What Do a Single Canadian Mom, The Atlantic and Malcolm Gladwell Have in Common?

Posted on February 1, 2012


Last week I read an article by Catherine Mitchell about a single young Canadian mom of five who was struggling to feed her family on a very limited income. Mitchell tagged along as the mom grocery shopped and then served a few meals at home. The mom understood the difference between whole and processed foods. She knew that many of the meals and snacks she served were not nutritious. Yet she served them anyway. Which is cheaper and will go further? Six apples or 12 Ramen noodle packages? Is healthy food too expensive? As I read, I kept thinking, “We are missing the point.” In fact, I wrote a post about “the point” but decided not to publish it because it was lengthy and preachy.

I let it go.

And then I ran across a blog yesterday by Jane Black at The Atlantic. Bingo! There’s a study that proves “the point”!

The truth is, most of us have access to healthy foods. That’s not the problem. Most of us know the difference between healthy foods and unhealthy foods. That’s not the problem.

We no longer value the time it takes to plan and prepare meals. That’s the problem. By default (and because we now rely on food manufacturers), we no longer value nutrition.

Over the last 30 years, convenience foods have changed everything. Now the food choices are endless. The information is overwhelming. What kind of lasagne do you want? Cheap? Refrigerated? Frozen? Meat? Chicken? Vegetarian? Low Fat? Low Salt? Microwave? Family Size? Single Size? There are many choices and you can pick them up at your favorite grocery store 24/7.

In fact, author/researcher Malcolm Gladwell discussed this phenomenon in his famous “spaghetti sauce” talk. The food industry didn’t give us more choices over the last 30 years because we demanded it. It’s because  the “variability” model put forth by Howard Moskowitz ultimately created more profits. That’s good for the food industry (and Howard Moskowitz).

Is it good for us? Sure, choice is good. I like that I can pick up my favorite coffee at the grocery store. But what has been lost in the dizzying array is the value of cooking and nutrition. Home cooking methods haven’t changed all that much in the last 40 years. But our view of meal preparation has.  So many of us race through the grocery aisles each week in search of quick easy food fixes. We think we don’t have the time. Cooking is a burden. The food industry knows we like cheap, quick and lots of flavor and that we are willing to pay for it.

I don’t want the food industry calling the shots for me anymore. They don’t value my family’s nutrition as much as their profit margin.

To that end, I have been working toward more meal planning in recent weeks. I usually spend a half-hour to an hour on Sundays planning the week’s meals and then putting a shopping list together. Sometimes I will make a couple of lasagnes and freeze one. Or, I’ll cook a bunch of pasta or rice, or pre-cut the week’s vegetables. Or, I’ll turn the chicken carcasses I’ve been storing in the freezer into homemade chicken stock to be used for soups and sauces throughout the coming weeks.

I’ve made the time. (In the words of my friend Fiona Fierce, crazy simple.)

As another good friend recently remarked, “It might be a hassle but it’s not a crisis.”  I think more time spent on the hassle of cooking is time well-spent. After all, I am slowly taking back control of my family’s nutrition from the food manufacturers. Maybe that will avoid a health crisis or two in the future.