In this day and age, most Americans are aware of the grave health troubles affecting our country. Lizarondo reveals that this issue is much worse than many of us could have imagined—today, one in three Americans has pre-diabetes or diabetes, and over 2/3 of our population are overweight or obese.
These statistics are astounding to say the least, but perhaps even more frightening is the estimate that, if we keep living the way we do right now, 1 in 3 children born after 2000 will develop diabetes, and in about 6 years every other person in American will have contracted this deadly disease. Additionally, “As of 2010, diet surpassed smoking as the No. 1 risk factor for disease and death in America” (Lizarondo).
The Simple Solution That We Can’t Seem to Implement
According to Lizarondo, we already know the answer: maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet. In fact, studies have shown that simply eating 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day lowers mortality from all causes; Lizarondo herself is living proof of this. In her 20s, she was diagnosed with the chronic, multi-symptom disease fibromyalgia. The doctors told her she would have to take pills to improve her symptoms every day for the rest of her life.
However, Lizarondo found that merely altering her diet to include healthier, more balanced meals and excluding fast foods cured her symptoms completely. Immediately following this experience, she decided to dedicate her life to sharing her knowledge to others and figuring out why making this diet change is so difficult for people.
Lizarondo believes that mush of this issue resides within our relationship with food. As a country, we have progressively spent less and less money and time on food—fast food and processed meals have replaced home-cooked meals prepared from scratch. Lizarondo notes that “in 1900, 2% of meals were eaten outside the home” and by “2010, 50% were eaten away from home and one in five breakfasts is from McDonald’s”
The Last Mile – Cooking
She refers to this underlying issue as the food system’s “Last Mile,” or the connection that actually delivers the product to its users: Cooking. All the work being done within the food movement to provide access to fresh and organic foods means nothing if the majority of our population doesn’t start preparing food at home.
People tend to use two main excuses for not making meals at home – lack of time to spend cooking and it being too expensive. Lizarondo quickly dispels those excuses with a few quick facts.
The American Time Use Survey shows that we spend about 27 minutes preparing food but almost 3 hours a day watching TV. With a little less time in front of the TV and a little more time in the kitchen, we’d quickly be on our way to healthier meals.
Contrary to popular belief, cooking food from ingredients bought from scratch ends up being significantly less expensive than purchasing prepared food. Take a look at this New York Times comparison visual of McDonalds vs home cooked meals.
Lizarondo concludes that the principal reason we don’t cook turns out to be that we no longer know how. A 2011 cooking survey by Bosch, a maker of appliances, showed that 1/3 of Americans do not know how to cook. 53% feel they have less knowledge than their parents did.
Fixing The Last Mile Problem
Lizarondo hopes to communicate the idea that cooking must become its own initiative, rather than the small part of the food movement it constitutes today. She proposes that the federal government make relearning how to cook a public health imperative. In 2005, the federal government spent $80B in diabetes management vs. $0.2B for diabetes prevention. The government must begin prioritizing preventive measures, such as subsidizing mandatory culinary education and nutrition counselors in all schools.
Teaching people to cook will make people healthier, but also more interested in where their food comes from. “Cooking makes us more intimate with our food and deepens our relationship with it. Its how the farm gets to the table” (Lizarondo).
Curious to hear from Leah Lizarondo herself? You can watch a video of the TEDx Talk here.