Our culture is constantly changing. It seems that Americans get stuck in a fad for a while, then when it’s old news, they move on to a new one. And thus, a different culture emerges. Clothing style, hair, food, diets, cars, etc. We are still a relatively new nation, compared to much of the rest of the world. A nation with a constantly changing culture, evolving to the next hip thing.
Women used to wear dresses, and held modesty in a higher regard than today. Now we have moved on to see-through, belly-showing shirts and tight contour-showing yoga pants. Some men used to wear suits on a daily basis, and at some point in history, we hit the t-shirt fad and it has never left us. Hairstyles change constantly too. As far as I’m concerned, I’m so glad we are done with the big fluffy perms and huge bangs from the 80s. Let’s also not forget the constant influences that Hollywood has had over these culture changes as well in the past decades. Food has had its fads too. Such as the fad of t.v. dinners, then we moved on to even faster dinners: fast food. Or, such as the scare of fats in our diet, then after that we moved on to a scare of carbs, and now we are onto a scare of gluten. Remember the fad of Tupperware containers too? Well now we have moved onto the current plastic-free movement.
There are endless comparisons like the ones listed above. Some have changed in good riddance of the old, and others have left us simply because they weren’t stylish anymore. What is surprising is that in many cultures around the world they don’t change as much as we Americans do. Yes, they might try to incorporate a ‘new-age’ and improved method into their daily lives, but they keep a very strong hold on their long-kept traditions. One way this is evidently seen is through food. Cooking in America is essentially dead, while in other parts of the world it’s esteemed and passed on through generations as if it’s a way to survive. The loss of our culture of cooking is what struck me the most.
For example, I come from a family that is 100% Hispanic. I have seen the slow progression of the loss of their culture of preparing and cooking food. Since their move to America, they bought tortillas made in stores because they were cheaper and more readily available, instead of milling the flour and making their own. They used lots of genetically modified legumes and grains, because they’re also cheaper and what’s available in stores. They also used man made hydrogenated oils to fry things, instead of their traditional homemade lard. Their diets changed dramatically, as did their lives. Bless my mother and dear aunts that have continued to cook in the manner in which they have! I mean, the food is always great. It’s just not the same as they were taught in their homeland. Now, their children, which are my cousins, and including myself, were mostly born here, if not entirely raised here. We were born Hispanic, yet raised American. And the loss of cooking is even more evident with us.
I’ve heard stories about how my dad and his siblings raised their own animals for meat, eggs, and dairy, how they planted all their grain and vegetables, and how they worked everyday as a family to make ends meet and bring food on the table. True, wholesome food. But hard, labor-intensive work. My grandmother would take their dried grain everyday to the local mill. She would make her own fresh tortillas, everyday. She would make her own cheese and yogurt. She even made kombutcha too. The kids were always busy and constantly outside.
As intriguing and healthy that lifestyle sounds, it hardly exists in America. The closest thing that compares to this sort of lifestyle today, in my opinion, is a local Farmer’s Market. Where communities work together to share wholesome food, for the most part. My father kept up most of his family’s traditions in such a way that he grew up to be a farmer, and he sustained his family by what he raised on the farm. He raised bees for honey, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, chickens for eggs, and animals for meat. However, my sister and I grew up so differently than my father did, so much so that it can’t even compare. We had wholesome food at our fingertips, yet our feet were planted deep in our American culture in which we grew up.
There’s something wrong in the way America is living. Maybe it’s the fast pace at which everyone lives. Maybe it’s our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Maybe it’s the lack of understanding of true nutrition. Maybe it’s the environment we have created. I have heard it all. Something is contributing to the decline of our health, physically and mentally. And we are spiraling downward. America continues to be one of the countries with the highest divorce rates. Hollywood is continually influential on young adults, shaping what they ought to look like and act like, never satisfying. The number of obese children has doubled since the 1980’s. In 1900, cancer and heart disease contributed to 18% of deaths in America, now it has jumped to 63%. We are unhappy and unhealthy.
