On the Table: Want to be happier and healthier? Cook from scratch
“Cooking is, as we all know, an incantation; a series of ingredients put together with the view to charm, beguile, seduce, becalm. . . I think we all agree that pot noodles don’t quite achieve that.” Making a daily meal boosts both health and happiness, writes Tine Roche, MD of Cambridge Cookery
Do you cook? This is something I ask people at the start of any class or team-building event. Whether we are about to embark on baking sourdough, filleting fish or having some fun with sushi, the answer is more often than not: “I enjoy cooking at the weekend, but otherwise it’s mainly microwave meals.” Often said not so much with regret or slight guilt, but with a certain amount of incredulity as to why anyone would choose to spend time cooking every day.
This leaves me both stunned and saddened, even now that I have come to expect it. I am stunned in the same way I would be had I asked “Do you brush your teeth daily?” or “Do you normally drink water?” and had the reply “I do during the weekend”. Cooking from scratch as a daily activity is no longer the norm and increasingly seems to have become a hobby; something to be undertaken as a bit of fun.
Dr Chris van Tulleken’s book Ultra-processed People has been read, or listened to as a podcast, by so many people interested in health and keen to stay informed and on top of current trends. Yet the concept of cooking something from scratch as a matter of course, as a means to put food on the table, continues to be replaced by ready-meals and take-outs/ins.
A lack of time and money are cited as the twin causes. But that is not the whole truth and most of us know that. The food industry’s onslaught on us all - of more and more convenience food - exists for one simple reason: processed traces of sub-prime ingredients, pulped and then glued together again with the help of various chemicals in order to appear as food, are much cheaper to produce and more lucrative to sell than unadulterated ingredients. Profit margins soar while public health plummets.
For those of us who are in the habit of cooking daily, whether we feel like it or not, cooking is something we simply do - just as we brush our teeth or down a glass of water. In order to eat, we cook.
But of course, this is not all. We are driven by our appetite, our lust for delicious food, our joy in being able to create what we crave that day! Sour/spicy/hot/lean? Rich/soothing/oozing? Rice/noodles/umami/soy-rich?
Of course, the shops and online apps are groaning with food to cover all and any of these categories we crave. So why cook? The cookery books I enjoy are written by chefs and cooks who, like me, are driven by memories, by a wish to be in charge of what we eat, by the joy of cooking for others or for ourselves.
Cooking is an evocation of childhood, travel, holidays - experiences enjoyed and remembered. Cooking is an invocation of something we wish and desire to experience and have. Cooking is, as we all know, also an incantation, a series of ingredients put together with the view to charm, beguile, seduce, becalm, arouse, appease, win over, make friends and lovers. I think we all agree that pot noodles don’t quite achieve that.
The daily jolt of achievement, even when not feeling particularly inspired to cook or having much time, is good. It is good for physical and mental health. It is good for the purse strings. It is good for high-welfare farmers. It is good for the environment and for the economy.
January and February are fantastic months of plenty: citrus fruit, root vegetables and fish are at a peak. Simple winter food such as a grated carrot, lemon juice, raisin and caraway seed salad or a shredded red cabbage, avocado, little gem lettuce, olive oil and lemon juice side; a piece of quickly fried or baked white fish served with steamed greens, a good pinch of sea salt, a glug of olive oil and squeeze of aromatic Seville orange juice; a rich vegetable soup made from leek, celery, potato, cabbage, onion, as easy to make for eight as for one. . . All of it is delicious, quick to make and ranging from frugal to affordable price-wise.
Put simply: cooking food that makes sense, i.e. is seasonal and the answer to what we want to eat for dinner, brings joy.
Visit cambridgecookery.com for more.
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