First, a quick coronavirus check-in:
• Most of us will get it.
• The majority of those who get it will recover just fine.
• We need to stay home now in order not to overwhelm our healthcare system all at once and cause more deaths due to lack of personnel or equipment.
Second, a quick preventive medicine check-in:
• The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease.
• About 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
• Nearly 40% of our population is obese and being obese is one of the biggest risk factors for getting heart disease and diabetes.
Somehow, these bullet points are related to each other. From international data, it looks like having diabetes or heart disease significantly increases your risk of dying from coronavirus.
So, is there any good news? Well, much of heart disease and diabetes is related to our lifestyle, and now that many of us are stuck at home, we have a chance to change our behavior. While school is suspended, gone are the days of running from work to pick up kids to kids’ activities to some drive through. Or perhaps you spent all day at work, getting a meal delivery or two, while practically chained to your desk. And while coronavirus is scary, the truth is that many more of us are at greater risk over the long term from our unhealthy lifestyles.
Most Americans get 30-50% of their calories from eating out, and that, quite frankly, is killing us. And it has nothing to do with coronavirus. We are consuming more calories than we should and eating more processed food than we ought to. Over the next weeks to months, life will be dramatically altered, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. We are being forced to slow down. And when it comes to food, slower can be better.
Enter the “slow food” movement which began several decades ago and encourages people across the world to slow down and cook from scratch. While that idea may have been untenable as we were running around from one obligation to the next, now people seem to be looking for ways to spend their spare time away from crowds. Should we read more? Exercise? Netflix and chill? Or perhaps, cook?
While reading, exercising, and watching more T.V. (or whatever “Netflix and chill” means to you) might be intuitive, sadly, many of us have forgotten how to cook. Luckily, we have YouTube. My children have taught me that you can learn how to do virtually anything by watching YouTube, and cooking is no different.
Many people consider themselves “bad” cooks because they never learned how and quickly become discouraged when things don’t turn out perfectly the first time. But cooking, like anything else, is a skill, and practice makes perfect (or at least edible). Start with small, easy projects. Grill a chicken breast or make a simple sauce. Don’t become disappointed if things don’t initially taste as good as your local take-out place. You will learn and get better if you keep trying. And honestly, you will need to use salt and butter or oil. You just will. It’s okay. My grandmother told me I had to if I wanted anyone to eat what I made, and she wasn’t wrong.
Almost anything you make at home, even with salt and butter, will be healthier than what you would eat out (they are using much more than you ever would at home). Start with fresh ingredients and stay as additive-free as possible. The closer to the Earth you eat, the better it is for you. The Mediterranean Diet gets a lot of press for being healthy, and it is, but the truth is that any so-called traditional diet that focuses on whole ingredients, is pretty good for you. So, make what you like—Italian, Chinese, Latin American, Caribbean cuisine, or something completely different. But make it from scratch. And use lots of veggies.
The coronavirus will be a bad memory in a year or two. All that will remain are the lessons it taught us. Hopefully, we will have learned how to better prepare, how to look out for one another more, and how to keep our cool in a crisis. And just maybe, we will have also discovered how to live healthier by learning a few signature meals we can invite friends over to share.