By KAREN LANGHAUSER, Editor-in-Chief, Food Manufacturing
While waiting to close on our house, my fiancé and I have spent the last month living with my parents (insert jokes about how uncool we are here). It’s not all bad. Laundry is free, my parents have 900+ cable channels, and we don’t have to listen to our neighbor learn to play the guitar at 1 a.m. like we did in our apartment. Perhaps the most amazing part of living at home is that every night when I get home from work (usually around 6:30), my mom, who has always been an awesome stay-at-home mom, has a home-cooked meal waiting for me.
The odd part is, I found that even at 6:30 (standard, if not late, dinner time), I’m barely hungry. It took me awhile to realize that this is because on a typical work day, when we are forced to cook for ourselves, my fiancé and I don’t eat dinner until as late as 9:00. By time we get home from work, figure out what we want to cook, go to the overpriced grocery store (because it’s closest) for supplies, and cook the actual meal, we find ourselves sitting down for a dinner at a ridiculously late hour. More often than not, to avoid this process, we find ourselves grabbing something on the way home. And guess what? Meals that you can affordably grab in five minutes, usually aren’t so good for you.
As I read countless articles and see countless movies and news reports about how unhealthy America is, I consider my own situation and wonder how families where both parents work pull this off. How do they possibly have time, money and motivation to make healthy, home-cooked meals for themselves and their children?
Our associate editor, Krystal Gabert, recently sent me an article about Jamie Oliver. More specifically, it was about how the residents of Huntington, West Virginia (recently declared America’s fattest city) managed to reduce the British food star to tears, when they rejected his healthy food intervention. Admittedly, Krystal and I had a good laugh over how well Americans managed to perpetuate our fat, rude stereotypes. But I started reading up on Jamie Oliver, and watching some of his video clips.
People seem to justify their unhealthy eating habits to Oliver using the same reasons I just gave. Today’s society is pressed for time and money, and quite honestly, flat out not interested in cooking elaborate meals, nor giving up delicious things like pizza and takeout.
While there is certainly much to criticize about Oliver (his accent alone seems to be a fun target), I give him some credit in that he doesn’t take the easy way out and straight up attack the food industry. He does seem to attempt to provide both sides of the story, and he does bring various food industry experts on camera or go on site himself, to clarify industry practices. This effort alone, in my opinion, gives him a lot more credibility than say, PETA, whose “actual production floor footage” is usually a thirty-year old shoddy home video of third world, low budget animal processing.
In his “Fowl Dinners” series, Oliver opens by saying, “industries have been pushed and pushed and even bullied to produce cheaper food.” At the very least, he realizes that the food industry is responding to both economic and consumer demands, rather than secretly scheming to make America fat. Rather than condemning the food industry, Oliver is basically asking the public to make better food choices, even if this means paying slightly more for food, in order to make it economically feasible for food processors to make the switch to more healthful practices.
And yes, you are right — this does not solve any of the problems I previously alluded to when it comes to time, money, or motivation.
The message I take away from this (this coming from someone who would deep fry pretty much anything) is moderation. Perhaps, if we took Jamie Oliver’s advice and offered healthier meal options to our children while they are at school, it wouldn’t be so bad for them to eat pizza for dinner once a week. Perhaps if we cut back on the junk food we buy at the grocery store (do I really need mint, vanilla AND regular Oreos?), we would have the few extra cents required to buy hamburgers that are 80 percent meat, rather than 30 percent meat, 70 percent stuff-you-can’t-pronounce. And the laws of simple supply and demand dictate that if consumers are buying it, food manufacturers will keep making it.
I’m still working on the motivation part of this. While knowing that eating badly could potentially cost me my life should be enough, somehow that doesn’t cross my mind as I contemplate the delicious fried goodness of McDonald’sFrench fries, and tell myself I deserve them and their chicken nugget friends, as well as the night off from cooking.
Alternately, I guess I can always live with my parents forever, right mom?
What will it take to change America’s eating habits? What role does the food industry play? Can I deep-fry salad? Let me know via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.