Over the past decade, best-selling “Fast Food Nation” and “Super Size Me” on the big screen have focused consumers’ attention on ‘the dark side of the all-American meal’, as author Eric Schlosser terms it.
The good news is that everybody has heard why it’s best to reach for a bunch of grapes instead of a plate full of french fries. Parents are trying to get the healthy eating message through to kids at an earlier age. Schools are removing vending machines dispensing sugary soft drinks. Carrying a branded bottle of water has become a cool accessory look for teens.
The bad news is that fast food means factory-farmed meats and processed fat. A quarter-pounder with cheese, extra large fries, apple pie and a vanilla shake will deliver 1,820 calories. That is 100% of the full daily caloric intake suggested for a moderately active 12-year old-girl or her 40-year-old mother…all packed into just one lunch.
Calories aside, there are five additional and unexpected reasons why slow food is better for you than fast food. I talked to Michael Kanter, co-owner and chief visionary officer of Cambridge Naturals in Cambridge, MA. Since 1974, Michael and his wife, Elizabeth, have been leaders in natural products and community-based businesses. We discussed these five extra benefits of the slow food movement:
Spend Less on Groceries
Some people think that farmers’ markets are just for the well-to-do. However, a recent independent study that Cambridge Naturals shared with me shows that local farmers’ markets are less expensive than grocery stores by an average of 38% on a list that included blueberries, canteloupe, corn, cucumbers, eggs, peppers, lettuce, potatoes, peas, string beans, squash and tomatoes. In fact, organic food from the farmers’ market is generally cheaper than conventional food from the supermarket. As they’re bulky and heavy, potatoes were the exception. Remember, these markets need no big advertising budget, giant stock rooms, accounting and administration and do not have the cost of maintaining large premises nor the tax burden, staffing and utility bills that go with that territory. You simply pay the farmer and the farmer re-invests in his farm, his family and your local community.
Learn How to Cook
Unplug the microwave and get out your chopping board. When you open the refrigerator or pantry to see what’s inside, you will begin to view the shelves differently. An onion, a head of broccoli, some seasonal asparagus and a couple of over-ripe tomatoes spell out vegetable stir fry with rice noodles for dinner. Like shrimp? Throw in a few from the freezer, which still has its place for convenience. Delicious, healthy, inexpensive and a very fast meal. Everything begins with cooking from scratch. When you have the confidence to do that, the rest is easy and your kitchen becomes known as the fun place to be with family and friends.
Make New Friends
Farmers’ markets are wonderful places to connect with neighbors, personally meet the farmers who grow the food we eat and even to exchange recipe ideas. According to Kanter, who has known many of his local customers for 37 years, it’s always good to buy as local and as fresh as you possibly can. Perhaps you have noticed that the number of farmers’ markets in this country has exploded over the past 15 years. Many of them feature local artisans, arts & crafts, live entertainment, fresh flowers and more. Making frequent visits to the market, the butcher, the baker and the fishmonger are, quite simply, a way of life in Europe and go a long way in cementing community ties. Kanter says, “I think the most important benefit of farmers’ markets and local independent shops is the enhancement of community, in other words, the number and quality of social interactions there versus a supermarket. After all, we will never lose our desire or need to feel part of a community.”
Save on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Bills
Remember, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”? No question, watching your diet and eating healthy in reasonable amounts is going to impact your health in a positive way. Drink water, get regular exercise and sufficient sleep and you will be doing your best to avoid illness. Nobody ever enjoys the dentist’s drill nor the bill that comes with it. On the subject of antioxidants, Kanter says, “Good examples of antioxidants are fresh fruits and vegetables, green and black teas, yes, even coffee and dark chocolate can be great antioxidants.” Antioxidants are the important substances that help to combat the effects of free radicals, which are the molecules that can damage cells and which may play a large role in heart disease and cancers.
Kids Get Better Grades with Better Nutrition
Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and food revolution reformer, suggests that more and more Americans are concerned about schools serving poor quality, cheap food to our kids. He says it is easy to see how bad nutrition can lead to obesity, diabetes, poor concentration, poor grades and behavioral problems. According to Kanter, it begins with education. “Schools would do well to educate students on the importance of good food, teach them what good food is and promote growing some food right on the school grounds. Young people frequently do not know where food comes from and recent experiments have shown that people really appreciate their food when they help grow it.”
Slow food wins over fast-food. There are the obvious health benefits of boosting overall energy and building stronger immune systems to ward off diseases. And the icing on the cake – of course, that would be sugar-free frosting on skinny homemade carrot cake – are these five bonus benefits on top.
“Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Grocery Stores: A Price Comparison”
Natural Marketing Institute