Cooking the Food System We Want

The Future of Food depends on our society’s ability and will to cook. Doing so rewards us in the short term with nourishment, and in the long term leads to us becoming a more informed and engaged food public. 

If we as a society want to advocate for a certain type of food system, we can’t get there by ceding the knowledge gained through cooking to the packaged food companies and chefs who we’ve outsourced our diets to. To engage with the food system at large, we need to cook.   

There are few things in life that we consume that we can also create with relative ease. We consume music, but how many of us are songwriters? We consume apps, but how many of us can code? The learning curve for assembling a home cooked meal is comparatively low, yet the rewards of knowledge over time are incredibly high. 

In my early teens, one of the first things I learned how to cook was pasta. At the time, I didn’t have an opinion on any food issues and so I just cooked whatever my parents had bought at the grocery store: run of the mill dried pasta, jars of pre-made sauce. 

Once I got the hang of cooking pasta, I started to form opinions on how it should taste and the ingredients I was cooking no longer satisfied me. I started asking for better pasta. I learned about San Marzano tomatoes. I learned the value of good olive oil. Pretty soon, I was teaching myself to make pasta from scratch, which led me to demand better flour and better eggs. I made the sauce myself from well-grown tomatoes. This went on and on for not just pasta, but just about everything I learned how to cook. 

Cooking makes people understand the cause and effect of using this ingredient over that one. It helps them form a point of view and even if you start cooking with suspect ingredients, over time people’s tastes typically improve and you graduate to better stuff. If nothing else, you can become more mindful about what you’re using and its impact on you and the world. 

Consumers have led a massive shift in the kinds of foods that powerful companies produce. Organic, local, non-GMO are slowly becoming less and less niche and more mainstream. None of this would’ve happened without an engaged, opinionated consumer base, and cooking is the best way to fuel that engagement. 

Ask someone who doesn’t paint if they have an opinion on what paints to use. They probably don’t. The same goes for food. How can you really understand the difference between organic and non-organic tomatoes if you’ve never cooked with them? 

Sure, we could avoid cooking and just read about the benefits of one ingredient over another, but why leave yourself at the hands of the media on something that’s as personal as your own diet? It’s our duty as responsible food citizens to interact first hand with our food as our primary method of learning about the system. 

The food system is huge and its easy to feel like we are at its mercy. Issues like food waste, agricultural practices, and climate change can feel out of the sphere of our influence. But we all impact these issues daily with the food we eat. And while we can’t change the system alone overnight, we can create the food system we want to see in world within a realm that all of us have control over: our kitchens.