I have the fondest of childhood memories set in the kitchen and dining room. I enjoyed hanging around the kitchen while my mother cooked and helping her when she baked–then hanging on patiently for the results to come out of the oven to be devoured. The smell of banana bread baking in the oven? Hard to top that. Sunday meals were especially big deals, with extended family and multiple courses served by a grandmother who never tired of proclaiming, “Food is love! Eat, eat!”
Growing up, the meals I ate were almost always home-cooked. We had a family rule about sitting down at the table every night for dinner and I stayed until I cleared my plate and finished my milk. Our requests to buy sugar-coated breakfast cereals were flatly denied. So were pleas to go to McDonald’s. We went apple-picking and grew tomatoes and herbs in a garden on the side of the house. Sure, we sometimes ordered pizza and Chinese takeout (and had the occasional Swanson frozen dinner on nights the babysitter came over), but most of what we ate was unprocessed and pure. I understood where food came from and I enjoyed consuming it.
I am not the type of person that needs to be reminded about my good fortune in life, but watching Jamie Oliver’s talk on teaching kids about food at last week’s TED Conference made me really reflect on how lucky I was to have parents who raised me–and fed me–so well. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) Oliver was this year’s TED Prize winner and received $100,000 to work on his wish. “I wish for the TED community to create a movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and bring people together everywhere to fight obesity,” he said.
I’ve always liked Oliver and his “Naked Chef” Food Network series. The same warm, open, and unpretentious charm he presented before the cameras for his cooking show can be seen as he addressed the audience on stage at the conference (see it here). It’s worth hearing him speak about his subject but I’ll paraphrase it here: Too many people eat junk and the damage is irrefutable; people are dying from diseases caused by or worsened by bad eating habits. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot to change course and make better food choices. He proposes education at home and at school, to help teach kids good eating habits. More specifically, he suggests teaching kids 10 recipes to save their lives.
Oliver didn’t have to convince me. Those close to me have heard me go on and on (and on even more, if the listener is especially patient) about living green, which includes eating right–making choices that are organic, sustainable, without artificial and/or harmful ingredients, and with minimal (or no) processing. Eating real. Guests who come over for dinner hear, “It’s all organic!” or “I got everything at the farmer’s market!” or “It was so easy to make!” That last one is a favorite because I hear so often that no one has enough time to cook, and I get that. But preparing something from fresh and good-for-you ingredients does not have to be time-consuming at all.
Though I was already sold on his mission, listening to Oliver’s TED talk got me worked up about what more I can do. Helping to support his mission, along with the similar programs advocated by Michelle Obama and chef Alice Waters, is a start. Personally, I am happy with the way I eat and even happier to cook good food for–and share it with–family and friends. Encouraged by loved ones, I’ve been publishing some of my recipes on my personal blog and will keep that up. During a recent family visit, my seven-year-old niece Mary delighted me by telling me she had recipes for a cookbook and invited me to help (see photo)–so I’m going to make sure it’s not a passing interest. It’s something all of us can do with the little ones we know and love. Because my grandmother really had it right: Good food is love.
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