Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jamie Oliver Talks About the American Diet

I just watched the video of Jamie Oliver's talk at TED. He makes some very important points about our nation's diet, about the fact that the top three leading causes of death in the United States are diet related. Imagine that. The top three things that kill most Americans are caused by the way we eat.

And we're not talking about food-borne illnesses, either. Five thousand people die from food-borne illnesses per year. By contrast, over a million people per year die from heart disease, cancer and stroke.

When there's a recall of contaminated food, it makes HUGE headlines and everyone is all in an uproar. Spinach, hamburg, and peanut butter are pulled from the shelves, tout de suite, to protect our health (Right? The food industry officials are very concerned with Americans' health).

And the government, too. Right? They're very concerned about our health, which is why it's illegal to sell, buy or distribute raw milk for human consumption in twenty-two states, because raw milk might be contaminated with bacteria.

And, yet, the food most of us eat on a regular basis, our regular, every day diet, is so full of stuff that our bodies can't process (like excessive amounts of sugar, which wreaks havoc with our pancreas) that we're killing ourselves, little by little, each day, and while we gather arms and cry foul when our peanut butter is contaminated with salmonella, the fact that Skippy peanut butter has sugar as one of its ingredients doesn't even phase us. Afterall, sugar isn't a contaminate, right?

Maybe we should ask our pancreas.

Clearly, we have our priorties skewed.

I bought tomatoes today. I know. They're out of season. I bought hothouse tomatoes grown in Maine. I know. Hothouses, in Maine, probably use as many resources to grow their (hydroponic) tomatoes as producers in California do to ship their field tomatoes to me.

But we've used up all of the tomato sauce I canned last summer. I know. I should just do without until summer.

In the past, I would have just bought some cans of tomato sauce at the grocery store to supplement until summer time, but I read an article the other day about how the cans in which most of our mass-produced canned foods are stored are lined with BPA. So, I looked up BPA, and I didn't like what I found.

According to the Wikipedia article, BPA has been suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930s. Seriously? And it wasn't until 2008 that it became an issue?

So, I bought some tomatoes, and I brought them home, where I chopped them up and cooked them for a while, before pureeing them, pouring them into some glass jars, and putting them in the freezer for when we want marinara sauce or chili or Yankee pot roast.

I love that Jamie Oliver is advocating working with food manufacturers, and while I would like to get in his corner and try to work with the system, they've been LYING to us and KILLING us for YEARS ... and YEARS ... and YEARS!

Why should they stop now? What incentive is there to change the cans?

And the government? Ha! There's no money in forcing labeling of food products, but there's a great deal of money in high fructose corn syrup.

Our options are to allow them to continue killing us, or stop buying their products.

I'm going to stop buying their products, which will, hopefully, make us more healthy, but also ...

Jamie Oliver made one other very good point in his talk. He said that people who know how to cook are "recession proof." I liked that he hit us in the pocketbook. If it's not enough for most people to think of their health (and that of their children) before they pick up the phone and dial 1-800-DELIVERY or drive-thru Mickey D's on the way home from the mall, maybe it will be enough to remind them that a 2lb bag of dried beans for $5 at the grocery store can feed five people two and a half meals with no additives (except the spices from their cabinets), no preservatives, and no sugar.

The Eat-In challenge ended on Friday. We didn't eat out today, either. We cooked on the grill, and now we have so much food in our house, it would be almost sinful to go out to eat. I don't know when the next time will be that we decide to let a "professional" cook for us.

Of course, knowing that what they serve might come from a can ... or have too much sugar ... or be from a factory farm ... maybe we're better off just cooking at home.

At least we know where most of that food comes from :).


  1. Good post. I admire what Jamie Oliver is doing. It's especially interesting for me since I trained as a chef, and when I stop to think about it, I often feel very dislocated from the US diet and way of eating. I've struggled very seriously at times to fathom the lack of cooking in the average US home - I literally cannot imagine being unable or unwilling to cook, unless it comes about through some physical disability. And that has made me feel alienated from most of my fellow citizens. Not antipathy, but really an opacity of understanding.

    I don't understand people who find no pleasure in cooking, or who are intimidated by it, or who don't value either the superior quality of homemade food, or its health benefits, or its economical nature enough to simply cook their own food. Cooking isn't rocket science. And even though I trained and cooked professionally, I almost never turn out something that looks like what you'd be served in a fine restaurant. Simple foods that taste really good are the common fare in my home.