What I believe is the missing link between our health and our American culture, is time. Time to spend with our families. Time to spend with our kids. Time to spend outdoors. Most importantly, time to spend on cooking. This is a quote I like very much from a book and t.v. show written by Michael Pollan : “Most of us are moving too fast for slow cooking. For years now, Americans have been putting in longer hours at work, and enjoying less time at home. In households where both partners work outside the home, it is difficult, if not impossible, to weave this sort of cooking into the rhythms of weekday life. Shortcuts suddenly seem more attractive. Nowadays there are so many cheap and easy ways to out source the work.”
Today, the typical American spends and estimated 27 mins in food preparation. That is what we are missing. It’s time. It’s not just about making it and slapping it in on the table, but we need time to enjoy it too. Enjoying the smells as we cook, and even praying before we eat, starts the digestion process, and helps our bodies digest it better. This first stage of digestion is called the cephalic phase. Stress shuts down this part of digestion.We need time to make wholesome food, to fill our tummies, nourish our minds, and eat with with the ones we love. In Spanish, what we say when we eat together is we “convivir,” which means “to live together.” Food also nourishes relationships, and is such an important tool to use when you want to “convivir” with others. Such as sitting together as a family to eat dinner, and talk about your day. Or at social gatherings, as a form of fellowship with others.
In most parts of the world, in traditional societies, men do the hunting and women do the cooking. Now, it’s easy to blame the feminist movement that happened in America as the reason women don’t cook anymore, because they don’t stay home anymore and have joined the work force. In a way, yes cooking has indeed stopped there. But there are other factors to consider. During war times, women had to work because all the men were gone, and the industrialization on fast-food was born. Quickly prepared and convenient foods just made sense. That was a huge culture change for us. People didn’t need to grow food, or heck even prepare it. It was already done for you. And it was cheap too. And so, our health rapidly declined. And time was eliminated, from cooking our food, and from spending time at home.
The hard reality is that this is the culture in which live in today. Careers and college are what children are told to dream about, not staying at home. And once in college, most kids struggle with the balance of food and time, especially if they have a job too, which results in weight and health issues. They are perfect targets for the fast food industry. Fast food is everywhere and what we are used to. People are not used to a slow life, where you cook 3 meals a day at home. It seems absurd when you can go buy something. Waste of time. And- how can you, if you’re working away from home all day? The knowledge of cooking passed down through generations is becoming lost.
I’m a proud stay at home mom. Not just because I’m so honored and privileged that my husband works so hard in order for me to do so, but also because I’m so glad to be able to cook 3 meals a day for my family. I want to try and live slow, in a fast paced world. That is one of my most important God-given duties, the ability to take care of my family in the best way that I can. Not every meal will be organic, or grown from my farm, but it will be a real meal! Wholesome, real food. I want to pass these traditions of practicing slow cooking to my kids, and hopefully instill this lifestyle into future generations to come. I believe that is the key to our health: time. There is no shame is being home. Actually, there is great satisfaction and security in the health and well-being of my family. And to me, there is no greater joy other than that, being a mother and wife myself. In my eyes, it’s not just where I belong, but where I’m supposed to be.
For those that don’t have that opportunity to stay home, the desire to give their family the best they can doesn’t change. It might just be harder to see since they are forced to live with such a busy lifestyle. Which is why we are also so blessed with local Farmers Markets, and increasing options for wholesome foods in grocery stores. There’s also the option to make meals ahead of time, and even freeze them for future need. To all those out there that have to deal with that incredible balance of life at home and work away from home, especially with kids, I give a million kudos. I don’t know how you do it, without sacrificing one thing for another! You are truly incredible. Just remember- there are ways, and wholesome food is out there, you just have to make it possible. And in some ways, make it a necessity for the health and future of your family. And if you can, make time to cook at home! And don’t forget to enjoy it.