Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Cooking for Change: TorontoTheBetter talks with Lori Nichols Davies about Better Food For All

Lori Nichols-Davies is a passionate cook, a cook with a message, and a mission to change our lives. Since the mid-90’s, and over thirty years of research and development on nutrition, with a multiplicity of reasearchers and professionals, she has been acting on her realization that if we are what we eat and what we eat is unhealthy, then it follows we will be unhealthy. She operates The Holistic Cooking Academy of Canada [the ToorntotheBetter listing is at http://www.torontothebetter.net/2Bholisticooking.htm] , which is expanding to Toronto, from Ottawa, in spring, 2009. It is a train the chef programme for serious “cookers”, aka chefs of all kinds. The evidence supports her. The exploding North American incidence of obesity and diabetes is now well known, but perhaps even more acutely concerning is the conclusion of North America’s largest recent survey (from the American Institute for Cancer Prevention) that 30% of North American cancers can be attributed to avoidable lifestyle issues, including, eminently, what we eat. So, what Lori talks about in her books, presentations and cooking classes, is important, arguably one of the most important public issues of our time. We all eat, and the choices we make are matters of life and death.

So, how did Lori act on her realization? Starting from her experience as a personal chef and a small set of client referrals, Lori, a self-designated maverick, found her own ways of reaching out to those interested in eating for good health. Cooking lessons, TV and radio appearances, conference demonstrations and 14 books in her "Enlightened Home Chef" series have followed, an innovative part of the growing global green industrial sector, a nutrition-centred idea of cooking that embraces all aspects of our lives, from what we ingest to what we think and how we feel.

Like most radicals, Lori is impatient with mainstream actors who just don’t get her message. She roasts “stupid PhD’s” and bureaucrats boxed in and blinded by regulations. When you’re in a hurry placeholders are downpressors, standing in the way of better lives for all, and, in the case of food, of longer and healthier lives.

All well and good. My question for Lori about how we can take her idea of holistic cooking from the smart insights of a cooking insider to make them practical options for everybody drew this response: “Cheap food is expensive” and “grow your own is the cheap option”. She’s right, of course. But if these ideas are as important as they seem to be, and Lori’s holistic notion of food, makes it much more than just a necessity of life which comes with the territory, then as citizens we have a responsibility to make the good the normal. For instance, as a Spanish speaking friend of mine replied when I recited the generous sentiment “mi casa es su casa”, not everybody has a house. When it comes to the “expensive” long term effects of cheap food, in the long term we’re all dead, and for many the Macdonald’s on the corner that needs no car, or transit or cab to get to is the accessible and doable option for eating. As for growing your own food, not everybody has a garden, in fact fewer and fewer in today’s economy. So, if we’re to implant Lori’s ideas in the mainstream and so make everybody’s lives better, we have need to think hard about how to do that.

The means to meet the challenges are traditional if not easy: political action, education, legislation, and regulation. And all of these require political will. If politicians don’t have the will to regulate fast food, provide land for urban agriculture or mandate better institutional nutrition for instance, then citizens must compel them to do it. We can all start by helping to spread the better nutrition message, informally, through people we know. And by learning more about the many issues involved, from genetically modified foods, to urban agriculture. TorontotheBetter requires TorontotheHealthier. And TorontotheHealthier requires TorontotheBetterFed.

For more food information and political action, see theToronto Food Policy Council.

Taodhg Burns for TorontotheBetter

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