If we want to teach the younger generation positive messages on diet, we need to get back to thinking about food as fuel.
We are all a part of the minestrone soup of media images, food fads, celebrity front covers, dieting friends and fluctuating self esteem that young girls tend to swim about in.
For Fernwood women these girls are our sisters, daughters, friends – and for me, my students. The girls I teach are 16-18 years old, and we know that they’re bombarded with more conflicting messages about their bodies, their food, their attractiveness than any other group.
There are messages about eating for energy – that is, to power us in our day to day aims and activities – that my students don’t hear enough. And it doesn’t just stop at the girls; don’t start me on the cult of teenage boys skipping meals and ‘powering up’ on those horrendous hyper-caffeinated energy drinks.
Low fat/fat free/artificially sweetened products beckon, and it is tempting to obsess about what, when and how much we eat. All with an eye on the scales or the waistband of our favourite jeans.
With all of the mass-produced, over-packaged, heavily marketed foods available to us every day, it’s easy to forget that food’s primary function is to supply us with energy – to fuel our activities through the day and repair our bodies at night. This is why, when girls ask me about the food I eat, I refer to the ‘fuel’ I prepare and consume.
I am a passionate about the varied benefits of home cooking – there is something almost spiritual about the preparation of nutritious, tasty food from scratch. Our bodies benefit not just from the vitamins and minerals our food contains, but are also nourished by the care that the act of real cooking shows that we feel for ourselves.
We need to teach young women that food is not an impediment to a slim figure, that instead food fuels our work, our exercise, our hobbies. That food should nourish us and improve our lives rather than being one more thing to stress about. They need to hear from us that ‘soul food’ is real.
When holidays roll around, I often set as a homework task for my students; the preparation of a meal from scratch, and the sharing of it with someone they love. While they are often sceptical, there is a gorgeous enthusiasm many return with. They tell tales of picnics, home made spice mixes, even something as simple as a salad.
There is a meditative calm that comes with choosing and chopping and slicing and stewing. It is the thought and the actions that matter – the meal doesn’t need to be complex. Lots of us cook for others because it shows we care – food is love.
When we cook good food, to power us through our own lives, we send a physical and mental message that we value and respect ourselves.