Why Convenience Made Us Fat: the Case for DIY Cooking

Nature had it right, but we weren’t satisfied. We wanted it easier, quicker, better. Ironies! We’re now finding that - though it may be easier and quicker - it’s NOT better, and could be, in fact, much worse for you.

In an article written in 1985 for the American Journal of Economics, Oral Capps, Jr., John R Tedford, and Joseph Havlicek, Jr., have the following to say:

During the past few decades, a myriad of convenience foods, particularly canned foods, frozen items, and mixes, have been introduced into the marketplace. Convenience food products transfer the time and activities of preparation from the household manager to the food processor.

They go on to designate different classes to convenience. Firstly, the basic convenience class. In this domain falls the canned tomato, the dried herb, and the frozen corn. It is the class of preservation. The second class is the complex convenience class - composed of mixes, multi-ingredient “foods” composed in such a way as to save time and/or energy as well as help the cook who has little “culinary expertise.” The third class is manufactured convenience - those foods which are already “made” and only need a bit of heat or a fork in order to be eaten - or worse, nothing at all (a bag of potato chips, a fast-food drive-thru).

If we “take this and run with it” we can easily see how our nation, through the past century, has progressed from the first, to the second, to the third - in rapid succession.

According to Webster’s Online Dictionary,

Studies show that by 1965, 27 to 30 percent of US households had significantly incorporated convenience foods into their diets. By the 1990s, convenience foods in the US and UK compromised a large portion of the average diet. In the US, several studies indicate that many families diets consist entirely of convenience foods and fast food. By the 21st century, nearly every US household uses convenience foods in one form or another.

But how did this all happen? Just to give you a taste...

In his book, Consumption, Food, and Taste, Alan Warde unveils the difference (“Convenience or Care: Advertising the Antimony”) by citing headlines from controversial ads: “Cold hands, warm heart. It’s not about the love, it’s about the pastry.” The same ad continues, “You can still enjoy the smell of fresh baking wafting from the kitchen. You can still experience the taste of crisp pastry eaten hot from the oven. You just miss out on the hassle.”

Warde goes on to say that

This in many ways epitomizes the dilemma of convenience against care. Home cooking is declared the way to a man’s heart. It is the proper way to cherish a family. Food is an express of love, and a sacrifice too - a labor of love. You can do it, and indeed would do it, if only you had the time - how could you not, given what it means. But of course you are sometimes busy! You would not choose easy ways out just because you are insufficiently skilled, but because there are other demands upon you. Then you can use the made-up version. This contains Stork [the quoted advertiser] ingredients, a branded guarantee of good quality. The commodity is a perfect substitute. Or, if not quite perfect, it will still perform the function of expressing love and care. It is simultaneously the same thing and the next-best thing. The outcome will be perfect, and, though the advertisement does not say so, it implies that nobody will be able to tell the difference.

And so, though this particular ad bit the dust because it was too stark in it’s comparison (or so it was supposed, and probably likely), we see quite clearly how the “excuse” for convenience foods as an alternate quick-fix came to be accepted. Over time, the quick-fix became the common-fix, the "if-I-did-it-yesterday-why-not-today" excuse, leading to (fast-forwarding to today) a serious case of amnesia: we’ve forgotten what life was like - not only entirely without convenience foods, but when convenience foods were the grave exception to the rule; ads like these made them the occasional exception to the rule, and finally, thanks to the post-WWII industrialization of food, the rule that made homemade pie the exception.

I think that, if we did the research, we’d find our national weight to go up, hand in hand, with the amount of convenience foods consumed. The more we were fed (rather than the more we made), the plumper we became. The ONLY way to get back to what we have lost is to - well, quite simply - remake it, before it’s completely gone. At this time, we’re grasping at straws. Many of us have never learned how to make a pie, let alone grind wheat or churn butter. We haven’t needed to... but if we want to rescue our health (and perhaps more importantly, the health of our children!) we need to LEARN TO DIY!!!! The kitchen shouldn’t be a daunting place - it should be a gathering place!

