I was recently interviewed for a Swiss Info documentary called “Finding the Right Food Formula.” In the context of recent childhood obesity figures in Switzerland, Veronica De Vore is exploring the Swiss relationship to food and how that might have changed, how it might be related to the rise in childhood obesity.
Click here to listen to the show. I cooked a Kentucky Fried Chicken feast for Veronica, while discussing the more serious matter of relationships to food in the context of my work in mindful eating. (The article also includes an abridged recipe for my grandmothers’ traditional Kentucky Fried Chicken.) I am of the firm belief that the traditional Kentucky fried chicken meal like my grandmother made, using 8 to 10 fresh vegetables, fruits and salads, was not at all unhealthy. I talked about how this move away from traditional diets was a major explanation of obesity today that we don’t talk about quite enough. Fried chicken is fatty, but when you’re eating that much fiber along with it, you don’t actually eat much chicken, and it is almost certain that it takes longer to metabolize the fat. Growing up in Kentucky, everyone ate like this, and there was little obesity.
Fast food and chain restaurants started proliferating in Kentucky over 30 years ago. From 1990 to 2012, obesity increased by thirty percent. This affects the adult population more than children. One third of the adult population is obese. That number is expected to rise to 60% by 2030. On the other hand, the Swiss are alarmed with new government statistics stating that 41% of Swiss people are now obese, according to the Swiss federal office of statistics (OFS). The rate of obesity has doubled in the last 20 years, despite efforts to change eating habits and increase physical activity. At the same time, the Swiss and French come second in terms of the “most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, with the Netherlands coming in first. The latest WHO study recommends the following to fight obesity:
The new study echoes a growing body of literature providing evidence for measures that governments could take to reverse the obesity epidemic by hindering the spread of ultra-processed foodstuffs. Such measures include:
- economic incentives for growers to sell healthy foods and fresh food items rather than ultra-processed foods and subsidies to grow fruit and vegetables;
- economic disincentives for industries to sell fast food, ultra-processed foods and soft drinks such as an ultra-processed food tax and/or the reduction or elimination of subsidies to growers/companies using corn for rapid tissue growth, excessive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics;
- zoning policies to control the number and type of food outlets;
- tighter regulation of the advertising of fast food and soft drinks, especially to children;
- trade regulations discouraging the importation and consumption of fast food, ultra-processed foods and soft drinks; and
- more effective labelling systems especially for ultra-processed foods, including fast food and soft drinks.
What’s the answer? The goal of my work is to go back to a more traditional way of eating and living, adapting traditional recipes to make them even healthier and more digestible, adding fiber and healthy oils along the way, and creating new ones suitable for more modern tastes. This is with health and weight in mind, but also pleasure. The pleasure must never be taken away from what we eat. The Kentucky Fried Chicken feast I prepared for Veronica had both in mind. The concept of mindful eating also means being aware of food throughout its journey through the food chain, from seed and soil to plate, so to speak. It means choosing our ingredients mindfully and with informed awareness. It means cooking these ingredients with love and with the idea that we are nurturing our bodies. In this way, food is no longer wolfed down and seen as just a way to fill our bellies. It takes on a new and deeper dimension that goes far beyond the physical. Processed and junk food can’t do this for us. It leaves our taste buds yearning for more and our bodies lacking in nutrients. I don’t have the answer to tackling obesity, but I hope to contribute to making it better by developing recipes that are ever more nutritious and encouraging a more mindful way of eating. As Michael Pollan said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”