Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Should feminists stay out of the kitchen?

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I read this article the other day and it made me go back and take a look at the post I wrote a little while back about how we need to stop glorifying the inability to cook.

The article is about how “real women” are still expected to cook and examines the role of women in sitcoms and cooking shows. It made me wonder if my original take was sexist. Did I only talk about women? I was certainly thinking about female characters like Lorelai Gilmore and Olivia Pope. I did also think about the importance of showing men cooking but maybe I didn’t make that very clear. I definitely didn’t think about the possibility that showing women who were incapable of cooking (or at least unwilling to cook) was actually a feminist act. And I really have mixed feelings about it right now.

I do not believe that a woman belongs in the kitchen. I do not think that it’s a woman’s measure of worth to serve the men and children in their lives. I don’t think that we all need to love cooking or spend as much time doing it as I do. However, I wonder if making a refusal to cook is truly a feminist act or more an instance of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. It may be levelling the playing field to have both men and women out of the kitchen but I think that’s more bringing everyone down a level rather than lifting everyone up.

As I said in my previous post, cooking is an important life skill. Food literacy is as important as any other form of literacy. What we prepare for ourselves is generally going to be more nutritious and less calorically dense than food we purchase ready-made and from restaurants. It’s better for us and better for our wallets. It doesn’t have to mean hours of slaving over a hot stove. A good home cooked meal can be as quick and simple as a vegetable frittata or stir-fry; ready in under 30 minutes.

We should be encouraging more people to get in the kitchen, not glorifying culinary ineptitude. On television we should be showing both men and women cooking for themselves, for their families, for their friends, and show children helping in the kitchen. In real life, we should be advocating to have mandatory home ec reinstated in schools. We (both women and men) should be taking the effort to prepare nourishing meals for ourselves because we are all worthy of good nutrition.


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So, Maple Leaf is going to promote food security. Bologna for all?

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My first thought when I saw that Maple Leaf was launching a new food security centre was: “do we really need another food security organization in Canada?” As much as I love that this issue is gaining traction and increased attention, there are already a number of organizations in Canada working to promote food security (on a national level: PROOF an excellent research centre in Toronto, and Food Secure Canada). Not to mention all of the organizations that are working to fight poverty, which is the root cause of food insecurity.

As I read the article, I was impressed by the academic names attached. Although, I do find it rather telling that of the seven board members, four of them are Maple Leaf employees. My inner (okay not so inner) cynic can’t help but wonder if this is more of a public relations exercise for Maple Leaf than a true effort to increase food security of Canadians. Indeed, by the current projects they plan to support, I don’t anticipate that they’ll reach their goal of reducing food insecurity in Canada by 50% by 2030.

The projects they plan to support through their innovation fund are: an urban farm, community food hubs through a provincial food bank, and FoodShare. All of which are fantastic initiatives which will bolster food literacy in participants, but will likely have little impact on food security rates in Canada.

Dare I suggest that Maple Leaf might better tackle food security issues by addressing internal employment practices. Their lowest paid employees are making minimum wage and it sounds as though many struggle to attain a healthy work-life balance. Both of these issues are important factors in promoting food security. Meanwhile, the CEO of the company made the list of the top 100 highest paid CEOs in Canada last year; pulling in a cool $5,239,735. This sort of inequity does not lend itself to promotion of food security. Perhaps Maple Leaf should work on getting their own ducks in a row, and ensure that their own employees are all food secure, before bragging that they’ll be spending the equivalent of less than twice their CEO’s salary on a new food security centre over five years. Additionally, rather than creating a new food security centre, they could donate the money to organizations like PROOF, Living Wage Canada, Food Secure Canada, and other organizations working to fight poverty across the country.

If we truly want to ensure Canadians are food secure we need to stop thinking about it as a food charity issue and start thinking about it as an income and equity issue. Food drives and food bank donations may make us feel good about ourselves and help to put a little bit of food in the mouths of hungry people but they do nothing to promote food security. If anything, these programs allow government off the hook as they can pretend that communities are doing their work for them by providing for those in need. As individuals we can make sure our elected officials are aware that we support a basic income guarantee and living wages. The media can help to get this message out there. Employers can help to ensure food security for their employees by providing job security, adequate wages, work-life balance, and benefits packages. The government(s) can create policies that will see a basic income guarantee and living wage put in place across Canada.


