Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mark Bittman's Prescription For America: Cook

From Mark Bittman's recent post on how to put McDonald's out of business:1
"... Subsidies for consumers – especially less-well-off consumers - instead of corporations. Tax breaks for retailers who open new stores in so-called food deserts. Tax breaks for consumers who buy and cook real food. Training of the unemployed to help shop and cook for people who can’t do so themselves; training of those same unemployed to teach cooking to people who simply need skills."
That's how you improve Americans' health. Right there.
1Putting McDonald's Out of Business, Mark Bittman, October 26, 2010
"Cooking" by Natalie Dee.


Leo said...

I haven't cooked in so long. The place where I live, it's just not conducive to cooking. I mean my housemate cooks all the time, but I just can't seem to get myself to do it. Just a gross atmosphere. ;) peace

caulfieldkid said...

I've been thinking about this post and the previous one. There are a lot of factors play a part on how someone eats.

Many do have their choices reduced, but there is also the fact that many take the path of least resistance.

Why seek out dried beans when you can get instant noodles for 15 cents at the corner store? Why bother cooking dried beans (which take time/planning) when all you have to do is boil water for said instant noodles.

I'm not saying this demographic is a lazy one. What I am saying is that, when every day is a struggle, the battle of what you eat is not as important. As long as you have something that is cheap and fast, you will take it. You really just don't have the energy to fight that fight.

When you feel like you were lucky to make it through the past week, someone telling you that you are at risk for heart disease if you don't start eating better just doesn't sound all that relevant. You are worried about keeping the lights on tomorrow, so the heart disease problem will just have to take a back seat.

I hope that makes sense.


Bix said...

Oh, man, this is a good point.

It's true. When the consequences of our actions are 20 years down the road, their impact on our decisions today aren't very strong. But the consequences don't go away. And I see these consequences in people later in life. Then, it's less about prevention and more about attaining an acceptable quality-of-life. Arthritis, angina, diabetes ... can, at that point, be managed. But, really, they aren't going to miraculously disappear, say, at 55, just because someone stops eating Big Macs.

But this isn't a worthwhile argument, the consequences argument. It doesn't work, for reasons you stated. I don't know what works, though. Your point gets right to the heart of the matter.

Ben P. DaSalt said...

You sort of pulled the media trick of titling your blog post to claim something that wasn’t as strongly claimed by the source. Bittman’s original post was specifically how to price McDonald’s out of business with a prong of approaches, some that promote cooking. Also, Bittman didn’t really connect all the dots convincingly in the first place; the beginning of his article didn’t have much to do with the end.

McDonald’s as scapegoat isn’t all that productive. Okay, they are going to raise prices, but with the price of everything rising, I don’t see what differences that will make. The fundamental infrastructure and culture will still be the same.

I don’t really buy the health costs of hamburgers line. A healthy person can eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger (or Dunkin’ Donut, or Frappuccino, or whatever) and be just fine. It’s a pattern of eating that’s the problem, not McDonald’s cheeseburgers.

I do accept the environmental costs argument that Bittman is most vocal about and, I really appreciate that he’s one of the few people making a living on gastronomy to even attempt to address this topic.

However, the accepted environmental costs of foods are all decided by us, society, to define, since we supposedly select representatives to make policy on our behalf. If we let ourselves (businesses) dump toxins in rivers we will do that. If we let the production of environmentally expensive foods be artificially cheap through government subsidies and lack of environmental regulation, we shouldn’t be so surprised that McDonald’s sells us the food that we already paid for before walking into the restaurant.

The thing is, we, well, most of us anyway, want McDonald’s and we want fast and convenient foods and it isn’t just due to marketing. People like McDonald’s food. People like fast food. People like the convenience of microwave meals.

As for getting more people to cook, I’m sympathetic but I do feel that it’s oversold.

Take Bittman’s case as a lifelong cook. His health biomarkers were not all that great and I doubt that he frequented McDonald’s. It wasn’t until he changed what he was eating that he improved these markers and these changes were made primarily to address his environmental concerns.

Bittman specifically focused on breakfast and lunch, two meals that aren’t strongly associated with home cooking anyway. Breakfast could mean nearly anything and besides bringing leftovers in Tupperware, asking everyone to cook their own lunch is just a bizarre request.

I’ve known plenty of overweight cooks. We can use Food Network as an unscientific metric.

I bet Mario Batali cooks a lot, and if he isn’t cooking himself, he has access to quality meals. Ina Garten cooks and lives in the Hamptons. Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, the Neeleys, they sure can cook. Alto Brown slimmed down not by cooking more, but by going on a diet. (What kind? Doesn’t matter. Point is, home cooking alone isn’t a diet strategy.)

Many of the contestants of Hell’s Kitchen are overweight; I would assume that they know how to cook before they appear on the show.

These are television personalities, a career path that selects heavily against overweight people. Yet TV chefs, people who know how to cook, have a significant representation that defies television’s typical preference for fit physiques.

I’m not convinced that if everyone just cooked, that this would necessarily fix things that Bittman is concerned about. First being his environmental food production concerns, and second, being health, with weight being a correlate.

Even with knowing how to cook, there are still lifestyle and eating patterns that needs to be addressed, I would go as far as to say that cooking is the least important when compared to other food choices and lifestyle behaviors. As a life-long cook, Bittman experienced this first hand. Cooking for him had been a constant, the change was rethinking what to eat.

His marathon training probably doesn’t hurt to maintain his weight either.

Bix said...

In my mind, what you eat and preparing your own food are integrally linked.

Claudia said...

Bittman is right, it's about cooking. You can't eat healthy if you don't cook.

Did anyone see Marion Nestle's latest blog?


Our food is too processed. Thats whats making us fat. I dare anyone to eat a healthy diet who isn't preparing their own food.

Bix said...

Claudia, I'm just getting around to reading Nestle's post. Monteiro's piece, or at least the premise, is excellent. He takes risk ... in not relying on the gold standard trial. But his hypothesis IMHO is worthy and worth testing.

I agree with you, you can't eat healthfully, not in today's eating environment, unless you (or someone in your surrounds) are preparing/processing their own food, most of it at least. (When I use the word "cook" I refer to broad forms of food prep, not merely applying heat - such that preparing a salad is "cooking." This would follow from his type 1 processing too.)

Bix said...

In that accompanying editorial, Cannon said:

"This notion is an exquisite combination of stupidity and arrogance..."

The notion he was referring to was (in my words) ... if foods are a collection of nutrients, an industry could assemble those nutrients and it would be the same as the original food.

I don't like these type of arguments. I think they incite ire instead of debate. (I agree with the content.)