Junk Food vs. Cooking?

Images-1 My Mom was a really good cook, my Grandmother was an amazing baker and my Dads Mom was quite the cook herself.  Cooking was just part of our life.  My parents threw dinner parties, my Mom had cookbooks and was definitely creative in terms of the day to day meal.  Not that we didn't have our basics like broiled chicken, rice and a vegetable but we weren't picking up a bucket KFC for dinner. 

Josh and I were talking about the costs of junk food vs real food this past weekend.  He told me that you can actually buy a 20 piece bucket at KFC for $10.  $10 can also buy you a whole chicken, a box of rice and a stalk of broccoli.  Hmmm, which is healthier? 

I have been reading Kathleen Flinn's latest book, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.  The book will be released 9/29.  She writes about nine culinary novices and how she turned them into fearless cooks.  She became obsessed with helping these people improve the way they eat after literally following a woman in the grocery store with a cart filled with bad food for her and her family.  She convices this particular woman to swap out the processed food for healthy food that she can make at a lower cost but soon realizes that this woman has no idea how to cook. 

Mark Bittman wrote an article in the NYTimes about pretty much the same issue called Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?  The answer is no.  The core problem is that not only is cooking is work, I am not sure that many people really know how to cook healthy.  I also believe that the biggest problem lies with low-income families who can't afford to go to a high-end store and buy prepared food.  BTW, that food isn't so good either but at least it is healthier.  The good news is that there are a variety of organizations trying to help change that by teaching young people to cook and understand where their food comes from.  It has to come from within to change the culture.  

The other good news is that food has become a big part of our economy.  The DIY generation is very interested in where their food is coming from as the farm to table revolution is underway.  They are also taking that piece from the 50's where people, friends and family sit down to have a meal together vs grabbing something on the go.  

Many years back I had two friends who wanted to cook but always felt that they would somehow fail in the kitchen.  They didn't enjoy the process and one of them was seriously concerned if she didn't make it right that she would make someone sick.  One of my friends really for the sake of her children and family got into cooking and figured out to make a meal quickly.   She is not only a good cook at this pont she actually enjoys the process and is definitely proud of the outcome.  For my other friend, for her birthday many years back, I went to her house with a box of spices from Penzeys and gave her a list of basics to have when I got there.  I taught her how to roast a chicken, roast vegetables and a few simple tricks on how to take those basics and mix it up.  

She threw a luncheon for a bunch of people last spring and sent me her pictures.  They were amazing.  She has turned into a pretty damn good cook and for her family it has been a joy.  It doesn't take much to whip up some eggs, mix together some vegetables and olive oil and roast in the oven or roast chicken.  After you do that you generally become a little more adventurous once you see how easy it really is.  The question is, how do we teach as many people as possible to feel comfortable cooking in the kitchen even if it is only a few times a week.   


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Comments (Archived):

  1. kirklove

    I think it has very little to do with fear of cooking. It’s much more government subsidies for soy and corn. It’s also economies of scale with the fast food chains.Even worse, the real costs aren’t even the food, they are the long term health costs with high cholesterol and diabetes.If we subsidized broccoli like we do high fructose corn syrup, you’d see some pretty awesome and cheap broccoli on the shelves.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is a great idea. subsidize healthy food. our health care costs over time will plummet and we will at least have a country of healthy people. i do still believe that people do not know how to cook in a way that is simple and easy instead of feeling like it is a chore. an opportunity is here to create something. what, not sure.

  2. LeahG

    Find the non profits sponsoring cooking classes and help them out. Support after school cooking lessons for middle schoolers. Encourage grocery stores in lower income neighborhoods ( any income) to sponsor cooking basics. Encourage major food companies to sponsor cooking basics classes. Encourage overnight or day camps to include a cooking module. Encourage cooking schools to share their knowledge of basics with their neighborhood. Encourage restaurants to open their kitchens for lessons on closed days……Lots of ways –‘encourage’ is lingo for time and money. And lots of groups trying, perhaps with your interest you might be able to raise their profile

    1. Gotham Gal

      Agree agree agreeI took home economics in junior high school. We cooked. We baked I made a dress.These type of programs including physical education and arts create value that we can quantify.

