The other day I was in the supermarket and could not find plain couscous, a round semolina grain product. I was shocked! I found other more costly packages of couscous that came with flavor packets containing added salt and fat, but in the few minutes I stood there in front of the shelves searching again and again to find that container of just plain couscous, I became incredulous that it was not there. I kept thinking to myself, what is this world coming to?
I mentioned the couscous dilemma to several colleagues at work. They assured me if I traveled to other cities in the state, 30 to 60 minutes away, I‘d find specialty stores that carry plain couscous. Again, I thought to myself, what is this world coming to? Is this circumstance a function of the food industry or consumer choice? Will I see similar trends in other items where I will not be able to find the plain, unadulterated version of a staple food?
I enjoy cooking from scratch. I buy the ingredients and then I add my own herbs, spices and condiments to suit my taste. This helps me to control the amount of salt I get in my diet. It also allows me to use liquid oils such as olive and canola, which are heart healthy. As for the couscous, it cooks up fairly quickly and tastes great. Like many of you, I work full time and have other interests so I do not want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, especially during the week when I come home from work tired and hungry. But even tired and hungry does not translate into processed and unhealthy in my household. I still want access to nutritious foods at a good price. I don’t want supermarkets to shift away from the plain and good to become just a venue full of highly processed foods. Their customers may pay the higher price to buy those processed foods; but be forewarned they will then pay the price of indulging in those foods with their health.
Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of a study showing social trends in its 34 member countries. One of these social trends was time spent on cooking. Of the 34 countries, Americans spend the least amount of time cooking, an average of only 30 minutes each day. At first I thought, oh, that’s not so bad, Rachel Ray can cook a meal in 30 minutes. Then I realized, this is 30 minutes in a whole DAY, not just one meal. Geez, guys, is that it?!? We’re worth more than that, aren’t we? No wonder I couldn’t find plain couscous in the supermarket but did find a new rice product with added sodium in small Styrofoam cups that you can zap in the microwave.
Zapping is not cooking, so here’s my request of you – just COOK!!! Let’s reverse the trend and increase the average time Americans spend cooking in a day. When you are at the market, buy foods that require cooking in the oven, on top of the stove, on the grill. The foods as a whole will be less processed and better for you and cooking them should not be looked at as a chore but a chance to engage… with your spouse, significant other, your kids, your friends, whomever! Liven things up when you are at home, put on some music, get the rest of the household involved, invite friends over, hang out in the kitchen and cook. Maybe dance a little, taste test a little, make a little mess, but get in there and roll up your sleeves and COOK! Let’s learn from each other and teach our children the joys and pleasure of cooking. We owe it ourselves and future generations to preserve this uniquely human activity that can do more than nurture our bodies, cooking can nurture the soul.
About our Nutrition Expert
Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.