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Let’s stop glorifying the inability to cook

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Despite the proliferation of cooking shows in recent years it seems that most television programs glorify the anti-cooking life. Sure, there are shows like Masterchef and Chopped and all of the standard celeb cooking shows but those are far removed from the reality of the average home cook. They glorify challenges and gourmet meals, not getting supper on the table for a family after a long day of work.

When I think about pretty much any tv series or movie these days nobody cooks. It’s like a badge of honour to have an untarnished kitchen. A sort a bragging about being unable to cook. Can’t you just picture Olivia Pope curled up on her couch after a long day of falling in and out of love with the president with a big bowl of popcorn and a big glass of wine? Or how about all the shows that have an iconic restaurant, diner, or coffee shop where all of the characters meet on the daily? When I try to think of shows that feature regular family meals they’re all from my childhood and generally assume that it’s the woman’s job to feed the household. I don’t think that equality has to come at the expense of home cooked meals. My boyfriend and I take turns cooking depending on our schedules. Eating out is a treat, not a daily, or even weekly occurrence.

Being able to cook is something that should be considered an essential life skill. I can’t imagine anyone bragging about being illiterate. When people proudly proclaim their incompetence in the kitchen to me that’s the same thing. It’s bragging about being food illiterate. I’m not saying we all need to be gourmet chefs or cook every single meal at home from scratch but we do need a cultural shift. These shows reflect our reality and our reality mirrors these shows. Let’s stop aspiring to a life where the closest we come to cooking is reheating leftover delivery and start showing individuals and households where cooking is the norm.


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Six by Sixteen: Education or marketing?

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Image by Rob on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

Six by Sixteen is a “new” initiative by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture to get kids cooking. The idea is that all children should be able to cook at least six things by the time that they’re sixteen.

It was much lauded when it was announced last year. Then their website sat as a placeholder for some time. Last week it was finally populated. There are some videos, links to where to find local food, and a section on healthy eating (which just takes you to links on where to find local foods, what local foods are in season, and Canada’s Food Guide). Essentially the website is a repository of links to pre-existing sites and materials.

I’d like to be excited about this. I think that food skills are very much lacking in our society. I want to applaud any effort to increase the profile of food literacy. I hope that OFA is successful in doing that with this site. However, I think that this initiative could be so much more than it is.

As this is an initiative to promote food literacy I think that more than producers should be involved. There should be dietitians and chefs involved, at the very least. Healthy eating is so much more than knowing where to find local food and having a copy of Canada’s Food Guide. Food literacy is about so much more than being able to boil an egg.

I really hope that OFA will start working with other groups to expand the content and reach of this initiative because it could be really great. As it stands, it’s underwhelming and seems to be more of a marketing tool for its partners than as a truly educational resource.


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More on the return to home ec.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the push for home economics (especially food skills) to return to high schools (as a mandatory course) in Ontario. I’m completely behind this idea. That being said, we were talking about that back when I worked in public health and that was more than two years ago (and I’m sure that the conversation predated my time). I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

I also think that we need to go further than reintroducing a re-vamped sexier home ec. in high schools. We need to catch kids when they’re young. Many elementary schools now have gardens which are a great way to teach children about growing, harvesting, and preparing food. They’re also great places for teaching children about math and other core subjects. I think that food literacy should be one of these school subjects. Children should receive more education about food and nutrition than the occasional food guide or guest dietitian presentation in health class.

 

If we want children to develop healthy habits for life then we need to show them what healthy living is. It’s not enough to ban cookies in the cafeterias. Our goal should be that no student should finish their school without knowing that carrots have green tops, they don’t come in cans, how to grow vegetables with or without a yard, how to prepare basic nutritious meals, how to slice and dice. We have to eat every day and we shouldn’t be allowing any more children to grow-up without the skills to feed themselves.