The American diet borders on self-parody. We are fat and we are actually getting fatter. As of 2014, two out of every three Americans were considered to be clinically overweight or obese. The numbers keep rising despite the best efforts of people who have devoted their lives to this issue, expert advocates for health and diet. In a sense, the American people and the American diet have, in concert, ruined the careers of two generations of these very smart and well-intentioned folks. Also, you might note, our diets are killing us and, to add insult to the mix, killing us with disgusting and flavorless, processed and packaged foods.
But all wasn’t for nothing. Our experts have carefully studied us and our diet. What they have uncovered shouldn’t be surprising: Americans eat too much added sugar and too much fast food. To start, added sugar represents about 13 percent of all calories consumed by adults in the US. So, for the average grown American male, that equates to 20 teaspoons of granulated sugar or a half cup of high-fructose corn syrup every single day. Fast food, on the other hand, represents roughly 11 percent of all the calories we consume. This fundamentally holds true for all races and genders, rich and poor.
Beholden to Corporate Interests
Taken together, it would seem that the American people tend to think of eating in the same way large corporate airlines tend to think of their flights. To understand the mentality, consider a flight that takes off with some unsold seats. That airline can never sell that seat, on that flight, taking off at that time ever again; that revenue is lost forever. So it’s not a mystery why airlines are eager to sell seats at cut-rate prices as a departure date nears. This is why we are so often seated next to the petulant child, screaming and crying, or the drunken bro, prodding and bumping us in our seat.
Likewise, we all too readily pack our meals with the petulant child of added sugar and the drunken bro of fast food because we fear that if we miss a meal, it may well be gone forever. We rush to work in the morning, eating a quickly procured but sugary pastry. We rush at work and indulge on fast food for lunch. We rush back home in the evening and stuff our faces with greasy takeout. We eat all this disgusting food and for what? Merely for the sake of eating? To make time for the latest serial on Netflix at night’s end? I suppose we ought to have some time for entertainment, of course. I’ll make this (controversial) guarantee to you, though: Preparing and eating a truly delicious meal is far more entertaining than anything on Netflix.
A Way Forward
The obvious response now for most might be, “How the hell do I cook? I can’t cook, you idiot.” That may be the case, however, you are in luck, dear Reader. You may well be better than you think since, as it turns out, nearly all food writers have failed you.
As with all delightfully saturated media, there is a lot of terribleness floating about in food writing. That said, even much of the well-produced, mainstream in food writing is nonetheless terrible. Most recipe writing, to take one example, is content to never grapple with any of the complexities of cooking at all. Rather, it lures a would-be home cook into a false sense of security with bizarrely specific instructions on everything from cooking times to burner intensity. It’s as if these charming writers had never cooked in a real kitchen, presupposing that an onion always cooked in exactly the same way and time, every time. But that’s simply not the case.
The same variety of onion may indeed vary considerably between seasons, depending on when during its growth cycle it was harvested and the skill of its grower. Furthermore, given their long shelf lives, the onions used in the real world also vary in freshness. As a result of all of this, the ratio of sugar and water in onions also varies and so too do their cooking characteristics. This is not even to get started on any number of other factors from stove burners to cutting technique. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve followed a recipe to the letter and ended up with less than delicious food, this is the reason. Food writing must change if America is to cook. And cook it shall.
In my articles, I’m not going to tell you to cook onions on a medium flame for seven minutes until translucent, I’m going to talk you through what onions should look, sound and smell like on their way to translucence and all the ways onions can go wrong on that ride. That’s what recipes should read like, but almost never do. I’ve been cooking for nearly 23 years; I’ve traveled the world and collected tricks and techniques from a great many places. Now, I’m happy to share them with you.
No doubt, as you may be discovering, cooking in general can be frustrating, complicated, overwhelming. But like anything else, it breaks down to smaller, simpler problems that are more easily surmountable. That said, there are few or no shortcuts. Turning stems from a plant and a piece of an animal into a delicious meal takes time and attention. But think of it this way: With your time and attention, you can be eating healthy, delicious food that you prepared yourself, learning something wonderful and taking pride it that, and having fun in the process. When food goes very right, there is very little in this world that can do better. We must face the fact that life is not only too short for greasy takeout, it’s actually shorter because of it.
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