When I read about healthy fast food company Leon’s new Cook 5 campaign this weekend, it got me thinking about the recipes that I took with me when I left home for art college. I had more than five, but I was the biggest foodie among my friends. That didn’t take much.
The Cook 5 campaign sets out to help us teach kids how to make, and enjoy making, simple, healthy family meals. Along with the new curriculum that will make cookery classes mandatory in schools from September, Cook 5 represents another small step towards tackling the UK obesity crisis. The bad fairy whispering in my ear is accusing Leon, and the coalition, of trying to make dough with Jamie Oliver’s breadcrumbs. The good fairy is saying that every horsemeat-free, homemade meal helps.
Anything that sets out to help us make healthier choices about what to eat has to be a good thing. But it strikes me that the problem is a lot deeper than whether or not our children have rehearsed the procedure of boiling an egg. I studied home economics at my comprehensive in the nineties and it failed to inspire even my ready appetite. The classes certainly didn’t do much to compensate those who never cooked at home, or those with burgeoning issues surrounding diet and body shape.
My first flat in South London was shared with two young women, neither of whom cooked. One of their mums would regularly deliver freezer cartons filled with homemade lasagne and cottage pie with oven timings written on the lids, the other one ate baked beans. Then I moved in with two Mackems. One, now a top fashion designer, used to subsist on biscuits, margherita pizza and chicken wings. The other once left me a stern letter listing my misdemeanours as a housemate, that included the fact I cooked more than she.
Around that time I went on holiday to Barcelona with six school friends. My abiding memory is of the arguments we had every mealtime because we couldn’t find a restaurant that would cater for our differing diets. I doubt such a place exists. Our requirements ranged from my own desire to eat everything in sight to those of a bulimic, and assorted food-group exclusions in between.
All but a few of my peers were from well-to-do backgrounds, and many regularly enjoyed healthy meals at home with their folks. And yet, these young people of many poor diets were united by their ambivalence towards or worse, distrust and fear of what they ate. The home economics classes and the cakes they baked with their mums at home had failed to deliver a healthy curiosity towards food, or a hunger to cook. Instead, they were confused.
In an age of food blogs, telly chefs, supermarket promotions and free sheets, no one in the UK, rich or poor, can be left wanting for a recipe. The reason people aren’t cooking is not because they couldn’t work out how to steam a carrot, I think it’s because we have become, in many aspects of our lives, detached.
This is surely to do with the illusionary ideals of commercialism. The same reason we enjoy envying tales of celebrities’ lifestyles, and pore over fashion magazines filled with unattainable, unaffordable beauties. If we had more time and more money, we would cook that, eat that, look like that. We have neither time nor money, so we chuck a Findus lasagne in the oven and turn on 30-minute Meals.
Our children are growing up with the sense that fast is good, and slow, less so. Perhaps the freelancer’s pricing triangle good/fast/cheap can be applied to food culture as well: you can only have two at a time.
To enjoy and be competent at cooking demands more than the ability to follow recipes. Good home cooking requires a creative, open-minded, leisurely attitude towards eating rather than the need for fast hunger fulfilment. That is why cooking is a difficult habit to instil in adults not used to having to fit it into their busy schedules.
Rather than impose more classes or competitions on our kids, I think perhaps the best thing we could do to improve food futures in the UK is to allow people the chance to slow down. Take 5 anyone?
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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