Like many of their generation (1913, 1919), my parents were fascinated by technology and its lifestyle benefits. No, they weren’t early adopters of an Amiga, Commodore, or even IBM Selectric. They were, however, in thrall to time-saving conveniences and inexpensive fabrications, for example, oleo (margarine) and what they called “store-bought” cookies.
As products of the Great Depression who had grown up poor and who had laboured hard, they must have felt that it was a marvel of life in the 20th century to be able to walk into a store and walk out minutes later with such things as cakes and cookies — without ever turning on an oven, let alone measuring, mixing, and timing. And if commercials promised that margarine is better for you and tastes just as good, and is inexpensive, too, there’s no reason to revert to something as old-fashioned as butter. From their perspective, the love affair with food that kept for weeks or even months and with modern innovations like margarine makes perfect sense.
And so I, like most children of parents my age and later generations, grew up on a diet heavy in trans fatty acids, which we now know raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and reduces high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
My company recently sent our executive directors, executive chefs, pastry chefs, and dining services directors to the Culinary Institute of America for a series focusing on techniques of healthy cooking that have been inspired by international cuisine (using olive oil, rich in anti-oxidant properties, is an obvious example). The idea is to prepare simple, delicious, nutrient-rich meals.
I imagine these are not unlike what a friend served over Christmas — all fresh, no pre-packaged foods, simple ingredients, simple recipes. As my mother would have said, “Good and good for you.”
According to Weight Watchers, you should never eat food out of a box. They don’t mean this literally, as their own meals come in a box, but the point is that prepared food is often junk food. I used to live on foods out of a box. Now I’m finding that food out of a box (except for Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese) is losing its appeal. Instead of eating cold lunch meat packaged in plastic, I’d rather cook Organic Valley brown eggs. Instead of grazing on junk food that doesn’t satisfy, I’d rather bake butternut squash. Instead of chowing on cookies steeped in preservatives, I’d rather take the time to make my own. And instead of dining on big brand soups filled with tasteless vegetables, I’d rather enjoy organic soups rich in flavour.
I’m not sure what prompted this change in me, given how I’ve eaten all my life. It’s not a result of health concerns. Perhaps it’s a growing sense that simple is better, and there’s satisfaction in cutting up a squash once in a while. And in knowing what you’re putting into your body.
I may be headed in the opposite direction from my mother — not having worked hard, I find that occasionally cooking on a very small scale for now can be fulfilling. And that making cookies is more fun than buying them — and when I think about it, they taste much better when I control the ingredients and their quality, for example, whole wheat pastry flour.
The assistant vice president of food and beverage likes to say that food is medicine. He’s right. A simple meal, prepared from simple ingredients and shared with friends and family, may be the perfect antidote to the stresses of our overly complicated, rushed lives.
And certainly more satisfying to the stomach and soul than a trans fatty acid-laden muffin gulped on the run.
The ad slogan for Promise margarine used to be, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” the premise being that Mother Nature couldn’t tell Promise and her own butter apart.
Why would we want to try to? In the end, as we’ve learned more about the health and wellness benefits of simple, natural, organic food, Mother Nature can’t and won’t be fooled.