There was this good article on the Forbes website recently that I’d like to share with you today:
It was particularly fascinating because it states that, contrary to common belief, it’s not the price of food that is making the general US population fat, but the convenience of food that is causing it.
If you look at the actual report from the Centre for Disease Control (the report on which the Forbes article was based: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db50.htm), the broad headlines are that there isn’t much prevalence of obesity amongst different socioeconomic groups of men, however higher income women, and higher educated women, were less likely to be obese than low-income, less educated women. There also was a general rise in obesity amongst all adults over the last 20 years regardless of income and education.
We’ve always assumed that it’s because fresh food is expensive that lower-income families couldn’t afford to buy it in and instead would opt for fast-food, but actually it would seem that, according to UPI, people would actually eat more fast-food as their income rose – hence the article title at Forbes.
The Forbes article then makes an interesting suggestion as to how to get fresh food more easily and cheaply to your door – via various online sources that either point people to their nearest farm or to bring food closer to home.
I sincerely hope that they do a study for the UK as well since that’s where I live, but it would also be good to compare with another country famed for its food, like Italy, or France, or Japan and such, to see how their diets have been affected by convenience foods to date if at all. From what I hear from my Austrian family, ready-made and convenience food is on the rise (and dear Sigrid does not approve!).
All this is well and good to know; but I’d like to just take a step back from all of this and ask:
What does a study like this indicate about us as a whole?
One thing is very clear – we are happy to pay for convenience if we can afford to do so, regardless of how healthy it is.
Why would we pay for the convenience? Why do we need it in the first place?
It can’t just be because we like the taste of it – there’s no point in denying it, we must like it at some level, otherwise we wouldn’t buy and eat it so much as a whole.
It brings back to me that Savage Garden lyric – “I believe that junk food tastes so good because it’s bad for you”.
But enough about my shameful music tastes. *blush*
I think it breaks down into these key things:
1 – it saves you time – instead of cooking at home, you’ll happily pay a premium to have someone else prepare a meal for you and your family.
2 – it’s not too expensive, so you’ll happily fork out the money to have food now than to suffer on the way home with the kids (or other half) grumbling about how hungry they are.
3 – it’s simple food that will fill you and your family up to just keep going.
That’s why the article somewhat misses the point: it’s not just about making fresh, wholesome food readily available for everyone – even if you went to the local farm to buy fresh produce, you’ll still have to prepare it and turn it into a meal, which will take anything between 5 minutes (salads) to a couple of hours (stews and casseroles). That is precious time you probably would want to use to spend time with your family, or unwinding from the day, or to finish off that report you’ve taken home from work to complete.
And that’s exactly what convenience food is there for – to make your life temporarily easier, to get you over the hump, to get you through the day; it’s one thing ticked off your list that you don’t have to worry about.
Quite frankly, there are going to be days when you can’t cope and you will need something like convenience food to get you through the day.
The way I see it, it’s okay, really. I’m pretty sure that the odd fast-food meal isn’t going to kill you and your family.
After all, I’m pretty sure that the kids would love it as a treat – I can remember loving going to McDonalds as a kid once in a while with my parents as a quick treat when mum just didn’t want to cook and we didn’t have anything ready at home.
But maybe moderation is the key thing here – use it to get you through a particularly bad day, go to sleep and try again tomorrow.
Two days in a row? Yup, I’m pretty sure we’ve been here more times than we’d like to remember – what I try to do at this stage is eat something and then start cooking a proper meal for the next day. Sure, I might not always feel like it, but it means that the next day we can have something really nice, and it’s all ready from the day before.
Besides, sometimes having junk food can help remind you of how great really good home-cooked food can be – a bit like darling Dolly Parton’s saying, “You gotta take the rain with the sunshine”: so that you know great tasting natural food when you see it.
Or eat it, in this case.
It’s definitely worth investing in preserving bags or pots that can be put into the freezer – that way, you can defrost something that you’ve made earlier, which again saves the hassle of making something on the spot. I personally swear by Lakeland 1 litre soup bags – they hold anything liquid, like soups, sauces, casseroles and whatnot and have saved me so much money. The main trouble I otherwise have is lack of freezer space for everything I make and freeze!
Life is busy, especially if you have children, a job, a house, a car and allsorts to hold down. Convenience food is there for a reason – it’s a crutch to fall back on when it all gets too much. The sooner that the governments, nutritionists and health-promoters realise that, the better a solution they will eventually start looking into for everyone.
But until then, don’t feel guilty for eating it once in a while – enjoy it for the time and energy relief it brings, go to bed, and try again tomorrow.
Take care of yourselves.
Catherine, I SO agree with your analysis. The whole point is to not spend any time cooking. If I liked to cook, I wouldn’t eat so many raw tortellinis:-) And I do notice the big difference in taste between ready-made and home-made food. My dream would be for two tasty delicious organic meals to be delivered at my door each day. Not an option at the moment, I’m afraid. I can afford fresh products to cook myself, but I don’t earn enough yet for my high-quality ready-made food fantasy to come true.
By the way, your blog is great! I devour each article.
Very interesting post. I think there is also a much more insidious side to the appeal of ‘convenence food’ though… there is a rising idea that the ‘jolt’ of quickly spiking blood sugar levels of highly processed (and unnatural) carb components like refined white flour and high-fructose corn syrup create an actual addiction to these foodstuffs, with obesity being the side-effect.. not just of the amount, but by the way our body processes them. It’s scary really….
Absolutely – that’s why moderation is the key where possible. I think that it’s there as a crutch to fall back on if all else fails, because people will happily “take the hit” to their health if it solves several problems in one go. What I mainly wanted to point out with this is that, although healthy food is clearly better for us, there are so many other factors involved as to why more people aren’t eating it often enough, and that there are other points to consider when governments, nutritionists and dietritions come up with their solutions – another aspect of the article that concerned me was the blatant “Supermarkets are evil” argument in the last few sentences of the Forbes article – although I tend to agree with that sentiment, you have to look at *why* people go to supermarkets over “better” places, and how people could potentially change their lifestyle to encompas that.
Oh I pretty much agree with you on all your points… and the supermarket argument *is* a bit extreme. You can actually eat pretty well from most supermarkets (shop at the ‘edges’ rather than the center aisle, is an oft quoted strategy). There are plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood available generally… the problem, I think, is that so many people have got so far from the idea of cooking from scratch that the skills are getting rarer… also, I really think we have become a little too conditioned to the notion that we don’t have time to cook. If you could re-foster the notion that enjoying good food in a relaxed setting is a major pleasure in life, then I believe a lot more people would find that they can *make* the time… That won’t be possible for everyone obviously, but it would be nice if we could change the way it is at present.
I definitely second that notion 😉 Let’s celebrate making cooking a pleasure!