To put it plainly, have we lost our connection with food?
Understanding where food comes from, how it’s produced and where it has been between farm and plate is becoming a rare quality. Almost a novelty. Despite a near-obsession with food-related TV shows – seasonality and slow-food are becoming foreign or niche concepts as supply becomes constant and expected, and fast-food becomes ubiquitous.
Now it’s sad that we don’t know a peanut grows underground, or that a tomato is a summer fruit – but it’s actually much more concerning than a lack of trivia knowledge.
This broad-sweeping inability to use and understand food impacts our hip pockets, but also our hips!
You see, in kitchens across Southern Europe, from Madrid to Milan, something interesting is happening. Something unexpected, and really quite delicious. An uprising of a different variety – the culinary variety – as people are turning to the dough as a means of saving, well, dough!
Spurred by the financial crisis, a wave of home cooking is sweeping across France, Italy and Spain. Nations which have seen their fair-share of junk food and resultant obesity, are now swapping the burgers for homecooked baguettes – in record quantities. In fact, a third of all Italians are now making pizza at home and one in five making their own bread – the highest levels since World War II.
In a time of economic strife, we are seeing a return to home cooking, basic recipes and seasonal produce in many countries, to save money.
But what happens when these recipes are lost? When people no longer know how to make bread? Would this movement back to homecooking be possible in Australia, the UK or the USA?
Understanding your food is also essential to a healthy life. Knowing what food is, where it comes from, and what’s in it allows us to make informed decisions about what we put in our mouths. This basic dietary literacy is essential in being able to work out what is healthy and what is not – and in the midst of an obesity epidemic it has never been more important. But with this disconnect to food comes an inability to digest this information and make the best decisions for our health.
So what can be done?
First and foremost, we cannot blame parents, nor should be blame teachers.
In fact, let’s just not blame anyone.
Instead, I say bring back compulsory, funded, comprehensive food and cooking education to primary schools… All primary schools. Because let there be no misunderstanding, the phasing out of early-education on food and food supply to save money, only to spend more on chronic disease resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of food – is a completely false economy.
Programs like Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden initiative should be celebrated and replicated in all schools across the board. Let’s wake up and realise that the work of Jamie Oliver and the team at Food Revolution is as much about health, sustainability and economic security – as it is about being able to cook.
An eggplant should be as obvious to a 7 year old as an iPhone. Knowing how to make a loaf of bread should be part of the national curriculum, and an understanding of seasonality and our food supply should be taught from a young age.
Children need to be educated what food is early, to respect it and how to use it wisely.
We might be losing our connection with food, our understanding of the food-supply and our abilities to prepare healthy, fresh meals – but it is not too late.
Food, and cooking, must be seen as educational, economic and health priorities for our societies. Some food for thought and action, on Food Revolution Day.
Anything less, I fear, is a recipe for disaster.
Dr Alessandro Demaio trained and worked as a medical doctor in Melbourne, Australia. Whilst working as a doctor at The Alfred Hospital, he completed a Masters in Public Health. In 2010, Alessandro relocated to Denmark and began a PhD fellowship in Global Health with the University of Copenhagen, focusing on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). In addition to his research, Alessandro lectures for the University of Copenhagen and Charité - Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, and is a regular contributor to academic and public discourse. As a Director for the NCD Action Global Steering Committee, in 2013 Alessandro will be a Visiting Research Fellow at Harvard University.