Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It by Sarah Bowen, Joslyn Brenton, Sinikka Elliott

Oxford University Press, January 2019

This isn't a book about cooking. It's a book about how what we say, think, do, preach, and spend public money around food, health, and family puts more and more pressure on families, especially on mothers.

The book is a result of a research project, following multiple families of various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. It looks at how they eat, why they make their choices, and how they try to balance time, money, health, conflict in the family over food choices.

Everyone parent wants their children to be healthy, and wants to feed them in a healthy way. It's not that simple even for well-off families, though, and for the economically struggling, it gets even more complicated. Food isn't just nutrition. It's also culture, family tradition, personal memories and feelings, and a way that people assert identity. None of this is easy on the families deciding what are the best choices.

And making these choices is further complicated by the fact that fruits and vegetables are expensive. If you're on a limited income, especially if your food budget is SNAP benefits, it can be difficult or impossible to afford the recommended number of fruits and vegetables for the family. At the bottom end of the economic ladder, there is food insecurity--families who can't provide every member enough food to keep them healthy and active. In these families, adults have to decide who eats, and get enough calories into their children to keep them healthy and growing.

With money so limited, there is also the painful reality of deciding what bills to pay. If you have a medical emergency and need care, that's a large bill you probably can't pay, at least not and pay the rent and the electric and the phone, as well. Yet food is not a need that can be deferred. I'm an aging woman with no kids, but I've been through some of this myself, thank God with no one but me depending on my ability to balance things. When you have to feed others, especially children young enough that they can't even understand the issues, it's much worse. It's all well and good to say that this is what we need, this is what we can afford, so this is what you have to eat--but in real life, you can't make kids eat what they've decided they're not going to eat. I recall one memorable incident from my early teens. My younger sister was three. She liked peas. Really, she did. We all knew that, and had observed her liking of peas on a regular basis.

But that night, she had decided she was not going to eat peas.

My parents had a rule, I think an easy and flexible rule compared to many families around the subject of family dinner and food. Anything that was put on your plate, you had to eat three bites. Not finish it, just eat three bites. That night, my sister decided she was not eating any peas. At all. My dad, who backed down on nothing, backed down to the extent of insisting on, not three bites, but three peas. And my sister still refused. My mom and I watched in amazement, and distress, and inability to come up with anything that would make either of them budge, as this confrontation went on for nearly four hours. In the end, my sister did not eat the peas.

On other nights, later, she did eat peas.

That's one personal example. The simple fact is that there is no way to force a child to consume food they have decided they will not eat, and if you are already struggling to put enough food on the table, you can't waste money on what you know won't be eaten. The kids get no benefit from what they refuse to eat anyway.

Moreover, nearly all of the advice about what to eat, how to cook it, the central importance of the nightly family dinner, and how to afford good food is coming from white, male, upper income foodies and chefs who will never themselves have to figure out how to feed everyone with $1.45 per person per meal, in an urban center that may have no close supermarkets, and where costs are relatively high.

There is so much more in here, and I can't talk about even everything that moved or disturbed me greatly. Please, read the book, and think about it.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.

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