    I get it that some people won't take it as far as *raising* their own food, even where there is ample opportunity. But I simply canNOT understand the lack of cooking in private homes.

    Yet here comes Oliver with his professional background in cooking, and he engages so deeply with people who aren't cooking, and are suffering because of it. And he really tries to make an enormous difference. Though I teach cooking classes, and so contribute in a very small way to spreading cooking skills, he's doing it on a larger scale. My hat is off to him.

  2. I've loved Jamie Oliver for years now from his cooking shows on Food Network. I really enjoyed this talk. I actually posted on my facebook page to share because I really think this is important information. I even called the kids in to look at the vegis he shows the kids and they were amazed that those kids didn't even know what a potato is (Rowan didn't recognize the eggplant, but knew all the others). Duane made the observation last week at the grocery store (yes we shop as a family) that we only really go through the ends of the store - produce and dairy w/the occasional stop for fish, pasta or rice. I'm really rather proud of us - we've come a long way - still a long way to go, but we are making the necessary steps to eat healthier and locally. This summer is going to be about learning how to store all the extra we grow and buy. :}

  3. I love what he's doing, too, and I'm so impressed with him and his "kitchen" movement. I, also, REALLY, love the fact that he went to West Virginia to start his program, where Johnson's War on Poverty gave people supplemental food, which resulted in the loss of the generations of knowledge on how to grow and prepare food from their own gardens and the surrounding land.

    I agree with you. I am saddened by the loss of so much knowledge of just basic cooking techniques. I mean, it doesn't have to be restaurant-fancy. A simple roasted meat with a salad is a good meal. It doesn't have to be complicated, and I don't know why we make it so difficult on ourselves.

    My hat goes off to you! I wish I were close enough to take your class, and I hope you'll include some of those great techniques, like curing meat, because that's the kind of thing I want to know how to do ;).

  4. Hope: I was surprised by how few of the vegetables the kids could identify. I think my kids could have identified them all, because I've grown, harvested and cooked all of the ones he showed, but more and more I realize that my kids aren't "normal" - but in a good way ;).

    We shop as a family, too ;). When we go to the grocery store, we walk down every aisle. We pick-up things like sugar, tea, and coffee, ketchup and mayonnaise, olives, dried beans, and baking supplies (chocolate chips!), but we usually just walk right through the processed food aisles.

    You'll have fun this summer learning how to do all of that. It's blast! We should have a canning party ;). My biggest hurdle has been pressure canning, and I'm not completely over it, yet, but I can, now, use the pressure canner without fear that I'm going to blow up my house ;).

  5. Great post! We got out for dinner once every 2 weeks. Sometimes I just want someone else to cook! But I'm trying to get better about getting lunch out. We do that once or twice a week. I'm going to cut that back too. I haven't canned anything in over a year. My freezer is full of things that could be canned but I haven't done it yet.

  6. Christy: There's a very good reason that you haven't canned in a year, but I'm sure you'll get right back into in no time ;). Anyway, it's not canning the stuff, but using it that's important, right? I just put four pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. I could have given them a water bath, but putting them in the freezer was faster ;).

  7. Hi Wendy,
    Oh, I really enjoyed this post!
    The American diet (and lifestyle) started changing in the 50's and 60's. My mother cooked most of our meals at home (we had an occasional pizza or meatball grinder as take-out), but by the time I got married, television had introduced America to frozen and boxed foods, and that's when the big companies started filling us with "extras". Combine that with the pesticides and artificial fertilizers that agri-business began using earlier. Yuk.
    Our parents and grandparents had a much healthier diet, even with the animal fat they consumed. On the flip side, our children have a terrible diet, filled with unpronouncable additives. (By "our" children, I mean American youth.) And I agree with your sentiment about the gov't not protecting us....
    Sorry, but I could really work up a good rant about this subject. :)
    I've seen the Jamie Oliver commercial with the children and the vegetables. Thank goodness he's speaking up about this. Hopefully parents will listen!
    Thanks for reinforcing the reasons why we need to be more self-sufficient.

  8. That was a great Ted Talk. Jamie's great.