Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Greatest Danger of Processed "Home Cooking"


It's not necessarily the actual food, but rather it's what it teaches.

Take the fish example up above. Nutritionally I'm guessing that it's pretty much the same as if you breaded, seasoned and pan fried the fish yourself.

But the message?

The message is that good healthy food comes in boxes.

And the message that's lost?

That it's actually not even remotely difficult to buy fresh fish, season it and pan fry it. And if fresh is a challenge, perhaps even preparing plain frozen fish fillets that you first thaw for a few moments in a sink full of water. 

Reliance on boxes robs people and their highly impressionable children of the basic life skill and healthy living importance of cooking while simultaneously perpetuating the de-prioritization of actual meal preparation from our modern day lives.  While the final outcome in this case might be nutritionally comparable, and might even take 1 or 2 minutes less time than from scratch, I'll still label it as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.  Sure, rely on products like this in a pinch, but I'm guessing many rely on them more often than not.

We're not going to solve society's nutrition related woes with boxes.

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26 comments:

  1. Hmm. I'm not sure I can agree based on your logic. If it was nutritionally the same as home cooking (debatable), then how would the outcome be different for society except for saving time? Your argument sounds like you are saying it's better simply because it takes longer and involves more steps. That's not a good argument in my opinion. (NOTE - I'm a big believer in home cooking from whole foods - just not this argument for it.)

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    1. How about the unnecessary added cost then? The money you're spending to have someone package your breading in a box with a pretty picture on it could be better spent on higher quality fish!

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    2. Anonymous3:15 pm

      Not to mention the added salt - a lot of processed and packaged foods contain.

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    3. The time it takes may be important.

      Being able to satiate yourself immediately, without having to learn to mitigate your feelings of hunger while you take the time to cook, is a psychological reward. If you feel happy about having instant food gratification, your mind will favour that choice.

      Do this often enough, and you will learn to find it painful to take the time to cook.

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    4. Amen, crf!

      I think the key here is that these boxes promote a cultural problem. When we are not involved in our food preparation, it becomes so easy to ignore the importance of where our food is coming from, for example.

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    5. I think food is about more than just nutrition. Peparing a piece of fish like this takes no more time - well, maybe two extra minutes. But, it does take a little confidence and a little knowledge of cooking. The more we rely on boxes, the less confidence we have and the less we know about cooking. Food in boxes promotes an industrial food culture.

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  2. I don't think its necessarily nutritionally the same, but I do agree that there should not be a reliance on boxes. I do think that kids (hypothetical ones, in my case) should see what goes into a real meal, and that real food can be quick and healthy.

    This was my issue with Stouffer (?) when they started promoting "family dinner" with boxed, frozen mac and cheese (and other entrees).

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  3. To be nutritionally equivalent, the fat used to fry the fish would have to be the same. Unfortunately, prepared foods generally contain higher proportions of omega-6 industrial seed oils, a novel ingredient that wasn't available to either food manufacturers or homemakers until about a hundred years ago. Knowledgeable consumers regard fried foods prepared with natural, traditional fats containing a high proportion of saturated fats to be nutritionally superior to products prepared with industrial seed oils. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201103/your-brain-omega-3

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  4. Actually, the thing that bugs me about that ad is the proportion of fish to rice to veggies on that plate. Three spears of asparagus? Really? And that portion of fish is about twice the size it should be. The rice portion looks about right, though.

    I don't know... is this really a battle worth fighting? There are far worse things people could be (and are) eating. My message would be: if it comes out of a box (and only a small portion of our food should), be sure to read the label - including portion sizes - carefully so that you know what you're eating.

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  5. I see the opposite perspective. If someone has never really learned to cook, buying and breading that fresh fish you speak of can be a lot more intimidating than you think. If we can at least get them to fix this with some veggies at home instead of grabbing a fast-food fish sandwich, isn't that progress?

    There's also a place for this in a diet that's mostly home-cooked. I cook from scratch most of the time, rarely eat out, bake my own bread and make my own broth. But you better believe I usually have a package of frozen breaded fish in the freezer for the nights that I'm just too tired and burnt out to cook.

    I fear sometimes that if we set the bar too high on the home-cooking front, we'll discourage people from trying at all.

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  6. Anonymous8:47 am

    I agree with some of the other posters... while I get your point, I'd argue that the fish isn't even close to nutritionally the same as it is if it's made at home, and if it is, and you're okay with the extra cost of prepared meals, then what exactly is the issue? If it's nutritionally exactly the same, who cares if someone chooses this over making it from scratch (even if making from scratch is just as easy, which it almost never is - hence why prepared food is so popular). I think the focus really SHOULD be that boxed food simply isn't as healthy 98% of the time.

    I love your blog, but lately it seems like you're really reaching with the badvertising - or maybe it's just that you're preaching to the choir with me, and so I find there's a lot of over-driving the point home.

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    1. Anonymous1:16 pm

      have to agree with this last point - this blog is getting too negative! I need some nutrition goodness to share. Some positive things that are happening!

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  7. Theresa9:12 am

    The point that I glean from this post is the fact that while this MIGHT be a great choice...... That Stouffers Mac & cheese is not. The packaging is the same. Rip open box and heat. Eat.

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  8. For me the issue is about perspective. "Healthy eating" is a continuum, with whole food home cooking at one end and a complete reliance on packaged, processed food at the other. Most people fall somewhere in-between.

    To be successful, those of us who are working in this field have to avoid absolutes, and reach people where they are. Real success and behaviour change comes about as the result of repeated, sustainable small steps.

