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Thoughts on cooking and fat

I subscribed to a number of fat activist blogs recently – and unsubscribed just a couple of days later.

I think it’s fairly clear from looking at the videos that I am fat. I’m VERY fat. I’m a size 22. I’m pretty proud of that, since I used to be a lot fatter.

But I think it’s also fairly clear from looking at the videos that I am a pretty healthy fat. You can see the muscles and shoulderblades in my back. I am not carrying the amount of extra fat that a lot of fat people do. My health is also excellent; I’ve avoided hypertension medicine by changing my eating habits, for instance. And I exercise regularly. I have no problem with healthy fat people. But I think it’s pretty clear that an awful lot of people in this country are fat but NOT healthy, and that a lot of them are kids. Kids don’t feed themselves. Adults have to take responsibility for what kids eat.

I support fat activists to the extent that they think that the focus on BMI and losing weight at most doctor’s offices is stupid, if not counterproductive; that the fashion and entertainment industries have a lot to answer for in telling everyone that only size 2 women are beautiful; that calling someone like Piper Perabo “fat” is just a perversion of the term and that parents and everyone else have to raise children to understand that Britney Spears isn’t really “fat” (though she is crazy).

But I don’t support fat activists’ violent rejection of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaigns. For one thing, there is more than one campaign here. And I can’t see why anyone would object to having more fresh food available in your community. Just last week Mrs. Obama attended the opening of a grocery store in a community that hadn’t had one for years. Can you imagine living in an urban area, without a car, where you have to get on a bus to get food for your kids? Or maybe you don’t have to imagine it. Well, I don’t see how anyone can argue with financing to bring grocery stores to communities that need them. Everyone needs food. And if they’re not buying it at grocery stores, they’re buying it at quick-marts and fast food places – and mothers don’t want their children to have to live on that junk.

I don’t think government-sponsored athletic programs work. Hiring professional athletes to get these programs moving will not help them work. Most fat people have nothing in common with the attitude toward movement that a professional athlete has. They don’t have the same relationship to movement that the athlete has. They should get people who used to be fat who’ve managed to become healthy. They should especially get healthy fat people – who do exist, no matter what your doctor tells you – who have managed to develop a good relationship with exercise and they should get those people to help schools and towns develop fitness programs for kids.

But I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that children are being poorly served by school food, by food labeling, and by fast food. This video with Jamie Oliver shows exactly why we can’t simply let things go on as they are. There is a big difference between fat and really unhealthily, morbidly obese. And we all know people, or maybe we ARE people, who are the latter. And that video shows why. Children who cannot identify on sight a tomato or a potato, much less a beet or cauliflower – how exactly are these children supposed to feed themselves when they grow up? WHAT exactly are they supposed to feed themselves when they grow up? Boxed… what? Fast… what? Because it isn’t really food.

I firmly believe that a lot of parents, a lot of people, don’t eat actual food because they don’t know how to cook food. That’s why CookCheap.org exists. It is of course healthier to eat actual food, but it’s also cheaper too. If you truly believe that you have to feed your children hamburgers from a drive through to keep them alive, I can’t really argue with you. But I would challenge you to at least try cooking. Cook something.

If Jamie Oliver is right, then if everyone learned ten simple recipes, things they could cook over and over, they’d save their own lives. CookCheap.org is here to teach you those ten simple recipes, if nothing else. I actually started to learn to cook in school; my school had a home ec program where students spent a quarter of a year and learned food basics, everything from washing lettuce greens and boiling eggs to washing out the sink when you were done. Those things were the basis of a lifelong relationship with my food. I also firmly believe that the massive amount of cooking shows one sees on television show food that is unrealistic for the average person to cook and eat, especially on a budget. Those shows are for people for whom food is a hobby, not a thing that has to get done every day.

For most of us food isn’t a hobby. It’s staying alive. And it’s one of the most direct ways we contribute to our own health. Perhaps THE most direct way. If you learn to cook, you can learn to keep yourself and your family alive. There isn’t any great secret to it; it’s not about superfoods or always have this or never have that. Really, it’s about the idea that you should eat food that you cook, not what comes out of a box or a bag.

And that’s what this website is about.

11 comments to Thoughts on cooking and fat

  • *applause*

    I’m utterly gobsmacked at the anti-Let’s Move campaign. None of it is fatshaming or sizeism – it’s about getting HEALTHY, AFFORDABLE food into the hands of people who want it.

