People are always so confused when I cook. Homemade salsa stops people in their tracks. Sautéed spinach elicits cries of amazement.
Once, I even got a round of mystified compliments on a batch of biscuits (total of six ingredients, none of them chemical additives or preservatives) that were made from scratch rather than the pop-open can. "I didn't know that was possible," one friend exclaimed, eyes wide.
Though cooking seems to confuse those who are uninitiated, my own confusion at their confusion is always far greater. Cooking is in no way complicated or difficult. It is something that humans have been doing since the beginning of time, something that connects us with the food that is necessary for our survival.
In addition, we are in the midst of an obesity and health crisis, largely due to the toxic relationship that we are developing with the foods that we consume.
By all means it seems that greater emphasis should be placed upon cooking, and on teaching and promoting it in our schools and our community. So why are we standing idly by while the art of cooking even the most simple of meals becomes a dying art?
Take into consideration the current situation that our state finds itself in. We are one of the most obese and unhealthy states in one of the most obese and unhealthy countries on our planet. Though the political, social, and economic factors contributing to this crisis are a tangled, convoluted mess, basic measures stemming from the public health philosophy (which emphasizes prevention over treatment) do not need to match this level of complexity to be effective.
Promotion of cooking is one such basic preventative measure. Cooking has an extremely high benefit to cost ratio. It relies largely on common sense, so teaching people to cook is not difficult. In addition, it is one of those rare activities in which participation can easily spark an enduring passion. Once someone catches the bug, they inevitably become lifelong chefs and food aficionados. Plus, knowing how to cook has countless benefits. Cooking brings people together, connects people with their food, and can preserve cultural and family traditions. Most importantly, cooking gives people agency.
In a world where nutritionally-poor foods laden with chemicals and preservatives and high in fat and sugar are ubiquitous, it can sometimes be easier to take the path of least resistance and cave to negative environmental pressures than fight to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.
By giving people the power to provide and create healthy meals for themselves, cooking empowers individuals to take control of what they put into their bodies. When cooking a meal from scratch you can regulate how much fat, salt, and sugar are used. You can replace refined grains for whole grains. You can choose local and seasonal fruits and vegetables over imported, genetically modified varieties. In short, you can tailor your food to be just as healthy as you want it to be.
Unfortunately, despite the obvious benefits of cooking, many people are still reluctant to embrace it. Most claim that they don't know how, or that they simply don't have time. However, with nothing but the most rudimentary of culinary educations, both of these problems become non-issues.
To make quick and healthy meals one does not need to have advanced skills, fancy equipment, or an entire afternoon to spare. A few basic cooking lessons are all it takes to eliminate the mystery surrounding cooking and prove to anyone that cooking can be fast, fun and extremely doable.
So again, the million-dollar question: Why aren't we teaching people to cook? If the people of West Virginia were able to cook for themselves, make healthier choices about the foods that they use to fuel their bodies, and feel empowered to change their own food environments instead of letting their environments change them, imagine the good that could be done.
If we invested just a little more of our time and resources into the promotion of cooking both in our schools and in our communities, this dream could certainly be realized, and cooking could become a key player in the fight against obesity and unhealthiness in our state.
Hamilton, of Charleston, is a freshman at Yale University.