email or comment or pull me aside on the street on my bike, let's make a dinner date. I'll teach you how to make one meal if you'll ignore the mess in the living room. Deal?