Convenience, in a nutshell, wasn’t really convenient. Perhaps it was profitable for some; perhaps it afforded us time - time to do “other things”. But I wager that the time spent with family in the kitchen is time that can’t be matched by other things. I guarantee that the cost of ceding family time to general convenience is much more than the price on the packaged food... kids grow up, life goes on, and well, that time was spent - where? In front of the TV? On the internet? At work?... was it really worth it, then, to buy those frozen salisbury steaks? - Not to mention the health benefit of either side - the obesity epidemic that is the result of convenience foods, versus the wholesome, made-from-scratch-and-love benefit of slow food, kitchen food, family food. Both body and soul benefit - and not just at that meal, but for months and years to come ... the effect of that kind of food is cumulative; this cannot be denied. Memories are made around real food, while convenience food snatches away that blessed “memory-making” time from the family.

Convenience... who would have guessed it would make us sad, fat and lonely? ... We were conned. But likewise, we can be unconned. To rephrase an old saying,

Raise your glasses, clink your mugs! We’re eating food, instead of drugs!

Don’t be doped. Those ten minutes - maybe just a little more - are worth their weight in gold! Teach your toddler to fry an egg; show your teenager how to bring a meal together. Learn so yourself, from books and websites, if you haven’t learned before. Yes, it takes a leap of faith; but that faith, that belief, is grounded in reality - not so with convenience. The foods that make us fat are the foods that hold no value to our memories - we didn’t make them, we bought them. Where’s the memory in that? So, dig deep. Give yourself the best reason in the world - family, friends, posterity - to learn and use that which you have not... from personal experience I can say, convenience takes away a lot of the fun AND taste of food! It deprives you of the fun of experiment; it takes you away from the kitchen (ironically) and thereby, from your family and friends. Make your kitchen your hearth, your gathering-place; make your cutting board a reason to talk about life, your stove a medium for deep conversation, and your dining table the deepest connection to those nearest and dearest to you.

The price of real food can’t be measured. It can’t be put on sale. It’s priceless.


Local, local everywhere, but not a drop to drink...


The Ethics and Philosophy of "Local"

“Do I buy local produce only, or do I support local bakeries and such as well?” A question such as this takes local to the heart of the matter: what is it about “local” that I support? and why?

Buying local, to me, signifies a couple things:
1) My belief in small, local government;
2) My hopes for a return to small, local everything - from the school system to insurance and neighborhood communities;
3) A vote in favor of “terroir”. Terroir - one of my favorite words. In fact, it stands for most everything I believe in!
4) My faith in the common man. Buying local = trust.

I’m not convinced that just buying local produce in the summertime is enough. The far-reaching fingers of Corporate America have left their mark seemingly everywhere: the cars we drive, the homes we live in, even the water we drink. How far are we willing to go to “buy local”? - Not just “go” in terms of miles... but in terms of effort? Is going local the answer to today’s rampant materialism? If not, what IS the answer? Where do we start?

It does have to start somewhere. Most likely, we need to fight fire with fire and take that stand with our own two hands, our pocketbooks, and our families. Local isn’t just about food; it’s about relationships. A good relationship with your neighbor is something no government entity can touch. And THAT, my friends, is my number one reason for supporting local - everything.

Voting with Your Two Hands

If you can, do it yourself. This applies to everything from the toilet to the garden. Though self-sufficiency folks like John Seymour may have it right in some ways (by publishing the books they publish and living the lives they do) it’s really only part of the answer. No man is an island - there’s a tenet that America (even in Colonial times) seems to wish didn’t exist. Yet the truth is, if corporations crumble and supermarkets close, we couldn’t get by without a little help from our friends.
Self-sufficiency is only one side of the coin: if you learn how to do it yourself, it makes you able to be of service to your fellow man in learning how to live without relying upon the given commodities of today. Can you learn? If you can, then you can teach. And if it’s something you can’t learn, let’s hope that others have learned it, so they can share with you - as you will with them.

