While it is impractical for most to cook every meal from scratch, doing so as much as possible will help you reconnect with the natural world—something much more important than most realize.
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Never did the saying “you are what you eat” become more important to us than several months ago, when we contemplated feeding our six-month-old son his first bite of food. From birth to that time, he had only consumed his mother’s milk.
His first bite could determine how he viewed food, what kind of future meal choices he would make, and possibly what kind of illnesses he would be saddled with later in life—we reasoned with first-time-parent apprehension.
In the truest sense, he was a completely clean slate. How could we help him have the best possible start?
Our minds turned to all the food decisions we had made in our own lives—the ones we would change and the ones we thought had been responsible. Knowing what we do now about the connection between food and health, we thought: If we could train our taste buds from an early age, how would we do it? The decision weighed on our minds.
The entire experience made us long for several hundred years ago, when one did not question the source of meals. Food back then was not readily available in grocery and convenience stores and the concept of using chemical filler ingredients was nonexistent.
Instead, meals of the time were made with fresh ingredients, containing copious amounts of protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy carbohydrates—and zero refined sugars. And in almost all cases these foods came straight from the source and landed on the table: milk from a cow, eggs from a henhouse, and maybe fish for dinner from a nearby lake. Any vegetables were pulled from a family garden.
Now it is not so simple. Most people worldwide live in crowded urban areas and do not have access to these kinds of fresh foods. Almost everything found on grocery store shelves is laced with preservatives and chemicals—even if the companies that produce them claim they are not harmful.
The news of deceptive practices by food-science corporations can be maddening. Perhaps you have felt the urge to shun the “food” these businesses produce altogether, move to a rural area to farm pasture-raised animals, and grow your own gardens. Yet, as it is for almost all, this is simply impossible in our modern world.
Similarly, it is impractical for many to stay completely away from wholly or partially processed foods. There will be the occasional night when “pizza happens,” as one mother put it, because of the busy lifestyles we lead.
So we have to do our best.
But home-cooked meals do have their place. Making them not only fosters good health, but it also gives us a deeper understanding of the natural world and our place in it.
Everyone knows that eating processed food all the time is unhealthy. As the saying goes, if you eat junk, you will feel like junk. But why the connection between processed foods and “junk”?
In his book Cooked: A History of Transformation, author Michael Pollan explores cooking through four classical elements: fire, water, air and earth. Throughout the text, he compares current culinary trends to those of the past. He makes the case that modern preparation leads to numerous health problems and shapes the view of food for people worldwide.
“Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction. And as soon as that happens we become easy prey for corporations selling synthetic versions of the real thing—what I call edible foodlike substances. We end up trying to nourish ourselves on images.”
Mr. Pollan maintains that people who eat unprocessed foods have a better connection to the environment, which benefits society as a whole.
“Corporations cook very differently from how people do (which is why we usually call what they do ‘food processing’ instead of cooking). They tend to use much more sugar, fat and salt than people cooking for people do; they also deploy novel chemical ingredients seldom found in pantries in order to make their food last longer and look fresher than it really is. So it will come as no surprise that the decline in home cooking closely tracks the rise in obesity and all the chronic diseases linked to diet. The rise of fast food and the decline in home cooking have also undermined the institution of the shared meal, by encouraging us to eat different things and to eat them on the run and often alone.”
He continues: “The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending. What have been called the ‘cultural contradictions of capitalism’—its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on—are on vivid display today at the modern American dinner table, along with all the brightly colored packages that the food industry has managed to plant there.”
Bread is an example of a food that has become so manipulated by companies trying to “make it better” that it now provides very few of the health benefits it once did.
A main reason for this is a desire for companies to get the most bang for their buck where production is concerned.
Realize that bread used to be made naturally by one of the thousands of varieties of natural yeasts in the air. Now it usually contains patented dry yeast, which strips out much of what makes it good for human consumption.
While many find cooking daunting, it is not as difficult as it seems. It just takes a little practice and perseverance.
While there is not space here to address every cooking technique, the best place to start is by trying to make a dish that you particularly enjoy. This can range from something as simple as mashed potatoes to even pizza or chicken with wild rice.
To ensure that the recipe will not be too complicated, search the internet for a particular food and add the word “simple” next to it. Often, this will yield recipes that have 10 ingredients or less, and do not take as long.
If you feel uncertain about making an entire meal from scratch, start out by making parts of it that way. For example, start with a salad. First chop the vegetables and then mix olive oil with balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of basil, salt and pepper—it is that easy!
