Understanding The Blueberry Muffin

Matt has some doubts about the "benefits" of getting people to cook at home:

The good news is that there's no real reason to think that food you prepare yourself is for some reason intrinsically healthier than food someone else prepares for you. Indeed, a normal "home cooked" meal is mostly eaten by people who didn't cook it. One or two people cook, and the kids or the guests eat. And at the same time, it's not as if the good people at Taco Bell are serving unhealthy food out of some perverse desire to clog America's arteries. They're just trying to make money the best way they know how. If someone--Jamie Oliver, for example--devised an appealing mass-market food product that was better than Taco Bell on the taste/price/convenience dimension but also healthier, well that would be an excellent thing for the world.

And maybe someone could do it. The world's purveyors of processed foods have noted a real market demand for healthier products. Consequently, they're poured a lot of time and energy into creating things that at least seem healthier. And so we really have a lot of healthy-seeming options. But they've never, as best I can tell, poured all that much effort into trying to create things that are actually healthier. But someone could. Jamie Oliver could do it. Mark Bittman could do it. Michael Pollan could do it. And it would be more likely to succeed than an endless procession of NYT Magazine articles hectoring people about how they should cook more.

There are very good reasons why fast-food exists. It's not just that cooking--as a general process--takes time. Regular cooking is a lifestyle that actually requires a shift in how you think about the world. This is especially hard when you're starting out. You have to stock your kitchen, and then you have to get in the habit of making sure those stocks are kept up. You have to figure out a regular rotation of meals that meet your families needs, and then you have to carve out a schedule that allows you to meet those needs. It seems rather perverse to say, "I won't be able to watch my kid's soccer practice because I have to finish brining the turkey." 

I also agree with Matt's general annoyance with writers who can't seem to understand why a sane person would eat McDonald's. I don't eat fast-food, but I'm not much for inveighing against it. That said, without any stats to back me up, I think Matt is actually wrong about the relative health of food you cook yourself vs. Taco Bell. It's not because a meal from Taco Bell will necessarily have more calories "home-cooking." In fact, it's not about the calories at all.

I can only speak from my own experience. As I've said before, I've lost over 50 pounds the last five years. (Yeah, a glacial rate of ten pounds a year.) The greatest tool in the arsenal of weight loss was not running, it was not my gym membership. It wasn't buying low-fat foods, swearing off fried chicken or going low-carb. It was trying to understand, in as much detail as possible, exactly what I was putting in my body. It was closing the distance between preparation and consumption.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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