Timelines and Waistlines

In an otherwise sort of frivilous NY Times article about the reality show The Biggest Loser, there was this interesting tidbit about rising obesity rates:

“Almost any kind of cooking you can produce in a kitchen is healthier than fast food.” The decline of home cooking worldwide, he said, is an underlying cause of obesity.

People are eating more, and more often,” Dr. Popkin said. “And the foods that they are consuming almost always replace meals cooked in a kitchen and eaten at a table.” It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking. Last month the government of Britain, where obesity is spreading rapidly, passed a law requiring all secondary-school students to attend cooking classes.

Today, women in the United States report spending an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals. The percentage of women who are overweight has risen to about 65 percent from about 30 percent in the 1960s.

While noting from the outset that it would be better to have a more gender-equitable and historically-contextualized research model to work with, it’s interesting to see some statistical research that suggests more time in the kitchen is assocated with a healthier diet. There are probably a lot of things you could take from this: that you’re less likely to eat an entire stick of butter when cooking at home than you are eating in a restaurant, that a more equitable division of domestic labor makes it easier to maintain healthy eating habits, that processed and packaged food saves you time but costs you in other ways, or (if you read the whole article) that good old fashioned healthy cooking can produce more long-lasting health effects than dramatic weight loss regimens.

Anyway, [/half-assed analysis].


4 Comments on “Timelines and Waistlines”

  1. Marcia says:

    Wow, thanks for that link. I am a fan of Biggest Loser (even though they could show it 40 mins…too much filler). It makes me sad to hear that many people gain it back, but that’s what happens in real life. The show really doesn’t mirro real life at all.

    The gender part of the issue aside on cooking – I know my mom spent more hours cooking in the 70’s than I do today. But she didn’t have an (almost) full time job either. I get by nowadays (especially when dear husband is traveling) by cooking two big meals on the weekend and eating a lot of leftovers. Of course, I’m getting kinda sick of chili and rice and beans this week. Luckily my kid eats anything.

    All in all, I probably spend less than 13 hrs/ week cooking, but definitely more than 8.

  2. P says:

    I feel like saying anything about these trends involves taking on so many shaky generalizations that commenting at all requires a ton of preamble…

    But anyway, within this gendered, heteronormative model, it figures that the overall trend toward women entering the work force would be reflected in less kitchen time per household. You also might think, however, that changing social attitudes toward the responsibilies of men to take part in household work might allow for a kind of labor pressure valve.

    In other words, if the two of us cook dinner together, we can put more person-hours into cooking while keeping the actual time it takes to make a meal relatively low (in terms of prep, though obviously not cooking times). I suspect that there are also technological advances that allow us to prep meals faster…not that I’m totally sure what those are, since we don’t cook with the microwave all that much. The food processor, I guess.

    Not that I really want to approach cooking as a quest for ever increasing efficiency (anybody remember who did those tests where they would put dots on different parts of the persons body and then photograph them doing work against a grid to find the most efficient action? It think their might have been versions for both housework and industrial labor. I can’t seem to find them on google.)

    I guess the point I take from all of this is that if one wants to keep up a kitchen life and avoid packaged/processed food, but work prevents us from reasonably spending a lot of time prepping food every day, the other solution is to split up the work. And while all of the research cited here assumes some sort of “traditional” nuclear family – we are free to treat that assumption like the nonsense that it is.

    Maybe for some of us, cooking with family, friends, and neighbors on a regular basis could be a viable solution for busy lives that make Rice-a-Roni or Hamburger Helper seem like a good idea.

  3. Fern says:

    Thanks for sharing this link. It is indeed a travesty and people don’t know how to cook anymore. It’s not my favorite thing to do in the kitchen (I like baking better), but I am encouraged to do it to save money and be healthier.
    I’ve been reading your blog since yesterday. Those cleaning tips are really great! I recently stocked up on baking soda and vinegar (so cheap and wonderful!) and will never buy those expensive rip-off cleaning supplies again.
    Good luck with the $30/week endeavor!

  4. A friend of mine posted this link on Facebook with the comment, “Hey! That’s not how it works for me!” His experience is that if he’s cooking at home, he goes to the high-fat comfort foods he grew up with.

    I think this is my experience as well. It’s taken some real time and effort to undo the assumption that everything sold in a grocery store is “food” and as long as you eat it at home (or take a lunch) you’ll be okay.


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