As you become more comfortable, you can try other things. If you are making noodles with vegetables, saute the chopped vegetables in olive oil, but buy a sauce with no added sweeteners or preservatives. Then slowly build up to making the sauce yourself once you have mastered the first form of the dish.
While shopping, ensure the ingredients you purchase are the highest quality that you can afford. Try to use organic or buy from local farmers markets if possible.
Most of all, never tell yourself you cannot learn to cook! This is the way many food corporations want you to feel. “Let us do the work,” they say. “You can spend your time elsewhere.”
“For the food industry, people cooking traditional food at home is an obstacle to selling more of their product,” Mr. Pollan stated in the documentary Cooked. “They have a vested interest in destroying food culture and food traditions and getting people to eat stuff they have gotten good at making. And they’re doing a lot of food science to make this food as acceptable as they possibly can.”
Those who have learned to cook will tell you that, while not always easy, it does pay dividends. All it requires is an adventurous spirit—and a desire to invest in your health.
“Most people don’t know that grocery store yeast is not a naturally occurring substance,” Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson wrote in the book The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins. “Since 1984, the vast majority of yeast has been man-made and laboratory created.”
They continue: “Commercial ‘instant’ yeast was created to be fast, and is called quick or fast-rise yeast. In fact, the quick yeast produced for store-bought brands is so foreign to our digestive systems that some people develop allergies to the yeast itself. Sure, it frees up the schedule a bit. But when you consider that every culture across the globe has been using the same system for thousands of years, you have to wonder whether throwing that tried and true system out the window is considered progress.”
According to the authors, bread made with natural yeast “converts dough into a digestible food source that will not spike your body’s defenses. It predigests sugar for diabetics, breaks down gluten for the intolerant, and turns calcium-leaching phytic acid into a cancer-fighting antioxidant.”
This is very different from what the fortified breads made with “natural ingredients” sitting on the majority of grocery store shelves actually do!
How did it come to be this way?
Following World War II, industries that had helped supply food to the troops needed to find a new consumer base to keep their operations booming.
Their answer? Busy housewives.
“Beginning after World War II, the industry put a lot of effort into selling Americans on the processed food wonders that it had invented to feed the troops,” Mr. Pollan said in a documentary based on his book. “Canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant and super convenient everything. Processing food is extremely profitable, much more so than growing it or selling it whole.”
In the documentary, food historian Laura Shapiro said the goal was not only to convince women (many of whom were starting to move into the workforce at that time) that the company could cook better and faster than them for their families, but that their products would make their lives simpler.
At the same time, scientists also began experimenting with how to “fix food” and fortify it with extra nutrients. Notably, it was also at this time that obesity rates and incidences of diseases, such as cancer, began to skyrocket.
Author Melanie Warner echoed this sentiment in Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal: “The trouble with this wholesale remaking of the American meal is that our human biology is ill equipped to handle it…Our many novel and high-tech innovations of food destroy much of its essential geography, resulting in all sorts of unintended consequences. When we start taking food apart and industrially processing it, it often stops making biological sense.”
Case in point: Scientists recently discovered that emulsifiers, additives used to extend a product’s shelf-life and improve its texture, have been linked to a rise in colon cancer—the fourth leading cancer killer in the United States. Emulsifiers are used in everything from ice cream to hamburgers.
“Researchers at Georgia State University say they found that regular consumption of emulsifiers by mice altered intestinal bacteria in a way that contributed to tumor development,” Consumer Affairs reported.
This is just one of many studies that have come out recently linking modified “edible foodlike substances” to incidences of cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
Even more shocking is that some nutritionists have actually advised certain tribal peoples whose incidences of diabetes, cancer and heart disease had increased to return to their original lifestyles.
In the documentary featuring Mr. Pollan, he cites a study by a nutritionist in the 1980s in which a group of aborigines, who were diabetic and suffered from high blood pressure, were advised to return to their way of eating (which consisted of mostly wild iguanas) and leave behind the fast food Western diet to which they had become accustomed. Within six weeks, they had lost an average of 15 pounds per person, and their blood pressure and blood sugar returned to a normal range.
Consider what is being said: eating lizards (an animal deemed unfit for human consumption by the Bible in Leviticus 11:29-30) was a healthier option than our modern Western diet, which many consider so much more advanced!
It seems messing with nature does not pay when it comes to human health, no matter the justification.
