Could Cooking More Lead to a Healthier & Happier Life?

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I love reading anything Michael Pollan writes. And I think I love reading Michael Pollan because he makes me feel less high maintenance; high maintenance, because I could be content cooking nearly every meal at home. I prefer a majority of my meals to consist of real, fresh, whole foods cooked in the comfort of home. But this simple practice is now considered a a luxury of sorts. It’s time we don’t want to spend and something we’d rather pay three times the price for someone else to do for us when it could likely be made better at home.

Focusing on the health, economic and emotional benefits of the home-cooked meal, Pollan’s latest book, “Cooked” is an effort to bring us back to this neglected ritual.

Michael Pollan thinks we should all cook more.

“Cooked” presents the idea that a diet consisting mainly of homemade foods could be the missing link to reclaiming our health and ending our National struggle with obesity. He explores, as only Pollan could, the transformation of food with four basic elements: fire, water, air and earth. Experimenting with all four approaches to cooking, making everything from cheese, kimchi, bread and beer (yes, making beer), Pollan reveals truths that may be too obvious and accessible for many to accept as a key to better health; cooking could be the means to a healthier and happier life.

These days home cooked meals are considered rare commodity or simply not worth exerting the extra effort. Granted we have more options than ever, ranging from fast foods (which will seem to never die) to restaurants specializing in local, organic meals. So it’s not that there aren’t health options, it’s just that spending $12 on a breakfast for cage-free, local scrambled eggs isn’t always feasible. Though eating more whole foods is. It just require a bit more time and for some, a few skills to develop. (But we’re talking skills in cooking here, not in Chemistry.)

Eating out has become a national norm that has replaced the family dinner and aided in our health decline. The Atlantic Journal’s latest cover suggests “Engineering Healthier Junk Food” could be “The Cure for Obesity”, such as wholesome Egg McMuffins and slipping healthier ingredients into “foods that light up precisely the same pleasure centers as a 3 Musketeers bar.” While I will never complain about chocolate, it's hardly the answer to our health. Jamy Ard, a preventative medicine researcher and co-director of the Weight Management Center would differ. He believes, “Processed foods is a key part of our environment, and needs to be a key part of our answer.” While I’m sure more processed weight loss foods wouldn’t hurt Mr. Ard’s business, an increase of more enriched and genetically modified foods (GMO’s) is hardly the answer. (And why The Atlantic Journal found such a feature, suggesting just that, worthy of some 13 pages is beyond me.) No matter which way you word it (and no matter which way you modify it) food itself will never be the cure.

Every GMO and Hot Pocket that replaces more meals is like dumbing down a natural process of sorts, similar to our excessive use of texting and Facebook. Just like these social platforms inevitably change the depth and dynamics of relationships, relying on the engineered, convenient foods alters, not only our state of health, but our mental connection and social dynamics of what a real meal is.

Most people looking for a magic weight-loss pill aren’t necessarily going to pick up Michael Pollans books, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, “In the Defense of Food” or the recent “Cooked”. Though since first reading “In the Defense of Food” I’ve found Pollan knows more about weight loss and well-being than most diet books. While they may not have overnight slimming powers to your waistline, I will say reading and developing such an approach to food as Pollans would enrich most lives beyond a nutritional stand point. Cooking is more than just making a meal. It’s an experience. It’s no accident that we were born with a need for food, and real food comes with the need for preparation, that causes us to slow down, allowing us to savor and enjoy the process as well as a more nutritious, and delicious meal. If all that doesn’t sounds like an effortless, economical and enriching means to health, I’m not sure what does.

Cooking is a process not everyone loves naturally but, like many other things in life, it is a process one can learn to love. Rediscovering the rituals of home cooked meals is somewhat magical. And the magic will likely have many more benefits than just losing a few pounds. As Pollan would say, “Cooking is alchemy.”