This is a persuasive essay I wrote for a college class.
The Necessity of Culinary Skills
“Approximately half of the 10 leading causes of death in America have dietary habits at their root” (Michaud, 2007, para 1). In third world countries, health problems related to poor diet can be explained by conditions such as scarcity of food and contaminated food sources. Americans, however, have access to an abundance of healthy foods, but statistics show that they are choosing foods that jeopardize their well-being. An argument could be made that Americans are making unhealthy choices such as prepackaged foods and restaurant meals because these simplify a hectic lifestyle. Perhaps, though, Americans lack the basic culinary knowledge required to prepare a wholesome home-cooked meal.
The amount of time spent preparing home cooked meals decreased 38.6% between 1956 and the late 1990s (Michaud, 2007, para 27), and 73% of Americans say they are “cooking challenged” (Enis, 2010, para. 3).
Hundreds of years ago, people had to hunt and gather for food, and they had to know how to prepare the food to make it edible. Several generations in the past, people raised and butchered animals, grew and harvested crops, and could create meals from the results of those efforts. Society has evolved and today people only have to drive to a restaurant or put a box in the microwave to create a meal. The correlation between a decrease in cooking skills and an increase in diet related health problems seems obvious.
In 2002, Americans spent 46% of their food budget on meals from restaurants, almost double the amount spent in 1970 (Michaud, 2007, para 7). In a study conducted by Rydell (2008), one in four respondents reported eating at a fast food restaurant daily, and 92% said they chose fast food because it is quick. Even though restaurant food may seem like a convenient solution for mealtime, this choice is killing Americans. Restaurant meals are often high in calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. Culinary knowledge is a skill Americans must master to combat the epidemic of obesity and related diseases plaguing the nation.
Chef Jamie Oliver, who has hosted television cooking shows and authored several books, believes strongly in the connection between poor diet and inadequate culinary ability. Oliver has launched a campaign called the Food Revolution, a movement to educate people about nutrition, inspire an appreciation and aptitude for cooking, and change the types of foods served in school cafeterias.
On his website, Oliver states, “Cooking skills give people a basic knowledge about food and help them make more informed decisions about what to eat. Without these skills, people have no choice but to eat fast food and processed meals.”
Americans are inundated with information about the nutritional benefits of certain foods. Advertisements tout the importance of whole grains, talk show hosts endorse exotic fruits, and websites claim that mushrooms can alleviate the symptoms of HIV. Americans do not apply this information to the purchase of raw ingredients and the preparation of a wholesome meal. Instead, they buy refined and processed foods, beverages filled with preservatives and sugars, or pills that contain mostly fillers and additives.
One thing that can be done to change the poor dietary choices of Americans is education about nutrition and the importance of raw unprocessed food. A program like Oliver’s Food Revolution is an example of how this can be done. Oliver has established Jamie’s Kitchen in Huntington, West Virginia, to provide nutrition information to residents. Those with the knowledge need to educate others and advocate for changes in the manufacturing and restaurant industries.
In addition, those who have culinary skills should teach this information to others. In years past, learning to cook was a family endeavor, and skills and recipes were passed from one generation to the next. As society has become increasingly dependent on convenience and restaurant foods, this tradition has waned. Entire generations of Americans have not been taught to cook. Those who can cook need to teach others, both adults and children. This can be done informally with friends or family, or in a more structured setting such as a community cooking class.
Focusing on instilling culinary skills in children is critical. Children are the generation who can reverse the trend of unhealthy eating that has become the norm in America. “”Having basic cooking skills with a focus on health can provide an indelible skill that leads to lifelong healthier habits and a lot of fun. If kids learn confidence in the kitchen, and can enjoy being active and choosing healthy foods from an early age, they are much more likely to continue such practices in adulthood” (James, 09).
Poor food choices are kiling Americans. Half of the leading causes of death can be attributed to dietary habits. People are spending about 40% less time preparing homecooked meals than they did 40 years ago. Instead they are increasingly eating refined and processed foods, which could be because 73% of Americans say they lack cooking skills. Unless this trend is reversed though nutrition education and cooking lessons, the epidemic of obesity and related diseases could spiral out of control.
Enis, M. (2010). Study: Shoppers Still Need Help with Cooking. Supermarket News, 58.14(), .
James, Vickie. (2009, November-December). A Healthy Habit. Skipping Stones, 14(), .
Michaud, P., Condrasky, M., & Griffin, S. (2007, October). Review and application of current literature related to culinary programs for nutrition educators. Topics in Clinical Nutrition , 22(4), 336-348.
Oliver, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.jamieoliver.com/
Rydell, S., Harnack, L., Oakes, J., Story, M., Jeffery, R., & French, S. (2008). Why Eat at Fast-Food Restaurants: Reported Reasons among Frequent Consumers. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(12), 2066-2070.