With all the studies in our heads and our son in tow, we decided to try making as much of his baby food from scratch as we could. We went to local farmers markets to buy the freshest produce we could and took him to see a farm that raises sheep so he could see the animals in their natural environment.
Even though he is only 10 months old, he gets excited when he watches us cut up fresh vegetables and fruits, and grind them in the blender to make them more digestible for him. Surprisingly, he seems to understand that dinner is near.
Health-wise, he has also responded better when he eats food made from scratch.
We recently went on a vacation during which it was necessary to use some packaged foods throughout parts of the trip. He ended up with the sniffles for the first time in his life! By the end of the visit, he was not interested in eating the occasional processed package of fruit we set in front of him. He seemed relieved once we returned home and he could once again enjoy home cooking.
Eating well, however, is not just about fostering better health. Cooking at home has numerous other benefits that extend past the kitchen. It also plays a role in the development of children and has the effect of building up the family.
We have seen this with our son. It is exciting to think of being able to help him understand the benefits of cooking and preparing food from scratch. As a couple, we often cook together and the result is always more satisfying than when one of us does all the work. Eating that meal feels like more of an accomplishment and a labor of love than a chore. We both know we are working toward keeping ourselves—and our child—healthier in the long run.
“Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members,” the Family Dinner Project, a non-profit organization committed to restoring the concept of families eating dinner together, reported.
“Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?”
Using ingredients derived straight from the ground has the added benefit of making you think about the actual source of food. It is not the same as pulling frozen chicken fingers—prepackaged and ready to eat—from the freezer or popping open a can of soup and dumping it into a dish.
When we buy our carrots at our local farmers market, the skin needs to be scrubbed well before it can be used in a particular dish due to the dirt that is still on it. This is a simple reminder that this veggie comes from the ground. The simple act of washing veggies reminds us of man’s intrinsic connection to the soil.
Cooking from scratch makes us think of our own humanity—and how we came to be. It brings to mind the Genesis account in the Bible in which God created man: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7).
So man was formed from “the dust of the ground,” and this is where our food comes from.
Cooking at home teaches us about the greatness of God’s Creation and our place in it. By working with things directly from the natural world, we can better understand God’s purpose behind what we were always supposed to eat.
The Acts 17 account of the apostle Paul preaching in Athens at Mars’ hill explains that God is the ultimate source of all things—plants and animals—that give and sustain life.
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, You men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He gives to all life, and breath, and all things” (vs. 22-25).
“All things” means just that—“all things”—including the variety of plants and animals for food that sustain us every day.
These plants and animals had to be put in place by someone and for a specific purpose. God wants us to know, through His Word, that He created and ordered the universe for us to be able to live an abundant life (John 10:10).
Contrary to what evolutionists believe, many proofs show the world around us could only have been created by an all-wise Creator God. (Those who wish to see evidence proving God’s existence are urged to watch The World to Come series titled “Does God Exist?—Many Absolute Proofs!” You will be amazed by what you learn.)
One of the fascinating ways we can see God’s fingerprints on His Creation is through a concept many of us learned in grade school. Plants grow by converting energy produced by the sun into nourishment, a process called photosynthesis. Along with nutrients from the soil, energy is then stored by the plants and, once eaten by humans, gives us energy to live and breathe. Energy provided by the sun and soil allows for man’s very existence! This simple element within the cycle of life could only have been designed “from the ground up” by a Creator.
Thousands of years ago, King David mused on the importance of recognizing and appreciating God’s Creation. In Psalm 143:5 he stated: “I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the work of Your hands.”
Go back to the Genesis account. It states that God created all life on Earth—plant, animal and human. He created sea creatures, birds and land animals after their kind (1:20-25). It also records that “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (vs. 27).
Read that again, “God created man in His own image.” The simple act of preparing a home-cooked meal reminds us that we came from the dust of the ground—but it should also be a reminder that we were created in God’s image.
The answer relates directly to the purpose for human life and why God created man in the first place. Read The Awesome Potential of Man to learn the full answer. The eye-opening book uses plain language and irrefutable verses from the Bible. You can know why you were born!
Reconnecting with nature by cooking goes far beyond just staying healthy. It helps you to remember God’s Creation, why you were created, and ultimately, what your future holds.
How thankful are you for all that God has provided, including the many sights, sounds and tastes of His Creation? Strive to never forget God by focusing more and more on the food that He directly created, as opposed to the many “foodlike” substances created by man.
Experience the joy and satisfaction of preparing and eating meals at home—and never forget who made the variety of plants and animals you consume!