Green, Lifestyle

Eating is Instinctive. Cooking Isn’t.

October 28, 2013
Savour Kilkenny Food Festival 2013

Savour Kilkenny Food Festival 2013

I’ve just spent the weekend at Savour Kilkenny food festival which isn’t just a celebration of all things food, it’s about listening and learning.

As well as supporting the KLP community garden project on The Parade, I spent Saturday at Kilkenny’s Food Camp which has become an annual opportunity to share thoughts and learn about the many elements that umbrella the term Food.

This year the theme was ‘We are What we Eat, Fact or Fiction’ and as a result the terms obesity, nutrition and food awareness somehow managed to wind their way into every talk and topic of conversation, whether it was in Marion Hearne’s session about the difficulties faced by people eating extreme diets (by choice or forced) or Elena Piana’s on fish farming versus wild sea catches.

It wasn’t until Suzanna Campbell mentioned the new TV campaign aimed at raising public awareness about obesity and how she’d heard the controversial Professor Mike Gibney’s shocking talk about our eating habits that many of us became quite alarmed. It really struck me during the panelled discussion that followed, where statistics were shared with us about the implications of our food choices, just how URGENTLY more money needs to be found and spent on food education, both for ADULTS and CHILDREN.

Working with various groups on the ground and talking with people about their experiences, I can see first hand the damage that’s been done by removing home economics from school curriculums. I’ve talked to adults that don’t recognise basic vegetables when they’re plucked out of the ground and answered questions they’ve asked me about how to cook them. I’m not judging anybody, this is the reality.

Is it laziness, busyness or lack of education that stops us cooking from scratch? Time certainly plays a huge part in the food we choose to cook as well as tiredness after a busy working day, especially when freezer foods are so cheap and effortless.

It’s very easy to empty a packet of peas into a microwave dish, grab a bag of fish in breadcrumbs out of the freezer and throw it into the oven along with a bag of ready cut chips.


How long does it take to flash fry some trout fillets, chop up a couple of potatoes, lightly sauté them in olive oil and serve them up with a quick salad? Our healthy supper would be warmly sitting inside our tummies before the oven has even reached temperature, yet we think the first option is a quick one, and yes, I’m guilty of it myself at times.

Given the two choices, which one will our children benefit the most from seeing, tasting and learning from? What habits are we passing down to them?

Edward Haydon & Anne Neary

People with Passion: Anne Neary & Edward Haydon

In order for many of us to make those healthier food choices, we need to be reminded or taught why and how we should be doing things differently. Whilst recipe books and cards are cheap and handy, many of us physically need to see and smell food being cooked in front of us, by a real person who’s weighing and chopping and stirring. Preferably, we need to be doing it with them…

“Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I learn
Involve me and I remember”

Cooking isn’t instinctive but eating is.

Step House Chef Alan Foley

People with Passion: Step House Chef Alan Foley

If we haven’t been TAUGHT to cook from scratch, unless we have a passion for it, who wouldn’t take the easy option? Unless we’re shown over and over by people with enthusiasm and knowledge, we’re not likely to make those changes either.

Two billion euro is the cost to the HSE of diet related illness (that’s two thousand millions for anyone like me who’s heard that figure so many times it’s almost lost its meaning).

23% of children aren’t eating any fruit and veg at all. Top of the list of Irish foods sold are cakes, confectionary, sweets, crisps, butter and we all know how difficult it is to break the sugar cycle, whether we’re informed or not.

We urgently need to dispel the myths about what healthy food is, we need to be convinced that food that doesn’t contain added sugars and sweeteners is tasty, that it makes us feel good and gives us more energy and we need to do so in an engaging way. We have to learn to find alternatives for our sugar addictions and we need financial help to do this from the government in terms of grants and funding.

Most people who need this food education can’t afford to pay for private cookery lessons yet I know from personal experience how effective even simple demonstrations can be on my own food education.

Full Cookery Demo at Savour Kilkenny

Packed out cookery demonstration at Savour Kilkenny

What better way to change our behaviour than to offer affordable (or free for some) cookery lessons combined with the basic life skills of growing the food. Just look around at cookery demos next time you have the opportunity (and Savour Kilkenny was a case in point where they were all free this year.) They’re popular, well attended and the seats are almost always full. People want to learn, want to see, want to make changes. We’re getting really cross about the lack of education, confused by the mixed messages about what’s good or not, what should or shouldn’t we eat. We want to know where food comes from, how it’s processed and with what (wood pulp in cheese and ice cream, seriously?!?!?).

Sarah Baker of the Cloughjordan House Cookery School is doing great work with school children where they head out to the fields, pick the vegetables then come back and cook them. But she’s one woman in one village with one cookery school. This should be the norm, it should be happening everywhere.