    • I haven’t seen any blogger against Let’s Move who hasn’t said some version of “I was forced to exercise as a child and it was horrible and painful and it didn’t make me any healthier.” They aren’t looking outside themselves to see that this is about a lot of other children, not themselves. And the problem is really bigger than it was 20 years ago!

      • I have just discovered the show “You Are What You Eat” and I’m just fascinated. One of the things that I love is, she’s not about *size* as much as “well, if you had better nutrition, you’d have more energy, your hair wouldn’t be falling out, and you’d be X% less likely to have a heart attack in the next five years.”

        Health != weight, but nutrition=health.

        AFAICT, Let’s Move is way more about health and nutrition, and only tangentially about weight.

        • I think you’re right. I’ve seen that show, and in that and the Jamie Oliver video, I’m struck by the parents who just don’t know how to cook food. The “makeover” in O Magazine this month was also a mother who had a great kitchen – but never cooked, and it was starting to show in the health of her family.

          I don’t think it’s just women who have to be responsible for what their children are eating, but I do think that a lot of people want a way out but don’t know how to get one. Cooking shows are NOT it.

          • Cooking shows are reality TV without the scripted villain combined with food porn. (Except for Alton Brown, who is the foodie version of Bill Nye the Science Guy.)

            Not even Rachel Ray does a lot of “regular” cooking (I think in several ways she’s closest, what with being mostly burgers in one pan and a veggie in another).

            And you don’t even want me to start on the convenience food for cooks rant. 9 times out of 10 it’s just a thickener, and roux is so damned easy and so damned versatile! (Although admittedly, my white sauce sucks. Maybe I should experiment with the sesame oil/oatmeal flour roux in it as opposed to continuing to line up my Veggie Au Vin recipe.)

          • Really? In what way does your white sauce suck?

          • No flavor. It thickens, but I might as well be eating the flour raw for all the taste it has. So when it comes to chicken cassarole, it’s back to the cans of Cream of Mushroom.

          • Huh. I would suspect you’re not cooking the roux long enough. The longer you cook it, the more flavor it has, but the less thickening power it has. A really dark brick roux (like the New Orleans folks make for a gumbo) is delicious but you have to use four or eight times as much as you would use a white roux to thicken a sauce. I’d suggest trying just cooking it longer. I doubt you’ll have trouble getting it to thicken; I never do, but if you do, you can just use more of it.

            It’s also true that white sauce is just white sauce. It’s not a super flavorful thing. However, you can always add spices to the stage where you’re cooking the flour and butter together, and you can add more flavorful liquids at the later stage. Of course then you’re ending up with something other than a plain white sauce, but if you have a choice between messing with a white sauce or using Cream of Mushroom (I shudder!) from a can, I’d suggest messing with your white sauce. You can use half chicken stock, half milk if you want to more closely approximate the flavor of a canned soup.

          • > I would suspect you’re not cooking the roux long enough

            I’m probably not; roux tends to be the thing I cook before I start the thing I’m cooking, and thus it gets rushed. (I plan on experimenting with what happens to a basic roux stuck in the fridge and brought back out for reheating later.)

            The great thing about it, though, is that it can be *any* fat and *any* flour – for beef au vin I made a fab quick-cooked roux with bacon fat. (OM NOM artery-hardening NOM) Next I’m going to see what happens when the base fat is sesame oil.

  • Thank you

    Thank you for this blog. I find myself suddenly a single mother of three teenagers at home ( and one Marine away from home). In my disfunctional past when money was tight we went to a diet of chili mac or canned spaghetti because I didn’t really cook Now I am combing the blogs for healthy cheap meals that will satisfy my teenagers. I spent less than $100 at the supermarket and I can make 7 fun healthy meals. Tonight I cooked morroccan chicken and prepped a chicken tomato casserole to freeze for later this week. I am also making chicken toastadas (an idea I got from your post about chicken thighs) and spaghetti squash!

    • Re: Thank you

      Oh, good for you! You’re a resourceful, smart woman and I’m not a bit surprised that you’re taking life’s hurdles with grace as well as hard work.

      You get those teenagers cooking! They’re old enough and they eat enough, I’m sure! They should be cooking a meal or two a week and taking the work part off you – you’re doing enough to buy the food! Plus they need the life skills too.

      And what great food you’re cooking. I’m still focusing on really basic things but you’re taking them to a whole new level!

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