Photo courtesy of AlexRaths at iStockphoto.com

C is for Cooking

Food must be given the same status as Maths and English in order to reverse the drastic decline in public health.

Our food culture is really just the food which our mothers cooked for us. But then came the time when our mothers had to go out to work. We thought that we could rely on the food industry, with all its new-fangled technologies, to keep us well-fed but this was a huge mistake and now we must try to turn the ship around for the health of our children and the health of our planet.

Cooking meals from scratch on a daily basis requires skill, organisation and if you want to avoid unseemly wastage, a creative, simple and unfussy approach to food. To combat the change in the structure of family lives we should have developed comprehensive programmes as part of every school curriculum to educate kids in the art of cooking but instead, we took the kitchens out of the schools and turned them into classrooms for the kids to learn really useful things like solving quadratic equations.

There have been moves to try and counter the problem, The School Food Plan in 2014, for example, paved the way for the requirement of lessons in cookery and nutrition for all children up to the age of 14. At this point, they were expected to have acquired all the necessary skills “to feed themselves and others affordably, and well, now and in later life” and be able “to understand the source, seasonality and characteristics of a broad range of ingredients” and be able to cook “a repertoire of predominantly seasonal dishes.” To describe these ambitions as unrealistic would be a gross understatement as there is nowhere near enough time dedicated to the subject to enable, even the keenest of pupils, to get close to fulfilling these objectives. There being no examinations means that any small successes within schools are only due to the proactivity of individual teachers and until food is given the status of other subjects such as Maths and English then, unfortunately, this ship is unlikely to do anything but meander.

I hear rumours that social media and improved environmental awareness have spawned a new movement and everyone is getting back into their kitchens to prepare their meals from scratch. But let’s be honest, that’s just a story that middle-class folk like to tell each other to make themselves feel better. The internet may be filled with images and recipes for mouthwatering dishes but being able to follow recipes online does not equip you for a life of efficient, stress-free food preparation — it’s like describing yourself as a cabinet-maker because you can build an Ikea wardrobe.

The proliferation of food-related images on social media is actually more of a hindrance than a help. The manicured images, specifically designed to get the gastric juices flowing do not promote an approach to home-cooking that is in any way sustainable. I make a pizza sauce with two ingredients — tinned tomatoes and salt. I would happily eat this sauce stirred into a bowl of pasta too. It’s very satisfying — not from any rich, complex base of flavours but from its sheer simplicity. The problem with simplicity though is that nobody is very interested in it — it doesn’t make good TV and who wants to see a tin of tomatoes on their Insta feed when they can ogle a juicy slab of lasagne with molten cheese oozing down the side? And so the internet creates appetites and expectations that few home cooks have the time or skill to cater for and the result is, unfortunately, more dependence on processed food, ready meals and takeaways.

“The internet creates appetites and expectations that few home cooks have the time or skill to cater for.”

In July 2021 The National Food Strategy was published with more recommendations that are generally helpful but do not go hard enough on education. Education is the foundation, the root from where all the good things will sprout. Given the pressure on our healthcare system, it is incomprehensible why we are so unwilling to nurture food and cooking as a subject that all kids need to be proficient in. Surely, learning to feed ourselves and our families while also learning to take care of our health and our planet is more important than learning to speak very bad French?

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