Is it REALLY true that no one cooks?

Michael Pollan has a new book out about how he's learned to cook. To hear him speak, you'd think that he'd discovered a long-lost art, that no one cooks anymore and there's no cooking curriculum in schools. Is he as right as he thinks? Are there data? And what about the coed middle school "family and consumer science" classes that seem to have replaced all-girls "home ec."??



Pegeen May 26, 2013
Regarding healthy meals and families eating at home together - this is a great story about an updated take on a Vietnamese tradition.

“The basic idea is subscribing to meals that traditionally are delivered to your house. You can subscribe on a monthly basis. They are cheap, homemade, and composed of the freshest, least-expensive things from the market that day. They are for working families who still intensely value eating together -- even if it’s 9 p.m. -- and eating real food.”
Pegeen May 26, 2013
This is a great article. You can read the text or scroll down toward the bottom of the page to listen to the version broadcast on NPR.

"The basic idea is subscribing to meals that traditionally are delivered to your house. You can subscribe on a monthly basis. They are cheap, homemade, and composed of the freshest, least-expensive things from the market that day. They are for working families who still intensely value eating together -- even if it’s 9 p.m. -- and eating real food."
Pegeen May 26, 2013
Pierino, sorry to hear about the broken foot! (Have been there, it’s annoying.) Hope it heals quickly. And what a great idea to offer cooking classes… a useful way for community members to socialize. If the classes continue you may find more people want to get involved.

I agree that cooking at home is a commitment a person/family must make. The commitment to learn something about cooking, if you don’t already know, buy the groceries, do a little planning ahead, get the whole family involved in the process. At least in the U.S., society has evolved in ways that make it difficult to incorporate this into a family’s routine:

For families with children, in the scenarios of both parents or a single parent working, there is little time to deal with all of life’s tasks. Shortcuts will often be taken with food before other areas such as homework or after-school activities. I grew up in a large family in a suburb. This is not a criticism, but we did not get driven to rigidly-scheduled soccer games or our friend’s houses for play dates. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere. We went out into the woods with the neighborhood kids and invented games, or walked to the baseball field or ballet class, or played in the school’s asphalt parking lot. So not having to drive us around to everything gave my mother, in this case, time to cook for us at home rather than ferrying us around to scheduled activities. I would say she spent at least 1/3 and even more of her time cooking, or planning for three daily meals for 7 other people, and spectacular dinners for guests at every holiday you can think of. True, she loved cooking and liked putting a lot of effort into trying new things – she took classes before it was popular in order to learn variety and different cuisines, or I think she would have gone insane. Also, we had a nearby extended family – grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins, so there was always someone who could watch or feed some of your kids on a last-minute basis for a little while, to give you time to get something else done. And my two grandmothers were outstanding cooks, one of them being a Cordon Bleu school-trained cook at time when few women were enrolled (she’s a wonderful story for another time). Today, that lifestyle seems to be nearly impossible – because of the way school and after-school activities are structured, and the insanity around college application prep, working people just don’t have much time to do the planning, shopping and task of cooking from scratch at home – at least not every night. They really need the options of take-out and pizza.

One of my sisters-in-law is able, financially, to work only part-time. She and my brother have two daughters in high school. My S-I-L makes an enormous commitment to shopping local farms, talking to the management at her supermarket, teaching her kids about farm-to-table and how to support a local economy, teaching her kids how to follow a recipe but also “intuitive” cooking without a recipe, and running a pretty large vegetable garden, plus a side business of selling plants and shrubs. And also about the beneficial health aspects of eating fresh food. My brother is an even better cook – he just has an innate gift of understanding it all - science, flavor and creativity, and will spend an entire Sunday working on a meal. So cooking is one of his main hobbies that he’d want to spend time on anyway. Spending time preparing and eating their meals together is a priority in their family’s lifestyle. And they have neighbors with kids who enjoy the same thing, so there is support in that regard. My sister-in-law says she could not do it if the girls had more extensive commitments after school that required her to do constant driving and if my brother didn’t also enjoy it so much. Obviously she has other things to get done during the day as well.

I have always felt fortunate to grow up in a family that likes cooking and “good” food, because I think it’s hard for adults, with so many competing responsibilities, to cram in learning new things. Alas, it’s always easier to learn something when you’re younger.

On another subject – availability of fresh vegetables/ingredients: interesting interview on NPR recently about reviving supermarkets in New Orleans neighborhoods still struggling after Hurricane Katrina.
Pegeen May 24, 2013
Great thread. I have to print this out and carry it around to catch up with my reading!
I apologize if someone said this already, but in my experience, there are two different issues: the communal experience & value of a family or social group sitting down and eating together, and the importance of cooking that food "yourself."
mensaque May 19, 2013
We all cook here,don't we?So,SOMEONE cooks...
klrcon May 19, 2013
I think this is one of those two Americas things, sadly.

