My Advice? Cook!

I was talking to an old friend a few days ago and he asked me to share any advice I have with him to improve his family’s health. My first thought was that we would need to sit down for a few hours to adequately explain my recommendations, but he is a busy guy and probably looking for some quick and simple advice, so I told him I would think about it. Summarizing this answer is not easy since there are so many factors that determine our health. In Ayurveda, diet is considered one of the three pillars of life, and since my friend was looking for dietary advice, that is where I began. This process reminded me of Michael Pollan’s attempt to summarize how best to eat in his book “In Defense of Food”. In that book he concisely concluded that the best way to eat is to: eat real food, eat mostly plants, and don’t eat too much. I find it difficult to argue with that great advice, but perhaps I could take it one step further. I decided to narrow my advice down to a single word, COOK. Coincidentally, Michael Pollan’s latest book is called “Cooked”, but I haven’t read that yet.

These days most people are trying to minimize their time spent in the kitchen due to their busy schedules, and this, in my humble opinion, is a problem. People are trying to save time by buying frozen microwave meals, food in cans, processed food in bags, and eating out at restaurants. What we really need to do is start spending more time in the kitchen preparing meals made from whole food ingredients, like carrots, rice, and eggs. Stop viewing cooking as a chore that takes time away from more important areas and focus on the act of cooking as a pleasurable and necessary component of achieving optimal health. Listen to your favorite music in the kitchen, or team up with others to share in the work.

I often think how nice it is to chop vegetables for dinner after a long day of staring at a computer screen at my job. These days most of us don’t get paid to actually do anything physical. Instead we sit in a chair, type on a keyboard, and slide a mouse across the desk. It really feels good to stand at the counter and chop, stir, or rinse. It can be a meditative experience to calm the mind after a day full of overstimulation. Cooking with whole foods can improve your health because it allows us to focus on seeking fresh local ingredients and to avoid processed foods that contain additives. Cooking also reduces dependence on restaurants that often prepare with an emphasis on convenience, taste, and cost. Of course fast food chains come to mind, but many normal restaurants are also guilty of using excessive sugar, salt, and butter to improve the taste. Cooking also allows us to know what we are eating considering it is usually a mystery as to what kind of ingredients a restaurant is using. Is the meat factory raised? Are they cooking with GMO soybean oil?

My friend probably expected me to say his family should eat vegetarian, avoid sugar, or try some newly discovered super food supplement from the Amazon rainforest. Instead, with the need to be concise, I said COOK.

Eric Johnson lives in Bellingham and is a certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Guide.
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