Britain Home Cooking and Obesity
Why is Britain Obese
A recent study in the United Kingdom finds that home cooking is quite rare in British homes. Only 1 in 4 family meals in the United Kingdom are cooked from scratch. Commentators are surprised at the finding; some put it down to a lack of time. In most British families, both partners work long hours. However, the answer is much simpler. In the nineteen eighties, Domestic Science, covering cooking, nutrition, food shopping and hygiene and other aspects, was removed from school timetables, and replaced with Food Technology, covering the commercial food business. Many schools no longer even have facilities for teaching cookery. People do not know how to cook, or shop for food. Children cannot learn these things from their parents because they do not know them either.
A European Commission study, the results of which were reported the same day reports That Britain has the greatest amount of obese women in Europe, with British men only second to Malta, with 23.9% of British women obese and that 22.1% of British men obese. The Health Minister, Andrew Lansley, believes British people eat too much and do not exercise enough. However, levels of obesity drop for those with better educations, who tend to be on the higher salaries. Why is Britain so obese? Could it be that lack of cookery skills is to blame? One would not expect such a huge difference between Britain and its neighbour France. However, looking at the way that the two nations shop and eat might give better clues as to why this is so.
In France, most people still shop at the local market for their fruit, vegetables, and other local produce. The markets were meant for local people to sell their excess produce and stallholders may only bring produce from within a limited radius of where the market is held. You know, when you buy from a French local market, that the produce you are buying is very fresh. Vegetables often have the morning dew still on them. You can buy cheese from the local cheese maker, meat from the butcher who will tell you, the name and address of the farmer who reared the animal. Even fairly small villages have a local market and stallholders are proud of their produce. Most supermarkets in France do not have central buying and stock much more local produce. Every so often, Farmers visit their local supermarket, they are proud of their produce, and advise shoppers on recipes and cooking methods. There are few take away food shops on French high streets, in one large city in South West France there are only two take away pizza shops and two kebab shops, and no other take aways.
In the United Kingdom, proper markets are few, rarely do small villages have a market, usually only large towns have a market. Ordinary street markets have no restriction on how far produce may come. It may even be imported. Most people buy all their groceries at the many supermarkets. Some towns have all the big five supermarkets represented within their boundaries. A British supermarket is full of ready made food, microwave meals, fresh and frozen ready made everything. A British supermarket has around four or five aisles of frozen food, a comparably sized French supermarket might have one to one and a half aisles. In Britain, shoppers buy everything from the supermarket, few families use a butcher, few people would know, these days, what to ask for in the butcher’s shop. In most towns, there is little local produce available. In British towns, every other shop sells take away foods of all kinds.
French children learn about food from an early age. Nursery schools take children around the local market to learn about the produce, and then to the farms and smallholdings to see where it comes from and how it is grown. They go to the supermarket to learn how to shop and also visit the local restaurant and see a chef cook typical dishes from their local area..
There are differences too in the way people eat in Britain and in France. Few British families sit at the table to eat together. Whereas in France, food and family are important, families sit at the table and eat together. In rural France, lunch is the main meal of the day. Workers have rather longer than the 30 minutes to one hour that British employers allow their employees, for lunch. In South West France, the lunch hour is 90 minutes to two hours, the French eat much more slowly than the British do. Most people have a three course lunch, when you have three tiny courses you are satisfied more quickly and do not over eat through boredom. French peole generally then have a light supper, perhaps soup or a salad.
In Britain, working people eat their main meal in the evening. At lunchtime, they gobble down a sandwich, sometimes still sitting at their desks. Families rarely sit together at the table to eat, especially during the working week. Most British people eat on their laps watching the television. Many British people admit to never cooking during the week living on a combination of ready meals and takeaways.
The British embraced convenience foods, in a way that the French did not. There are strict rules in France about food labelling. The British government told people that butter was bad for their health and advised everyone to eat margarine containing hydrogenated fats. British food labelling is a confusing mess. The French government regulates the food industry, the British government tries to pal up with the food industry.
In a French bar, four men in working clothes were discussing a recipe in the local paper, each telling the others how he made the dish and why his version was better than the one in the paper. The same scene would not ever happen in an English bar. In a French market, you are just as likely to see men shopping for vegetables and produce, as you are to see women, and French men know exactly what to look for, when buying vegetables or produce.
Those are the differences between Britain and France, yet British people are obese and the French are not. The problem is more complex than exercizing more and eating less. However, part of the problem is the lack of Domestic Science in British schools, other parts include, changing food culture, improving food labelling, regulating the food industry, rather than chumming up with them, and learning to be proud of our local British food. It is no coincidence that these two studies were reported on the same day.