I think that a lot of people don't cook and that trend is only growing as people spend more and more time at work or on long commutes and the food industry is only too happy to promote the idea that processed food is the solution. And to slap an "all natural" label on their junk to ease Mom's guilt - and jack up the price! I see my sister falling prey to this sort of thing all the time as she's got a toddler and time to cook real food is at a premium. I don't judge her for that - she lives in a working class suburb of New York with plenty of supermarkets but not a lot of farmer's markets or other affordable options for real food. And the supermarkets are all pushing the processed convenience foods, not the real stuff. So it's by no means a food desert but the whole system is pushing against cooking real food.

On the other hand, I live in the Boston area, which has quite a growing food scene and vibrant slow and local food movements. In the last ten years the farmer's market scene has exploded and I've gone from markets two days a week during the season to having a farmer's market within walking distance of my home seven days a week. Plus there are food coops and specialty stores galore that offer lots of affordable options for fresh, local, high quality food and plenty of classes and support for those who want to cook. And the number of people I run into who are taking on serious cooking projects - making their own cheese or pasta or canning, milling their own flour, etc., etc., - seems to grow every year.

Obviously this is just anecdotal. But my impression is that those who cook are cooking more than ever and more interesting stuff than ever because there's a high end food industry to support and promote that, which is growing rapidly in some places like Boston. Not to mention the internet food scene and sites like this one!

But those who don't cook, are probably cooking even less over the same time period because there's also a processed food industry that's growing and promoting that choice.

The thing to remember is it IS a choice and it's a valid one. I love to cook and I've always cooked more than my sister for that reason - also, I'm a medical writer so I understand the health benefits of eating whole foods in a way my sister just doesn't. Much as I wish my sister would the do the same for the benefit of my little nephew, she just doesn't enjoy it and she's never going to - and that's ok, she's an adult and it's her choice how she spends her time. But over time, the disparity grows. I cook more and better because there's just so many more cool ingredients available to me and I learn from my friends who also cook, and she cooks less and less because she feels more pressed for time and she's on a budget and she learns all kinds of new shortcuts from her friends.