Voting with Your Pocketbook

How can government withstand small business bartering and trading? They try, but we still have our freedom. We still have the right (the God-given right) to grow vegetables in our own backyard; to can them and swap them with friends and family. That’s the little seed of trust that will one day sprout and grow into a big tree - a tree of lending, loaning, sharing, trusting and genuinely living together.

Every time I think about the “local dilemma” I try to picture ourselves without internet, cell phone, or car. How would we do it? I know I personally wouldn’t be able to Google-map the directions to the local coop; I wouldn’t be able to drive (let alone walk!) the distance necessary to make it to the farmer’s market. Though it would seem that self-sufficiency be the answer to all that, it’s really only a part of the whole. How could we do it if we didn’t have community, a local network to rely upon - a social form of give and take?

Enter community: those fellowmen of ours in this our life. It’s a gold-mine as yet untouched by big government... (though they haven’t really needed to touch it, as it was abandoned by our own choice in favor of TV and internet... but I digress.)

I’ll gladly eat at a Mom & Pop diner any day before I set foot in an Applebee’s or McDonald’s. Perhaps diner food isn’t organic, or perhaps it isn’t even local produce (ahhh, we all have an ideal, don’t we?!) but we’re giving our wages to support the honest efforts of someone competing with nationwide chains - and that, my friends, is worth it to me.

The next step in the local chain is getting to know the Mom & Pop behind the diner: their story, their family. And letting them get to know you as well. It’s these relationships that foster the ground upon which education can commence; one family against the sea of commercialism won't be enough. Word of mouth still has power - it always will.

Voting with Your Families

If you don’t share with and educate your family, friends, and neighbors, how will the return to the land, the movement for local, ever thrive? We can’t keep silent about it. We have to prove it by our words and our works.

Perhaps the following idea may seem wild and “out there”, but I propose as well, that we have children - many of them. We’re drowning in a sea of amnesia; folks all around us are ignorant to the ways of nature, the ways of the land and of our forefathers (we’re not even going to address the great role technology has had in all of this...) - but children! Ah, if you can give them the appropriate environment in which they can healthily grow; if you show them by example and by effort how to live the conscious life; if you teach them, gently, in a dedicated way, how to pass on what they have learned... then, and only then, my friends, will the return to what we have lost really take hold.

Fightin’ that Fire with Fire

The heat is excruciating; the temptation to give up extreme. And yet we fight. It’s all we have left, really. We can put our money into our gardens, our farmer’s markets, our local community - and yet the heat of consumerism threatens to engulf us. We have to protect ourselves from it all - and how better than by our own fire? I say, stand up for your life! If you sit back, you’ll be letting your life be run by others. This is where the fire of self-sufficiency and self-education can really be hotter than anything else. If it burns within your heart of hearts, if your reasons and motives are deep and all-encompassing, then nothing can withstand them.
Learn! Read! Practice! Fight! Even if it’s an inch a day you gain, that’s an inch more than yesterday’s. Reach out to others; don’t let human fear stand in your way. Don’t just buy from farmer’s markets - talk to the sellers. Engage in friendly chitchat. Return the next week, and the next. Maybe offer a tasty recipe using their produce; maybe ask gardening hints or tips... you’ll never know what you can learn - or what friends you'll make. Use your backyard fence again; hang clothes, plant seeds, get out there. Play with your kids in the dusk and twilight - don't be afraid to say "hi" to a passing neighbor. And above all, don't be afraid to take a stand for what you believe in. Sometimes all it takes is a little neighborly convincing to get just another fellow on your bandwagon.


