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Pull Up A Chair…

When I was a young girl, watching Julia Child on our local PBS station was the height of entertainment for me.

There was something fascinating about watching this hilariously extremely-serious-about-cooking woman baste and chop her way through an entire show, reveling in her mistakes and laughing.  And then turning out these fabulous dishes which she clearly took great pride in cooking.

I loved it.

Growing up, everyone in my family cooked: my dad, my mom, my granny…everyone. It was a sort of osmosis from the kitchen that I picked it up, too, I suppose. And because we had a garden, it was all very fresh, whole food.

Recently, Michael Pollan had a lengthy discussion about the lack of cooking skills and food knowledge, and the proliferation of packaged crap in our daily diets.

The lack of cooking in this country was shockingly low but not really surprising.  Especially given the sheer number of fast food restaurants that can be found in and around my dinky little town. But what was most startling was this:

. . . obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income. Other research supports the idea that cooking is a better predictor of a healthful diet than social class: a 1992 study in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that poor women who routinely cooked were more likely to eat a more healthful diet than well-to-do women who did not.

So cooking matters — a lot. Which when you think about it, should come as no surprise. When we let corporations do the cooking, they’re bound to go heavy on sugar, fat and salt; these are three tastes we’re hard-wired to like, which happen to be dirt cheap to add and do a good job masking the shortcomings of processed food. And if you make special-occasion foods cheap and easy enough to eat every day, we will eat them every day. The time and work involved in cooking, as well as the delay in gratification built into the process, served as an important check on our appetite. Now that check is gone, and we’re struggling to deal with the consequences.

During Marion Nestle’s book salon several months ago, I asked how dietary recommendations from the government got so muddled. Marion’s book details the infamous history of the McGovern attempts to recommend less meat consumption to reduce intake of saturated fats — and the meat industry lobby smackdown immediately thereafter that has resulted in watered down dietary information ever since. Marion said that new guidelines were forthcoming in 2010.

I’d like to be hopeful for some guidelines more steeped in science and less in lobbying moolah, but I’m not holding my breath.

Which is why I’m excited about a couple of things: (1) the recent proliferation of books on the correlation between healthy whole foods eating, lifestyle changes and other healthier choices and (2) the movie Julie and Julia.

Stay with me here.  I realize that one is detail-oriented sciency goodness while the other is campy Hollywood feel-good celluloid goodness. 

But I think Julie and Julia has the potential to catch on as an empowering "do it for yourself" sort of film like Momma Mia did as the chick flick for girls who wanted to relive their glory days feelings.  Except, in this case, its empowering for men as well as women because Stanley Tucci’s role, especially, looks amazingly supportive just as Paul was for the real Julia Child.  (Because Julia is a fellow Smith College alum — class of ’34 — she’s been a bit of an obsession of mine and a foodie hero, too.  My nerdiness knows no bounds.)

So, how does this cross the boundary between pop culture with politics and science?  By making cooking for yourself sexy again, it would go a long way to undercutting the profit margins of the purveyors of overly-processed, packaged pablum.  And to that I say, bon appetit!

What sorts of healthier choices have you made for yourself of late? Or are hoping to make? Do tell. Pull up a chair…

PS — I have to work at a fundraiser for The Peanut’s school this morning, but I’m hoping you all have some great book recommendations or action plans to share. Can’t wait to read your comments when I get home!

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com