How to Help People Cook More Often (AKA the Story of my Masters Thesis, Pt. 1)

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we like food. We like to cook, we like to eat and we like to break bread with others. We generally can’t have a meal without reminiscing about a meal in the past, or the potential of another in the future. Look at our Instagram accounts on the right side of the page. Is there anything non-consumable in there? And, you know, we have a food blog that you happen to be reading right now.

Food is a daily necessity for all of us, but some people enjoy the experience more than others. For some, thinking of what to eat is torture, and they long for the meal pill from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For others, each step from coming up with the idea to savoring the flavor of a meal is a joy. Lots of us fall somewhere in between, but last year, I decided to explore this a little bit.

A year ago I starting doing a Masters program here in Barcelona, a significant part of which is a thesis on a topic of my choice. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll give you one guess what my topic was. If you said food, you are correct. Extra credit if you guessed cooking, which is more correct.

The reasons I wanted to focus on cooking can be distilled down to exactly two things: health statistics in the US, and Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked.

For one of my presentations I made the slide below compiling some heath statistics from, to name a few, the National Institute of Health, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ( a .pdf can be found here).

Some Health Statistics on Americans.
Some Health Statistics on Americans.

These numbers gave me pause. For reference, according the US Census Bureau there are about 316 million people in the US. To say that one-third of the adult population in the US is obese (i.e. a Body Mass Index of 30+) is to say that nearly 77 million of our countrymen and woman are dangerously unhealthy and are at high risk things for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Apart from the health effects and costs for the individual (and family), these statistics call into light the health of our nation. As a guy who was in the Navy for 7+ years, I wonder who will be capable of defending us and protecting us? Who will be our firefighters, police officers, paramedics, emergency services and serve in our armed forces if two-thirds of us are obese or overweight?

The obesity epidemic (that is what they are calling it now) is surely a combination of many factors, but as Michael Pollan puts it in his book, our food, and the industrialization of our food production, is a very big culprit. Corporations, he says, “cook very differently from how people do…They tend to use much more sugar, fat, and salt than people cooking for people do.”

I don’t mean to paint a grim picture because, ultimately this a story of hope. If high levels of sugar, fat and salt from industrial foods are to blame for our health, then all we need to do is to cut down on, or eliminate them.

The easiest and simplest way to do this is to cook for ourselves. Skip the complicated stuff, the calorie counting, the”fat-free,” the fad diets, the cleanses and the deprivation. If we do nothing else other then cook more often, we will be doing a whole lot better than we are today.

I also don’t mean to over-simplify the issue, because there are lots of moving parts and factors involved in making a meal, but I think it’s a good and manageable place to start.

This is what inspires me, and this is what I built my thesis around. More on that coming soon, and I’ll explain how I ended up with #cookingcouplets.

 


 

If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you would probably also enjoy:

  • Cooked by Michael Pollan. I’ve discussed it here, but the whole book is fascinating. The intro is available for free download if you follow the link above.
  • Fed Up– Katie Couric is one of the executive producers of this documentary, and many big names in health and food make appearances.
  • The Weight of the Nation– an HBO series covering the obesity epidemic. The whole thing is available for viewing online.

UPDATE: I’ve finished writing my thesis! If you want to read it, you can download it in the Download section.  You can also see a shorter slide show here(29 Mar 2015)

8 thoughts on “How to Help People Cook More Often (AKA the Story of my Masters Thesis, Pt. 1)

  • January 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm
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    Any project that can help show people just how easy it is to cook sounds fabulous to me! You really can keep it simple and most of the time (significantly) it tastes so much better at home. Hamburgers on the grill at home versus one from a drive-thru folks! And it doesn’t have to take that much more effort either. And besides eating, you have to breathe and drink water to survive too so don’t forget about that! Everyone can do it! And, well, everyone has to in one way or another right!? 🙂

    Reply
    • January 24, 2015 at 2:44 pm
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      Thanks Shelly!

      You’re exactly right, keeping it simple and so as to not get overwhelmed (which happens a lot) is definitely a guiding principle in this project 🙂

      Reply
  • January 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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    wow, they are some scary stats! I think a lot of people are put off cooking, and think it will be a long, complicated process, so they turn to ‘fast food’ as an easy answer. But cooking at home can be quick and simple, we just need a push in the right direction! I loved your #cookingcouplets recipes, great to hear what inspired them! 🙂

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    • January 27, 2015 at 7:42 pm
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      Thanks so much Claire,
      Yeah, there are so many reason to NOT cook, generally good ones too. Hopefully #cookingcouplets is a compelling enough reason to compete though 😉

      Reply
  • January 25, 2015 at 9:40 pm
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    Brian, you make me feel bad, having pulled my lunch out of the freezer (though I did pair it with some lovely grape tomatoes). Nonetheless, you and I talked at great length about this topic, and we are agreed. The body is an element of nature, and the more natural the items you place in your body, vice ‘products’, the better it responds. Speaking as a guy that was once very overweight, obese by definition, and now runs half marathons and is married to a beautiful woman, I really understand this reality. When I originally lost my weight, it was all about the calorie count and the exercise. Once I got it off, I held on to the exercise, but my food intake, especially at college, went back to the status quo. The weight headed in that direction as well. That’s when I realized that you HAVE to eat the right foods. Now I cook, shop carefully, and try to choose the natural item vice the box, bag, or jar.

    It’s not always easy to cook the way you want or need. Intent may be there, but ideas may not. For example, I walked into the grocery store today, and had no idea what I wanted to make for dinner. I knew I wanted to make dinner, but didn’t have any good ideas come to the forefront. While I managed to sort it out, I did think: “man I wish I was still getting those cooking couplets emails.” Whether one is a seasoned cook in the house, or a novice, if one’s full time job is not to cook, then help will be needed. I think your journey will end with you helping people. Continued good luck!

    Jim

    Reply
    • January 27, 2015 at 7:46 pm
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      Jim,

      Thanks buddy, your words make this project worth doing. I appreciate it.

      Reply
  • February 2, 2015 at 6:49 pm
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    Fascinating stuff! I’m glad to hear the rest of the story, having enjoyed #cookingcouplets a lot. January has brought with it a little deeper delving in my own diet, and I’m looking into ayurveda and macrobiotics- traditions from India and Japan, respectively. Cooking at home is important, and may well be a key piece in rebuilding ourselves, but there are also the psychological and self-care issues to tackle… up next? Thinking of a Ph.D.? 😉

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    • February 10, 2015 at 11:50 pm
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      Thanks Margaret,

      Glad to hear this stuff interests you too! There are lots of interesting issues wrapped up in this topic, but I think I’ll hold off on the Ph.D for now :D. That being said, I’ve always loved the Hippocrates quote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” which just seems ripe for more research 😉

      B

      Reply

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