  3. Meghan Pfeifer

    For me, it’s not so much fear of cooking but not getting myself organized enough. I work full-time and have two very young kids, so I don’t even have the extra burden of running around to sports and activities. Yet, I still struggle. I am constantly on the lookout for tips and quick recipes that taste good. By the time we get home from daycare a little after 6, it’s a mad scramble to get everything done before the baby starts melting down before 8:00.Add to that a very picky 3-year old who refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets most nights (hanging my head in shame), and I just feel like a failure most of the time. I’ve been trying to do some cooking ahead of time on the weekends, and that does help. I really try to resist the Burger King drive-thru as much as possible but do give in a couple times a month.I’m not quite sure what the answer is or else I would have found it by now. I’m not very good at winging it, so I am definitely looking for concrete advice. Sounds like there could a be a business there somewhere. Or I just need my mom to move in with me 🙂

  4. Rohan

    Subsidize healthy food/farm vegetables..

  5. rachel

    It is also incredibly hard/time consuming/complicated to read and understand labels. As someone with (a little more) time and budget to shop at healthy food stores and pay attention to the ingredients I feel for those that aren’t able to. The ways they mask gross ingredients (like high fructose corn syrup) is taking advantage of those that don’t know better or don’t have the time/budget to make another choice. Sad.   

    1. Gotham Gal

      very sad.

  6. artyowza

    My neighbor, Laurie Zerga has a great business called Chef-K: Culinary Health Education for Kids. http://www.chef-k.com/youth…I’d love to read a post about How to Roast a Chicken and kitchen basics, etc.My mom just retired from her TV cooking show.  I come from a line-up of cooks also..

    1. Gotham Gal

      i LOVE that.

  7. Shannon M Davis

    Joanne you are such an incredible cook. I’m trying to raise two budding chefs…what are your top 10 favorite cookbooks?

    1. Gotham Gal

      good question. there are a few that you should just have in your collection. Amanda Hessers The New York Times Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking (the newest version). I love the Ad Hoc cookbook and love Staffmeals although haven’t used it for awhile. The original Silver Palate Cookbook is a classic. I am a fan of the Food & Wine collections that they do the “best of” every year. Julia Childs Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Baking with Julia. Stars Desserts and Martha Stewarts Cookies. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.Truth is, I find myself doing more research for an idea for a recipe online and Food52.com never fails to please.

    2. Paula

      I wanted to throw a cookbook/textbook into the mix. Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. It is a must have for every family out there!

  8. Paula

    I have enjoyed reading your posts on food lately. We are Real Traditional Foodies.Raw milk, home raised or hunted meats and eggs, and a huge garden.We love the work of Weston A Price and now feel like we are thriving now.We used the raw milk formula recipe from http://www.westonaprice.org for our adopted baby, and watched in awe as her sever underbite healed, due to the fermented Cod liver oil in her diet.Thank you for reviewing such wonderful restaurants. Someday we me it to that area to try a few of the good ones out!Paula, in Alaska

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks so much…Alaska, wow!I have read many things about the power of raw milk. There is a movie coming out around that particular product. No surprises that the large milk producers want to make sure that people can’t use that product or buy it. Police have raided farms, etc. Not sure if that happens up near you but looking forward to seeing the film as the farm to table movement grows and grows.

  9. William Mougayar

    You raise a very important topic – Junk Food. We all know junk food is bad for you, but what’s worse and beneath it is Processed Food. Processed Food is disguised in nice packages in food stores but they are as harmful to the body due to the amounts of preservatives used. My rule is if the package has more than 4 basic ingredients and/or a long list of words I can’t pronounce, I won’t touch it.Problem in North America is that Fast Food = Junk Food. You can hardly find fast food that’s wholesome and healthy.Yes, agreed that Nutrition education is so very important. It’s one of those basics of life that should be taught in high-school. Ref. what Jamie Oliver is doing to educate and change high-school nutrition.

    1. Gotham Gal

      What Jamie Oliver is doing is great. Chipolte is supposed to be healthy fast food but I wonder

  10. ShanaC

    I have been meaning to ask this for a while, and I figure this is a good post to ask this question:What spices and stables should I have in my kitchen?  What are some basic techniques that I should know, and what are the critical things about those techniques that make them work…

    1. Gotham Gal

      You should read the book in the post. Tells you everything you want to know and more.Learning how to roast a chicken and how to do chicken several ways is probably the key to survival.Read the book.

      1. ShanaC

        Thank goodness I know how to roast chicken and how to fry an egg.  Maybe you should add that to your list of things you need to know as an adult….

        1. Gotham Gal

          i think the roast a chicken is on there