Before I begin, read here.
In Italy, and to some extent, much of Europe, the was an effort to move away from the fast food trend. You will notice that traditional Italian-American food of even 10-15 years ago was more sauce, less oil, less cheese. And I suspect before people like Olive Garden bastardized Italian food in this country, this was more or less how things were. Of course, this was the 80s and 80s. The 40s and 50s were characterized by bland processed food that was equally bad.
Let’s talk about the word disease. Pick it apart. Dis-ease. The state of one’s body being at unease. Okay, now let’s talk about convenience food. Convenience food is designed “to save time” in cooking. But does it? Not really.
- Convenience food is inherently unhealthy, containing high amounts of salt, fat, and sugars.
- Convenience food is premade, and shipped across the country. The casseroles at convenience stores? They’re not homemade, they are prefab, and loaded with chemicals that would not be added if the cooks were to cook it themselves using local ingredients. The shipment cost impoverishes the country and raises the cost of food.
- Some of these ingredients are artificial, to the point where okay supposedly they are “natural” since (like everything) they were made using natural ingredients. But the body doesn’t know how to break down aspartame, high fructose corn syrup (or any other corn syrup incarnations; agave sugar is a false alternative, btw, as it is often cut with corn syrup), nitrates/nitrites, trans or interesterified fats or oils. As a result, these products mess with the metabolism in a big way. Many of them have been linked to obesity, diabetes, strokes/Alzheimer’s, and clotting of the arteries that causes heart problems. Or cancer.
- Logically, if there is a “fat tax” on employees, this means that people in poverty who buy convenience food to save money are then being robbed blind for their choice. They are working hard, and yet getting sicker and sicker. And the thing is, I’ve seen people in the working class with a gut. They work 10 or 14 hours of demanding physical labor, and yet with their junk food diet, they can’t seem to shake that belly.
- The above-mentioned medical problems represent time in the doctor, and away from work for major conditions. That is, whether from restaurants or supermarkets, the poor are systematically being preyed upon by what is effectively a class system. They spend more of their time and their money getting well, meaning that actually this food that was supposed to save them time and money in fact wasted it!
The solution for many Americans is twofold.
They need to change the rhythm of their life. Slow the fuck down. It is one thing to work hard. It is another to be forced to work over 8 hours on a regular basis, with no time off, weekends, or recreation time. It is another to have housing that is beyond reasonable needs, that has luxuries that the job doesn’t keep up with, without a load of extra hours. The body has a rhythm. 1/3 work, 1/3 free, 1/3 sleep. Now, some people like me, are more “artsy” and like to do more with free time (I program games and the like and some of this cuts into either work or sleep), but in the long run one would ideally have near ideal balance between these. Another major factor is commute. If you can’t hoof it, or spend an hour or more driving, this is loading stress onto your back and eating your free time. Plus, if you aren’t reimbursed for your commute, you are effectively losing wages.
The second is reclaiming time for meals. As much as possible, try to make lunch yourself in advance. Unfortunately, this is a pain in the ass. I mean really. Either eat sandwiches of some kind, pita and hummus, or take your chances with food that gets weird and you will have to reheat. I don’t trust fridges at any work area. They are cleaned out by staff, they are sometimes eaten by other employees, and I would rather either put the food in the car, or eat at home. Breakfast and dinner require time and planning, but here’s the thing, running out and buying a premade dinner is a special trip for effectively ONE meal. Example: Quaker produces a cup of mixed together stuff. I think they call it their Medley. This isn’t really reusable, and while the ingredients are fairly sound, it does have added sugar and salt. This means I have to buy seven of these for a week or stop somewhere. Alot of processed meat (think bacon) has the same issue, not resealable containers where you can’t just open the pack and have one piece. This adds preparation time, or encourages gluttony.
I could bring up issues all day but let’s do two simple principles.
- Eight hours a day (full-time) or part-time work that involves some physical activity. Completely sedentary is no go, because this means you schedule a special trip to the gym, cutting into your free time to stay in shape.
- A healthy, relaxing meal at the end of the day. A healthy relaxing meal at the start of the day. You probably can’t schedule lunch properly so just bring a bottle of water to drink.
Now, I will by no means imply that I am perfect. “Well you don’t…” yes I know. I eat tortilla chips and ramen like the rest of humanity. This does not mean I do not know good nutrition when I see it. Soooo, without further ado, the diet.
- Saturated fats are not your enemy. If you get meat fats from cooking, save it. Olive oil is good for sauteing and salads. Coconut oil and butter are good for pan cooking.
- Say no to deep fat frying. Frying is pretty much the top of the list of bad things. For one, you have no idea what the restaurant uses to fry, and it’s expensive for you to fry with healthy oils. Second, the batter breading method is bullshit. Not only does it waste most of the product on the trays but one time I tried to conserve the flour to make a gravy to go with the onion rings. It was a mess, and I found out the reason it’s so fattening (the flour is a fat sponge). Pan fry instead, since it involves a shallow amount of oil. If you have something to fry, try grilling it instead. Fries for instance can be cooked in the oven. So can grilled cheese sandwich, which is actually better as it has a lighter, less greasy taste and better toast to the bread.
- Microwaving food is also crap. It breaks down the food into mush, or produces rubbery food. It is used by schools to make food “safe” when in actuality, every kitchen I’ve seen tells you “reheating food does not make unsafe food safe to eat” and that food is as done as the highest temperature it got. To say nothing of the radiation poisoning you get for this convenience.
- Boil, saute, grill, bake, steam, poach, braise. All of these are perfectly fine, have been tested approaches to cooking, and produced fine food.
- Whenever possible try to buy local, and as close to the original product as possible. Bake your own bread, not dough from corporate offices. If you want an eye-opener of what convenience food could be, read the Matched series. People no longer know how to cook so instead get deliveries from factories (which at age 80 poison their upper-class, and try to do away with lower classes long before that). I don’t believe this is the future of food, but human beings are admittedly less healthy when the process of cooking has been done, and additives have been administered.
- Use a crock pot, not a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers not only routinely produce poor quality food, this is exactly the issue. Why is your work and your life on high speed? You can’t enjoy your rest time. Crock pots slow cook food, bringing out flavors with even simple ingredients. No only that, the food is soft, tender, never mushy or tough.
A few years ago, I was having health problems. I made a few simple changes. One of them was switching the microwave to oven/toaster oven to cook nacho chips. Not only did it not take very long (preheat + 4 minutes) but I got a higher quality food (crunchy vs soggy nachos). I maybe spent more time on it. So what? I felt better at the end of the day.