The rise of the food networks and the plethora of cooking shows reflect lots of genuine interest in diversifying our diets and real enthusiasm for the great skill of food preparation. More people are cooking cuisines they never grew up with and are fascinated by mastering gourmet recipes. This may, in part, be an upside to the vast popularity of these shows. Yet, at the same time it is increasingly common to find households where there is a second, and even third generation that has never learned even some of the basics of household food preparation. Reliance on convenience foods (which lead to very inconvenient illnesses), microwavables, and “heat n’ eat” products results in health-destructive diets high in calories, unhealthy fats, salt, sugar, animal protein, and artificial ingredients.
Considering the epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, etc., celebrity chefs have an opportunity to compassionately be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. For a look at some of the most popular chef shows check out Best and Worst Health Messages From TV Chefs http://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-and-nutrition-pictures/best-and-worst-health-messages-from-tv-chefs.aspx#/slide-1. While the article does give credit for “healthy helping” unfortunately, like we explored in a previous post (Giving Our Lifestyle Power Away To Celebrities) (http://wp.me/pUi2y-84) a lot of what this new link shows us is indeed a “recipe for disaster”.
Into this mixed up American food culture strides Jamie Oliver, a Britt who is doing his best to start a “food revolution” in our country. http://www.jamieoliver.com
Oliver took his newfound fame as a TV celebrity and immediately started leveraging it for good. He established a not-for-profit restaurant in Britain to employ and train disadvantaged youth. He has since gone on to explore how we can improve America’s school food programs, and created fascinating videos that show us the scary side of industrialized food products (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wshlnRWnf30).
A big part of his work has been promoting cooking education that stresses cooking fresh healthy meals at home. Last year he went to the identified least-healthy state in the union and dove right in to the food culture of Huntington, West Virginia. With remarkable empathy and sensitivity he showed the effects of diet on health and the tragic health consequences it can cause in families and communities. All of this and he still comes off passionate but not preachy, entertaining and simply delightful.
Jamie’s Ambition is to mobilize the huge response (630,000 in the US) to the Food Revolution so far and turn it into a movement for change in which America leads the world. Hopefully it will bring together millions of people and inspire the nation to fight obesity with better food. At its heart is a powerful strategy to get people cooking again, improve food labeling (and corporate honesty), increase public awareness of industrialized food, and shift school breakfast and lunch programs from part of the problem to part of the solution.
As you work with people to help them improve their lifestyle, whether as a wellness professional, a parent or simply a concerned citizen, ask about the food culture they live in. Ask about the food shows they may watch on TV. Behavioral scientists are quick to tell us about the suggestive effect of what we watch on the tube and are even saying that such shows may be stimulating us to eat, eat more often, eat too much and make self-defeating dietary choices. Recipes downloaded from television cooking shows unfortunately trend towards the most unhealthy end of the spectrum. If your clients, family or friends are eating following the lead of programs that feature eating contests, gluttony and ridiculous quantities of fatty red meats it may be no wonder their attempts to be healthy seldom are successful.
While many celebrity chefs pad their ratings with shock-effect levels of grease, sugar and other illness inducing ingredients, there are also folks on “the tube” helping us be well. Let’s tune into chefs making a positive difference and encourage others to do the same. There are cuisines (Mediterranean and Asian especially) where, if we watch the frequency of the items with more fat, sugar and salt, certain recipes are tremendously healthy. We can even select recipes fresh off the grill that are very healthy. Shows that really help us learn about the anthropology of food, the connections to culture and geography expand our awareness of this diverse world we live in and enrich our sense of connectedness.
We may not expect a rush of celebrity chefs to follow Jamie’s lead, but if we watch their shows with an eye for separating the “wheat from the chaff” we can find healthier ways of eating. Living well is all about conscious choice.