I dream of a homemade home, of small community, of “walking distance” and good friends to work alongside. I dream of going to bed early, genuinely tired but happy from a long day’s work; I dream of getting up perhaps even before dawn, shedding my rose-colored glasses, and putting my - ahem - butt to work. If future generations are going to survive, their life depends on the work and efforts we make today.

So, get out there! Don’t be timid! Fight for your rights - community, collaboration, and change - believe in that change of heart both for ourselves and for our fellow men!


This is hilarious

So, to preface: on a daily basis, I eat approximately 3000 calories, the majority of which come from good fats.

I maintain a steady weight of 113-116, which at my height of 5'6" is barely "normal" - a BMI of 18.2 - 18.7.

I plug my age, weight and height into a Calorie Calculator and it tells me that in order to maintain my weight - at my age and height - I should be consuming about HALF of what I do: 1553 calories.


To boot, those 1553 calories should be divided this way:
45% carbohydrates
30% protein
25% fat

Huh. Would they say I fall into the "lucky" category? I wouldn't agree. I would say I'm truly living proof that traditional diets work.

Not only do they work, but they make you LOOK better too. Here are just a few pics from earlier this year, when I was still struggling with anorexia and definitely not eating very well at all:

And this, from a couple days ago, after gaining weight on an inpatient diet, and then eating the Weston Price way:


Empty Calories, Empty Minds

There’s a connection. Food and body, thoughts and mind. What we’re thinking (or what we’re not) is really in direct correlation to what we're eating (or what we're not). Years ago, when life was all there was to live, folks didn’t have to wonder where their food came from, how it was made, if it was good for them or not. But so much has change in this past century. Now, in this age of information and technology, mankind is bombarded by the media, by the high speed of life, entertainment, the internet, the boggling questions in the realm of relationships (do I marry? Kids? When? How many?) - not to mention the multitude of different kinds of diets, from vegan to Atkins to back again. Where did simplicity of mind and body go? Can we ever get it back?
My answer is yes. A very real and solid YES. And you guessed it - simplicity of mind doesn’t include counting calories or miles run or even, for that matter, weighing yourself and obsessing over your BMI. The food industry is overrun with statistics, while food in and of itself, real food, is anything but a statistic. As many before me have said, food can’t be viewed as a compilation of nutrients. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and if we think about it too much, it takes all the enjoyment out of it.

It seems sad to realize that we have lost touch with reality while we’ve been learning so much. It really appears that yes, too much knowledge is a dangerous thing! There surface too many options, too many weighty (!) decisions - too many whys, becauses, optionals, refining and sifting to find the perfect.

Food isn’t perfect. That’s the beauty of it. In trying to fit the realm of food into a cubbyhole called “nutrition”, we have peeled away the layers of enjoyment, sliced through the spirit of socialization, taken out the core of satiety, and packaged and labeled it all under “Nutrition Facts.” All hail the mighty twinkie... though the irony is, those who are eating the twinkies very rarely are the ones reading the twinkie nutritional numbers. Skinny girls are running around obsessing over the calories in the apple they had for lunch, while others hide in their cars dining on a whole box of donuts. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I know the agony. I know the indecision.

I also know that I found a way out of it. I learned to separate numbers from food, realizing that the two had nothing in common. I then began to limit my options - in a reasonable way: I began to eat what we have lost. And by that I mean, real food. I stopped scoffing fat as being from the devil. I stopped “labeling” foods, not just as good or bad, but labeling them at all. A fruit is a fruit is a fruit - I stopped my thoughts there, with no further debate about the GI of each fruit, which one should I have now, should I eat it with fat, should I get more active afterwards, etc., etc. I hit the STOP button. I was giving power to the numbers, just like I used to give power to the girls who mocked me in high school, by crying and complaining to my sister (or to whomever would listen!)... I began to realize that the more I let go of trying to control my food, the more control I had over the rest of my life. I was slowly but surely gaining back what I had lost. And in the meantime, I was beginning to really, truly savor, delight in, and enjoy old-fashioned food.

