Let’s not pretend for a minute that cooking is easy. Well… cooking is easy. But let’s not pretend that learning to cook well is easy, because it’s not. To cook well you need to learn a very specific sets of skills, and gain enough experience applying those skills to elevate yourself above the average sausage-burner.

What this requires is time, effort, and decent instruction, and if you’re unable to commit to or access any of these things then your ability will never rise, ever. Alternately, if you’re an idiot and can’t learn, then you’ll also not ever acquire the skills. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

That’s pretty much the case with anything in life, isn’t it? If you have no resources then you can never get ahead. Access to time. Access to training. These are the things that allow us to develop and grow. Effort is the only one of the three components of development that I as an individual have control over.

I mention these things because of the recent kerfuffle in the internet over an article published about Jamie Oliver’s new show. In a nutshell, Oliver visits people’s homes and sees that a lot of Britons’ culinary skills extend to making a cup of tea, and/or purchasing highly processed sugars from the shop. What is outrageous about the people depicted in Oliver’s show is their apparent inability to make an effort to learn how to feed themselves adequately, let alone well. Without seeing the show it’s difficult to tell, but you get the impression from the Guardian article that we’re talking about monkeys who only make it to the low-hanging fruit.

And in an age where food has never been cheaper and easier to get, that’s nothing less than a tragedy.

It appears natural at this point to cast about for someone to blame. Someone must be responsible for these people learning about the basics of life and nutritional tidbits like “an apple is better than a bag of sugar”. In a place like New Zealand the blame eventually settles on “the gubbermint”. Poor people can’t feed themselves properly because they haven’t been educated right. The middle classes don’t feed themselves because taxation is forcing families to work two jobs to make ends meet. The very wealthy eat badly because flash restaurants don’t always serve healthy options between the foams and the other stuff.

Well, personally I’m not convinced by partisan arguments, and I’m going to go out on a limb and blame everyone. And yes dear reader, that includes you.

People eat crap because you let them! You sit there and let people gorge themselves on processed fats and sugars! You watch them stand outside buildings and smoke cigarettes that sap vitamin C and suppress normal appetites! I could go on. But I won’t.

But in all seriousness. Diet has become the preserve of the individual, and when someone makes bad choices we let them because it’s their business. And this probably isn’t an entirely bad thing per se. Diet has become so incredibly diverse that if we all gave each other advice all the time we’d drive ourselves nuts. Frankly, the last thing I need is constant badgering by radical vegans….

On the other hand though, there’s little to say that we all can’t put an emphasis on thinking and talking about food. What I see when I look at some Western societies (including ours) is patchy societal passion about food. Everybody loves to eat, and if you have money you will always pay someone to make you a delicious variety of ‘stuff’. But the passion to learn about how to do that for yourself is lacking. It seems that it wasn’t that the woman in Olivers’ show – who got obese on chips and chocolate – didn’t love food, it was that she thought she didn’t have the resources to buy the food she actually wanted (or she didn’t have resources to find out what she’d actually like). If she were rich she’d likely still be a great lazy cow, but one who gorged herself on foie gras.

This leaves me thinking that the tragedy of the people Oliver is depicting isn’t one of money. You can still eat healthily on a very low income (though not necessarily in volume). The tragedy is that they’re not participants in a society that routinely values making an effort to learn how to make the culinary most of what they have. After all, why make the effort when you’re told that you can get by with takeaways? And that is why I blame you. You, and I, need to make a society where people feel pressure to simply think about food. Their choices are their own, but involvement in the food chain needs to be greater than just opening your gob and bunging something out of a machine into it, like clowns at a carnival being stuffed with a plastic nothing…

[Photo lifted off this guy’s blog]
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