Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

Period 4: stir fry studies

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In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

At the moment the developed world is headed for a disastrously overweight, unhealthy, unhappy and expensive (hospital and medical costs) future. This is because of two obvious things: the western diet and the lack of exercise in modern sedentary lifestyles.

The exercise solution is simple – build millions of miles of cycleways and make everyone walk or ride to work and school every day. Easy.

But studies tend to show that diet is the more important factor in weight gain and loss. And the problem creeping around the world is the western diet.  Lots of meat, dairy, sugar, fat and salt, in oversized portions, and a lot of highly processed foods. Or, as Michael Pollan says, ‘edible foodlike substances’.

Pollan’s excellent book ‘In Defense of Food‘ explains the odd and horrible things that have happened in the food industry over the years. As we all suspected deep down, fast food is mostly sugar that has been sculpted and coloured to look like food, and supermarkets are chock full of a huge array of weird processed items. The message of the book is twofold. One is that we should ignore the promises of ‘nutritionism’ – eat low fat, fat free, vitamin b2, anti-oxidants, avoid free radicals, blah blah blah. It’s all basically modern-day alchemy. Pollan wisely suggests that any food product labelled with a health claim (eg ‘98% fat free’) should be completely avoided. Two, the book eloquently makes the case that people really need to focus on cooking a variety of fresh foods, especially vegetables. If you simply cook a variety of natural foods, and don’t eat too much, you really can’t go wrong. As the cover says: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’

Over at The Punch, Tory Maguire has the beautifully elegant suggestion of making cooking classes compulsory in school again. I really, really love this idea. There are few things more useful to learn, and few skills that are more commonly called upon, than knowing the basics of cooking. And there are few more effective ways I can imagine that the government could have a real effect on long term trends in the Australian diet. Instead of takeaway, kids can graduate from school confident in their ability to pick out a few fresh ingredients and feed themselves something reasonable.

I know schools are busy, but one class a week, one period before lunch, would be plenty. 50 minutes is enough time for teams of 3 or 4 to make a stir fry, a curry, a casserole, pasta sauce, a tasty salad etc. It’s not like a huge retraining of teachers will be required, since I’m sure at least half of them fancy themselves decent cooks. There’s a few safety issues involved, but it’s basically the safety procedures required of a science teacher, plus kids with knives. Kids will like it because they get to eat an exciting meal one day a week. And I have no doubt Jamie Oliver or someone like that would love to write the curriculum.

Any teachers reading? What do you think?

Term 1: Italian cooking. KPIs: Making pasta; Using Tomatoes and Garlic; using basil and oregano; using parmesan; using meats and seafood

Term 2: Simple Asian cuisine. KPIs: Making rice; Basic stir fry techniques; using sauces and spices; when to add coconut cream to a curry; controlling chilli heat

Term 3: Core Australian cuisine. KPIs: Using the BBQ to cook steak, sausages, vegetables; cooking roo; marinades; using the Weber; making potato salad

Term 4: French cuisine. KPIs: using tonnes of butter; roux and bechamel sauce; roasting meat and vegetables; using mustard; using wine

Written by Francis

April 13, 2010 at 12:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Interesting article, Francis! Food for thought indeed. However, as someone who was forced to take home economics in grade 8, I didn’t get all that much out of it. As someone who knows the extent to which I avoid cooking, you can certainly attest to this!


    April 19, 2010 at 4:23 pm

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