What is old-fashioned food? Pretty much anything any nation ate before the industrial revolution began... I’m talking about raw (or as some call it, real) milk, pastured eggs from “free range” farm chickens; grass-fed beef, delectable sprouted grains, loads of fresh raw creamery butter; salt from the sea, first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil; dark, rich chocolate... basically, what I like to call The Works. These are the things that enabled farmers to farm, women to work and maintain large households; these are the foods that scorn being labeled or numbered or even, tasting the same every time. There’s plenty of rhythm in real food - just very little rhyme. Pastured eggs taste different. And they very well could taste different every other week. Same with real milk; it varies, just like the diet of the cow it came from. Fruits, vegetables, fats, meats - all of them deriving their flavors from their natural environments - no two will ever quite taste the same. (Unlike the aforementioned twinkie - why, it always tastes the same! Just like a number. Always the same. Where’s the enjoyment in that?) Over time, your taste buds will wake up. They’ll ask for butter on top your steak; they’ll notice the difference between this week’s onions from this farmstand, versus the ones from the market up the road. You’ll get picky, selective: but all in a very good way.

The numbers will float out the window. You’ll know your cravings are simply your body knowing which nutrients it needs - you don’t need to know. You’ll begin to notice that your cravings for sugar are really cravings for fat (especially animal fat). Your taste for food will return, or awaken, in a way you never thought was possible.

The first time I had raw milk, I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. The first time I had high quality pastured eggs, I realized they were worthy every penny of the $3.50 I paid for them. It took time, but now I can’t fathom replacing my 85% dark chocolate with a Butterfinger. It almost seems like heresy. On the other hand, I can’t ever imagine starving myself again or counting calories. It would be a slander against the good food nature provides for me. Every glug of olive oil is worth it; every drip of cream is savored. Real food is valuable. And as we all know, the things that are of the most value to us are above quantification. How could we measure the love we have for those dearest to us? Likewise, how could we measure the value of the food that is dearest to our bodies? It’s anathema.

We can, and have, researched the value of old-fashioned food. Books like Real Food by Nina Planck, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, outline in great detail the reasons and the scientific findings of the value of real, old-fashioned meals. There’s a whole movement out there for local foods (in fact August is Local Food Month), hoping to bring Americans back to the table, away from overdoses of options, back to when life was all we had to live. Life, that was totally worth living. It’s out there. It could one day be in your own back yard.

If I had just a little advice to give, it would be this: accept animal fats as being good for you. Your body can’t live very well without them. Stop worrying, let go and don’t look back. Limit your options to real food - food that’s easy to read (by taste alone!), easy to digest, lovely to taste, and nourishing - both for the body and the mind.

Once your stomach is satiated, your mind will come alive. Mine did. No more empty calories for me. Life is too valuable for that.


I wish I lived ...

Near here.

Wouldn't that be awesome?

I'm going to be starting on a series of articles here, soon; my interest in nutrition has been growing slowly (in tune with my recovery, I'd say). It's really morphed, lately, however, into something much more serious: I'm dying to write about it. Write, write, write. I'm no longer content to just sit and read about it. :)

Stay tuned!


Weighty issues

So this past week my diet has consisted of about 55% good fats (mainly from animals, grass-fed, and a reliable EVOO). I haven't had any desserts, haven't craved any sugar, haven't missed my grains & carbs (I do still eat sprouted bread).

Lo (haha, yes!) and behold, I haven't gained a POUND.

I FEEL BETTER, my hubby says I look better, I have more energy, I am WAY more satiated, the list goes on...

Here's a few of our recent eats:

Liver, fried in butter & EVOO, with butter added afterward as well :)

Chicken-bone broth, slow cooked for over 24 hours...
seared smoked-ham steak...
DELISH grilled cheese (sprouted bread, raw cheddar, EVOO) & salad...
BAKED CHICKEN! (my very own ground whole wheat, too!) :)