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In defense of bad cooking

by Dr. David Tennant |
Ripe Bananas

It’s one way to fight the epidemic of obesity.

The counter bananas are now past the point of the yellow/brown ratio, turning plainly brown. Time for banana bread.

It’s not a hard recipe. Butter, salt, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, baking soda and, of course, the aforementioned brown Cavendish. Stick it in the oven at 350 for an hour, let it cool, and voila. It tastes — how to describe it? — mineral, bland. A nondescript term like “odd” is appropriate.

Suffice it to say, it did not work. Someone might know why, but I don’t. Is the nutmeg stale? That’s my guess. Then again, it might have needed more salt. Or less.

Forty percent of American adults are obese, and the numbers are climbing. The rates are high among kids too, which is particularly bad news when thinking about the future. On a more local level, the Peoria City/County Health Department set some goals in 2015, and they’re pleasantly optimistic. At some point, these goals will be formally revisited, but if the national average regarding obesity rates is any indication, we haven’t met them.

Multiple causes have been identified to explain the prevalence of obesity in the U.S. population, and doubtless many of them are right. It’s a multifactorial problem if ever there was. But one that bears repeating is the reality that people don’t know how to cook anymore.

In an age of countless cooking videos for free online, various cooking channels on TV, blog recipes, myriad food-themed magazines and the easy availability of affordable kitchen tools, a clear majority of people just don’t cook on a daily basis. Which is amazing, if you think about it. Why not? People used to cook for themselves, and they did it before the aforementioned advantages. People cooked before there were forks to eat the food with. Then again, back then there were not so many alternatives. Food, and food-like substances, to borrow a phrase, are now available everywhere, and have been for at least a generation.

On second thought, whatever this banana bread lacks in flavor, it makes up for in texture. It’s not even bread so much as it is cake without the frosting. I get that it’s not “health food,” by any stretch, but I know the ingredients, and they’re fresh (sans the nutmeg). Seriously, it’s not all bad. My kids ate it, and they can be picky.

In short, bad cooking isn’t always so bad. I’m increasingly convinced of that. It’s not so bad even when it is bad, because you have to compare it to something, since you have to eat something. Compared to that sit-down chain restaurant, it’s OK, and it saves money and time. Compared to fast food, it’s gourmet. Fast food stopped being fast a long time ago (and it stopped being food even longer ago).

Another reason bad cooking isn’t so bad is because the best way to get good at something is to be bad at it for a really long time. Kobe Bryant, when he was 10 or 11, averaged zero points per game in a competitive basketball league. He improved.

This matters. Looking at the labels of the different foods we eat, you’ll see it’s a lot of the same stuff over and over again — ultra-processed soy, ultra-processed corn, refined wheat, different seasonings, palm oil, coconut oil, some other saturated fat with colorings, and sweetened and salted far beyond what is necessary. If we actually thought it through, we would never make a habit of feeding ourselves, or someone we care about, this stuff.

There’s space in this debate to talk about how current public policy is adversarial to health. I’m sympathetic to it, but what I’m far more interested in is personal responsibility. Don’t choose between trendy diets, including and especially the ones trying to sell us something. Instead, try being in charge of you and yours and don’t get hung up on strategy.

We live in central Illinois. We’ve been blessed with some of the best farmland in the world. Everything grows here. Find something fresh and raw and cook it. Let’s keep at it until we’re not bad, maybe even slightly above average. It’s almost certainly better than what we’re doing now.

David Tennant

David Tennant, M.D.

is a family medicine physician at UnityPoint Health who specializes in obesity management. He lives in Trivoli.
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