My culinary education took place in a bomb shelter [A Guest Post you Can’t Miss]

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Meet Becky. She’s one of those women that makes you feel like things are going to turn out okay. She is smart, articulate, and kind. Oh, and she is a powerhouse mama to Henry, age 7 and Midori, age 5. She is a professional cyslist for Team Novo Nordisk Women’s Cycling Team, as well as a pediatric vision therapist. When she is not traveling to races, she and her husband, Dennis, make their home in northern Colorado.

I overheard her talking at the EatWell@School Fundraiser Lunch about when she discovered spinach was actually a leaf. You’ll love her thoughts about growing up with canned veggies and her quest to teach her kids about real food. Show some blog love and leave a comment featuring your favorite “real food.” 

 My culinary education took place in a bomb shelter.

Not literally, of course. My mother was simply a woman raised in the 1950s, for whom the rise of packaged food was a gastronomic phenomenon which mingled convenience with her domestic responsibilities in much the same way she’d crack an egg into a bowl of powdered Duncan Hines cake mix, and proudly proclaim the result “homemade.” She was the embodiment of everything wrong with post-war cooking in America, where canned vegetables and potato flakes were the holy grail of the kitchen pantry.

Everything – and I do mean everything – we consumed had a shelf life exceeding the estimated life span of the average human being. She stockpiled cans of Cream of Mushroom soup, pulled out boxes of dehydrated disks that magically sprang to life in the oven and became “scalloped potatoes,” and proudly served up olive colored canned green beans slathered with a giant pat of margarine.

All those years later, I emerged from the fallout shelter of my mother’s kitchen, and I dedicated myself to trying to cook actual food in its most natural and least processed form.  It was a sobering task. I’d crack open the December issue of Bon Appetit, and find myself immediately overwhelmed by ingredients I assumed imaginary. I foraged for spinach in the grocery store, only to find myself staring at a mysterious clump of what I presumed to be tree leaves. This spinach looked nothing like the bright green congealed slime I recalled from the dinners of my youth. In the kitchen of my childhood, there was no such thing as “fennel.”  I’d be trying to venture into gourmet territory, progressing nicely through the various steps of a recipe, and then find myself staring at an instruction obviously dreamed up by some world class chef as he was snorking down copious amounts of cooking sherry.

Then, my husband and I decided to have children. In that moment, I fully committed myself to feeding my kids healthy foods, no matter how many times I fell face down in the béarnaise sauce. I went out, and bought cookbooks. I took classes. I talked to women who knew how to cook real, good food. And I realized something: With a little planning, cooking from scratch can be quite simple. A simple dish with five or six ingredients might take only a half an hour to prepare, and little effort on my part.

The food industry has manufactured this demand for elaborate food choices because the profit margin is so much greater for processed foods than whole foods. They’ve told women that preparing real meals from single ingredients is a regressive model that will leave us tied to the kitchen in a sort of domestic slavery, and that Tuna Helper alone can liberate us from the shackles of culinary servitude. For these reasons, many of us take for granted that food comes not from the ground or off a tree, but from a box or a can.

The biggest barrier to better eating in America isn’t poverty or time or lack of access to fresh foods. It’s not that mothers don’t care that their children consume chemicals of every sort. The biggest challenge is learning about food again. If you have never cooked a meal, the thought of undertaking the process can seem daunting. In truth, it is a sensorial delight, and not nearly so complex as one might suspect having never cooked before. The key is to plan ahead, have the ingredients on hand, and familiarize yourself with the steps involved in preparation. Keep it straightforward. Choose recipes that have a short list of readily available ingredients, with quick cook times.

Now, you’ll find me in the kitchen, and often with a child at my side. Everything we eat is fresh, and prepared with our own hands. The toddler chub of my daughter’s fingers can smash a clove of garlic, and she will adeptly tear the sticky skin from its side. My son will snip mint leaves for chutney, as the joy of creating supper weaves associations of taste and texture and smell. I am passing good food to them. We are making something truly worth eating.

Becky also happens to be a LiveWell Mom. Join us by signing up for the LiveWell Momentum newsletter today!