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Food For Thought

February 17, 2010

Before you do anything else today, even before you finish reading this entry, go to http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html. Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize speech is inspiring, convicting, and informative.  Oliver has been working on a prime time television project in the town of Huntington, West Virginia. At the time he started the project, West Virginia was the most obese state in the U.S. Oliver’s goal was to promote healthy eating in the community by targeting three specific areas—the home, the school, and main street.

The most interesting point he makes, in my opinion, is that it is really only in the last 30 years that we have lost our food culture in the U.S and become dependent on fast food, processed food, and food-like substances. This particular number, 30, resonates with me because in a little over two weeks I will turn thirty.  Thus, every day that I have lived so far has been a day that the food culture and history of the U.S has been eroding.  What I, and Oliver and others, mean by food culture is this idea of recipes, cooking practices, food pairings, and food traditions passed down from generation to generation. Rick Bayless, for example, has done a tremendous job of documenting and then bringing to America the essential aspects of the food culture of Mexico. Italy and France are particularly know for their food cultures, but even rural, remote, less developed countries have proud food cultures that ensure that the cuisine of their community maximizes the nutrients and minimizes the food-born pathogens of their indigenous fruits, vegetables, and meats.  Since the post-World War II era in America we’ve abandoned homemade and home-grown in favor of faster and cheaper food products. This resonates in my life in many ways. I remember trusting a Snickers bar more than an apple when I was in high school. I knew where the Snickers bar came from, or at least I thought I did. I felt like apples, in fact any foods that didn’t come in a wrapper, were somehow foreign or unpredictable, or un-uniform. Every Snickers bar tastes the same. My culture had trained me to appreciate factory-produced uniformity—to trust things in wrappers because they were hygienic. What a completely ludicrous idea! The very term organic connotes a beauty derived from natural variation. Of course all apples don’t taste the same. They are part of a genetic and temporal landscape that prizes variation as a means of survival. There is only one Snickers, but there are myriad varieties of apples—and the more we promote that diversity the more we promote our own health.

Jamie Oliver suggests that before they graduate from high school all students should have at least ten wholesome recipes under their belts. Ten go-to meals they can prepare from natural unprocessed ingredients. He argues that this type of culinary literacy is as important as any other skill taught in school because it could quite literally save these students’ lives one day. I wholeheartedly agree.

And so to that end… I am going to compose a go-to list of ten meals that I can make from scratch that contain wholesome, seasonal ingredients. This will probably take me a little while only because my go-to list of meals growing up was the value meal at every local fast food restaurant. I’m now inspired to help reincarnate the food culture of the United States. The experiment starts today and will continue over the next several years in Kentucky!

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