The great fight between healthy and unhealthy eating takes place in the arena of our mouths. Unhealthy foods -- due to their heightened levels of salt, fat, and sugar -- are purposefully designed to bring more joy to our taste buds than "healthy" foods. The trick and ultimate body hack to combat obesity is to somehow get people to tweak their pleasure receptors so they get as much joy from kale as they do from cheeseburgers.
The latest attempt to encourage healthy eating is a study published in Health Psychology that states "self-prepared food tastes better."
Unfortunately, I beg to differ.
One of the my biggest issues is how the study's findings were extrapolated. The all-encompassing headline-grabbing statement that "self-prepared food tastes better" comes from this:
[R]esearchers had 120 women taste a 'healthy' low-calorie raspberry milkshake and an 'unhealthy' high-calorie chocolate milkshake that they either prepared themselves or had been made by someone else.
Results showed that people got more pleasure when concocting the low-calorie raspberry milkshakes themselves, but didn't get the same jolt when putting together the chocolate shakes. Taste preferences and sample size issues aside, you can't look at how a group of people react to making milkshakes and expect to know how they'd respond if they had to put an entire meal together. There's a big difference between putting a few things in a blender and, well, everything else.
This, clearly, is on the minds of the researchers that performed the study, as evidenced by the study's conclusion:
Because time available for home food preparation is often limited, programmatic efforts to encourage food preparation could be extended to schools and workplaces.
But that aspect has been ignored by the various outlets reporting the quick one-line "food you make yourself tastes better!" synopsis. In any case, that's more nit-picking. My main problem with the study is purely from an emotional stand point.
In today's day and age of delectable images of food porn signal-boosted by social media, 24/7 cooking channels, the proliferation of farmers' markets, heavy books about How We Eat flying off shelves, artisanal everything, and those friends of yours who can't stop talking about those hand-crafted meals they've created with seemingly pure joy in their hearts, it feels as if you don't #lovetocook, there's something wrong with you.
I'm here to tell you there's nothing wrong with you. I also believe that cooking stinks.
For me, it's a simple cost/benefit analysis. I wouldn't say I'm a terrible cook, but I'm definitely not great. I get bored easily in the kitchen, probably due to some kind of tech-inspired ADD that makes comprehending recipe instructions a maddening experience. (Working as a freelancer, where the line between my work and non-work schedule is almost nonexistent, doesn't really help either.) So, time spent in the kitchen is a lengthy, difficult process. And because of my lack of skill, the food I end up cooking and eating is decent at best.
(Are there ways to learn this? Of course! Anyone who hates cooking at much as I do would probably be well-served by taking a class or two. At the same time, there are so many ways I'd rather spend my time than taking a cooking class.)
I'll admit as a writer for food column, this perhaps isn't the wisest opinion to release into the world. But it's honest. And you don't have to like cooking to enjoy food. And you certainly don't have to make your own food if you're trying to eat healthy. Information about what is good for you and what isn't is more readily accessible than ever before to help you make informed eating choices.
But, to my cooking-haters out there, don't feel ashamed when everyone around you is going on and on about how much they love cooking meals. That's their thing, not yours. Rather, think about the various healthy activities you're able to accomplish and participate in because you're not wasting time in that stupid kitchen of yours.
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