During the Focus on Fish Day at Goatsbridge Trout Farm I asked a food distributor why supermarkets don’t offer food cookery demos as a way of teaching shoppers how to cook fish in particular, to encourage us to buy and eat more of it. Fish is a healthy and plentiful food source but younger generations have stopped adding it to their weekly menus. His reply was simply “demonstrations are too expensive to put on”.

Some would argue that government doesn’t have the funding for food education, yet TWO BILLION euros of taxpayers money is being spent on healthcare for food related illness because people have made bad, or more likely, uneducated health choices….

I’m not alone with these thoughts. Dorcas Barry wrote an excellent blog post here about how she would address the issues.

Why aren’t Ministers listening? How long will it take for changes to take place? What do you think?



  • Reply Lorna October 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm

    Madness isn’t it that adults can’t cook a decent meal for the family and yet there’s a huge number of cookery programmes, YouTube videos etc. some of it has to come down to individual responsibility too but if it is costing tax payersthe gov needs to do something.
    Maddens me that people spend so much on convenience food and baulk at price of milk

    • Reply greensideupveg October 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm

      That can be said for lots of things Lorna, including growing vegetables. I pretty much taught myself to cook with recipe books but there’s nothing like actually hearing and seeing someone for real education. I’ve learnt more in two hour demos than a week of recipe reading can teach me and one of the things that really surprises me is just how quick most meals are to make.

      One of the things we learn in Train the Trainer is how everyone takes information in differently, yet the majority of people who would benefit from cookery classes are missing out on real food education due to cost.

      The prevalence and popularity of food programmes and cook books just goes to show how much of an interest there is in the subject 🙂

      • Reply Lorna October 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

        My reply didn’t post on this on my phone the other evening. Yes, totally agree – everyone learns in different ways. I’d much prefer to follow a recipe book than watch a TV programme as long as recipe book has a good picture of the finished product 😉 It does seem madness that Home Ec is not a compulsory subject until Junior cert level – everyone needs to know about food – how to produce it and cook it. I remember it took me ages to learn how to make a roux at school in those HOme EC classes and my son recently commented on how he much prefers my parsley sauce to my mum’s – as she buys the packet one. To me, there is nothing easier to make than a parsley sauce, just cos I know how to do it I guess.
        I don’t consider myself an able cook at all – Brian is a lot better and I suppose I feel if I can manage to cook a decent dinner, anyone can 🙂 I’m also gobsmacked by the number of ready meals that are sold on an annual basis.

  • Reply Dr Hows Science Wows (@sciencewows) October 28, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Excellent and informative post; had not realised my naivety on some of the points, facts and figures you mentioned.

    • Reply greensideupveg October 28, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks Naomi, wish I could link the figures but they were quoted to us by panelists who I’m certain will have done their homework beforehand. I was shocked that almost a quarter of kids aren’t eating fruit and vegetables at all and especially so when we were told that some parents blend McDonalds to spoon feed babies…

  • Reply Olly October 28, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    That is such a great post and to be honest with you I dont think that it is surprising that a lot of people cant cook anymore. Unfortunately we live in a world of convenience and a prime example is my father. He will go to a supermarket and buy ready prepared meals and even the chopped up vegetables – I really dont know why he does it!!

    I have always tried to prepare my own meals from scratch as much as I can. Although I must confess that yes I have had the occasional fish meal prepared in breadcrumbs.

    My wife and I grow as many vegetables and fruits as we can and we are starting to get our eldest daughter who is nearly 3 into picking from the garden, preparing and learning to make her own food. I personally think that that is a fundamental principle for a parent to teach their children. Our ancestors used to have to do this but because of the world we live in many people are missing out on such a basic skill.

    Quantity of food production has seemed to overtake quality and unfortunately people seem too willing to accept the awful things that are supposed to be sold as ‘food’ in shops. Bacon that turns white when you fry it, chicken that sits in water when you roast it, vegetables that are just too perfect. The taste of a bent carrot is no different from a straight one!!

    • Reply greensideupveg October 29, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Olly. There’s no real easy answer. Whichever way I look at it though, education has to be a key factor in helping people to understand their food choices.

      Given the choice of scrubbing a carrot then standing and peeling it or simply opening a bag – who wouldn’t be tempted! But as gardeners, having gone through the whole process of planting the seeds, watching the plants grow, naturing them then experiencing the joy and pleasure of tasting them…. there’s no comparison 🙂

      • Reply Lorna October 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

        or even opening a can! A friend of mine (Home Ec teacher) was telling me that once she asked students to bring in a carrot each – they couldn’t grasp it at all – they thought carrots came in jars!


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