    The bottom line is to help people understand where different foods and "food products" fit on the continuum, and to enable them to gradually shift their choices in the right direction. For some, the box of fish might be an unpalatable meal option or a reasonable compromise, while for others it could be considered a step in the right direction. It's all about perspective and helping people to understand the choices they're making.

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  9. Alyssa11:06 am

    Yoni, you're gonna like this "article" as much as me then...
    http://tinyurl.com/7b97v85

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    1. Alyssa -- this is the either/or thing I'm talking about. What if this woman had cut herself some slack and gone for less elaborate meals with occasional (gasp) reasonably healthy convenience foods -- like the fish -- thrown in? What if she had just lightened up a little bit, been less ambitious and perfectionist about dinner? I think if she had, she might still be cooking -- and maybe even enjoying it.

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    2. I've forced myself to learn to cook, and it was a trudge for a while, but I like simple food. I make enough to last a few meals, I often cycle through my favorites, occasionally cook something new/exotic (ingredients, not process). Reminds me of a conversation with bf over a quiche I made. I buy ww crust, throw in eggs, some cooked and uncooked veggies, a bit of ham or bacon, a bit of good cheese, whatever milk product I have. He tells me of an awesome quiche that it took his boss 4 hours to make. It was more complicated than it should have been for me to explain why I wasn't going to be spending 4 hours on a quiche, too much work, too much time, too complex, and I probably won't like it all that much better. I don't expect chef quality food for myself, just has to be good enough to eat.

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    3. I guess if I was truly a purist, I would make my own quiche crust, not buy frozen, but we have our limits. I check ingredients of my few ingredients that come with a list, nothing too weird in it.

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  10. Anonymous12:13 pm

    It certainly can be challenging to find time to cook the entree, side dish, and veggies. Having one of the three taken care of with a fairly healthy item from the freezer might make the difference between a family ordering in or not on those busy nights. If you have the time to consistently make every part of the meal from scratch great, but that is not the reality for many working parents and having healthier convenience items can make a difference.

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  11. I'm coming to agree with Dr. Freedhoff's ideas on home cooking more and more. In fact, I've been very inspired by this blog to cook at home more.

    Maybe his overarching point is that relying on packaged, processed foods helps to increase the gulf between what we eat and the ultimate sources of our food. The more we reply on processed stuff, the more we lose a sense of what real food "looks like", where it comes from, how it's prepared. And, of course, the more we rely on packaged foods that come from BigAgriculture/BigFood companies, the more we continue to enable them (via our food purchasing $$$) to dominate the food industries and to influence government policies in their favor.

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  12. Anonymous1:14 pm

    Disagree strongly, boxes can be very useful, box squats, box jumps, boxing. Disliking of boxes is just some of the worst blog bigotry I have seen in a long time...

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  13. Anonymous4:11 pm

    It is hard to eat fish twice a week like the food guide says unless one is from a can or box as fish is definitely best the first day and most people grocery shop once a week.

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    1. There are some good frozen fish that aren't breaded.

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  14. Anonymous5:16 pm

    I made salmon at home a few days ago, and it was so supremely delicious. It took about 5 minutes to prepare. Took a whole skin-on salmon filet, sprinkled with salt & pepper and some "Sunny Paris" herb blend from Penzey's spices. Made a quick "sauce" with a couple tablespoons of mayo and about a tsp of dijon mustard. Spread on the filet and then sprinkled a couple tablespoons of fresh parmesan on top. Baked for about 20 minutes until it flaked easily. Served with a salad. Dinner was done. So easy!

    I've really committed myself to healthy (and simple) home cooking the past couple of years. Some planning, educating, and experimenting has really worked out for me and my family. Cooking real food can be very simple and quick, but it is a commitment. Once you're committed though and you've made it a habit, it's not hard. I'm a full-time working parent too with a child who plays soccer and all that extra-curricular stuff.

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  15. Anonymous7:34 pm

    About 2 years ago I decided to stop eating meat. It wasn't really a stretch for me. My food bill was immediately cut in half. I lost 15 lbs. My energy went up. I slept better. I found out that cooking vegetables was a breeze. Most often asked question was, "what do you eat?!" Simple answer, "everything else!" Not everyone can do it, but with little effort, it is worth a try. I agree with Dr. Freedhoff 100%. Real food makes you feel better. Real food tastes better. In every respect, real food is easier to deal with. Real food cuts down on your health-related costs. You don't necessarily need to cut meat out entirely but having as many meat-free meals a week will help. Guess what? If you do it right, portion control can be a thing of the past. Actually, I have to be very careful not to lose any more weight. Consult a doctor and a nutritionist. You won't be sorry. Box food may be convenient but it also contains stuff than isn't remotely good for you.

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  16. Anonymous5:38 pm

    In my opinion most of your posts do an excellent job of encouraging people to think about nutrition and diet in a constructive way, and thinking about how food at birthday parties or advertising or portion sizes or restaurant menus. But I am confused by this post. I am not sure why you concede the point that the food in the box could be as healthy as food made from scratch. But if it is about as healthy, then your argument is much less persuasive than most of your other posts. I think level of nutrition is more important than how we acheive it, and what is wrong with most processed food has to do with nutrition much more than coming in a box. For many people, with full time jobs (often two parents), children to look after, chores, errands, and other activities, there isn't a lot of time to cook and convenience is a factor. I think the frozen fish often tastes about as good and is a lot easier, and it lasts a lot longer before cooking. But I'm worried about whether it is nutritious enough and above all if it has too much sodium.

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