I don't know what the answer to that is but there you have it.
SeaJambon May 18, 2013
Does "no one" cook anymore - the answer is all around you (and in these responses). Put aside that you are asking a question of people inclined to cook (who else reads the hotline?!) and just look at your grocery store (or worse yet, Hilarybee's grocery store!) and the expansion of the "middle sections" (ie, processed food), as well as the absolute and total increase in both restaurants and quick food stops over the last 20 to 30 years. People (as a demographic whole) are cooking less than they used to, despite the pockets who still cook. Trampledbygeese, I have read Michael Pollan's new book (Cooked) and found it very interesting and thought provoking. His first point is that the market has been happy to facilitate and take advantage of all the reasons why families no longer cook as much as they used to, and the follow-up is that this change is not without hidden costs: to our own health; to our own connection to food; to our understanding of how the world fits together -- and that these costs are no necessarily balanced by the "savings", particularly if those savings are measured either in dollars or time. He also points out how this change coincided with women taking a larger role in the outside the home workplace and that the "fast food/prepared food/restaurant market" was happy to take on the role of cook/meal provider "freeing" the family from the otherwise difficult conversation of "we both work hard jobs outside the home -- who is responsible for cooking dinner?" (apparently, KFC had a billboard ad at the time showing a bucket of fried chicken with the tagline underneath "Women's Liberation"). His point here is that maybe we should all take a moment and have that hard conversation in our families (don't just assume that meals are the woman's responsibility) because when we avoid the conversation and "solve" the problem by outsourcing our meals, we then run into unexpected consequences (like an obese society with first world health problems run amok). So, "is it really true"? Look around you; it most profoundly is. And, with two children -- one in college; one in HS, can't say I've ever seen an offering like a modern home ec in school.
susan G. May 18, 2013
So many excellents points and examples have been made! I will just mention a personal observation: even though I am very careful when ordering in restaurants, I find that more than a very few times per week makes the numbers on the scale go up. What does that tell you about the effect of constant meals out and processed foods at home?
(I didn' tell you about my parents, who made home cooking an adventure; my three sons who took cooking responsibility early and are excellent family cooks now... Food52-ers tend to enjoy themselves in the kitchen.)
Hilarybee May 18, 2013
In theory, simple veg, meat, potato is cheap. I think many lack the pantry staples, though to make those meals good and inexpensive. Because you do need pantry items to make fresh meals, every day. Healthy oils, like olive oil are expensive. Nuts are relatively expensive and so are good grains. But I wouldn't be able to find those staples at my local grocery store, so it doesn't matter! And I badger the management, beg for more vegetables. I even had a signature campaign for kale. No joke. Trampledbygeese, I wish you could see my grocery store. I really do--it doesn't even have a seafood section and you can't find a non-smoked/processed cut of meat in the "butcher" section. It only carries frozen chicken breasts, not fresh. Lettuce, carrots, rotting tomatoes, and a very meager (and fruit fly infested) section of fruit, mostly apples and bananas. I really, really think that people need to see these urban grocery stores and food deserts to understand what I mean that from scratch would be expensive for a certain demographic. I once tried to take pictures of this grocery store for a food desert project I did in graduate school and security escorted me out. I've seen groceries stores in impoverished inner cities across the midwest. And they are appalling. Compared to a few stores I saw in Detroit, my grocery store is practically paradise. And that's the most frightening part to me.
pierino May 18, 2013
Another tangent to this discussion is the "special needs" category, or as the New York Times referred to it, "infantile narcissim". Some people are celiac (not terribly many), others are lactose intolerant which tends to fall into ethnic and geographic patterns. I don't think there are too many lactose intolerant French people. And then there are vegans for God knows what reason. Hey Bubba Clinton, I love you man but it's just silly. And now you have these fault lines running through families. My brother thinks he's lactose intolerant but hey we have the same DNA. I wouldn't want to be the parent of a teen who suddenly decided to be gluten free because her friends were. Come over here so I can whack you with this baguette, missy. And then you've got the broccoli haters and on and on. Now that's a strain on a working parent.
pierino May 18, 2013
Sorry that should have been "narcissism". Too bad we can't edit.
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
Awesome point pierino. I fall into several of those categories, sensitivity to soy, dairy, potatoes, and several other things. That's why I started cooking everything myself. I also found that when I cooked everything myself, my food costs plummeted. Instead of $5 to $10 per person, I was down to $1 for my average meal (and up to $3 for special occasions). Families where each person has a different sensitivity is difficult. I have a lot of friends with different dietary preferences and needs, it takes more effort, time and planning, but can still make an affordable meal for all of them. As for kids (I'm not a parent, so take this with the love and grain of salt it's intended) if a kid is old enough to state they WANT to go vegan or whatever, then they are old enough to 1) help in the kitchen with meal prep, even if it's just stirring or chopping (age dependent but good knife skills = fewer cuts later in life), 2) help in the kitchen with meal planning, 3) learn about pricing meals, and 4)learn about dietary health, food triangle or whatever the current thing is, and how to ensure they stay healthy with their new dietary choice. I know several parents who have done this, and either the kid quickly decides it's too much effort to be raw-food-est, or they solidate their values, and take over for a good portion of the cooking. A similar technique is good for health requirements as they are going to need to have the information necessary to make their own dietary decisions - especially when they start interacting with other kids who like to swap lunches. But like I said, not a full time parent, so just talking my personal opinion and observations.
dymnyno May 18, 2013
As someone who cooks for a lot of people who attend winery events I have to always ask about dietary restrictions and I cringe when I get the answers. There are almost ALWAYS vegan, celiac and vegetarian eaters. Last week our assistant asked a group if they had any restrictions and the answer (bless them) was "We're old...we eat everything!"
Hilarybee May 18, 2013
Trampledbygeese, I have read the book. I found it boring, mostly because I already do what Michael Pollan advocates. Pollan's approach is too expensive for too many Americans. I found the section about the frozen food laughable--and mostly because the people in need of a food intervention that I know couldn't afford frozen meals in the first place. Our food system has to change somehow, for everyone to be able to afford fresh, healthy ingredients. I got a sense that Pollan knew that the food system needed to change in Omnivore's Dilemma. This book does not address those needs. It encourages those that want to change or have the means to change to do it. Maybe it will make a difference for some.
I've taught a lot of my friends (late 20s/30s) how to cook basic foods- omelets, simple pestos, roast chicken, even tofu scrambles! My friend told me today that she makes the omelets I taught her to make every week. Her husband does most of the cooking, but now she can contribute one meal a week that and they don't have to call for takeout. Dinner doesn't have to be a huge affair. Pollan is right- some people need enough cooking skills to get by and give their families healthy meals. But I wish someone were thinking about how poor people were going to get fresh vegetables!!!
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
Hilarybee, interesting points. I'm not advocating in favour of Pollan's opinions, but it just irked me that so many of the early posters on this thread, were commenting on what they thought he said, when they obviously didn't read the book, or if they had read it, they were just not paying attention. Glad you were paying attention.

However, I'm not certain that I agree with you on cooking from scratch = expensive.

When you know how to cook from scratch, a meal with meat (not the best cut of meat, but still tender) some fresh veg and a starch for a hungry man size portion is less than a dollar a plate, including the cost of the electricity to cook it. Usually taking between 10 min to an hour of my time (actually active time, not including waiting - which can be adjusted to fit my schedule). I think most of the US has lower food prices than we do here, as I'm on an island and transportation costs are high. Bread for 3 people for a week (4 to 6 large loaves) costs me 60 cents to 1 dollar to make (depending on the price of flour and electricity that month). But I'm lazy and do sourdough, which I can fit to my own schedule and not have to be at the back and call of my food. (the above prices assume everything bought fresh from the supermarket)

But like I said elsewhere, it's easy to be on a soap box when I don't live the same life as they do. It's been years since I was last homeless, so I don't know what it's like for people now a days. I also admit I don't know the socio-economic conditions in the US. But I do maintain that eating frugally and eating well are NOT mutually exclusive.

Sadly, Pollan isn't writing for the people who need it most. His intended audience are those people with enough disposable income to buy his books. I agree with you that Pollans way to cook is not very economical in time or money. But it can be, when you know how. It just shocks me that people don't eat delicious, large meals from fresh ingredients because they think it's time consuming or expensive.
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
Sorry, my answer there seems to have run into one big long paragraph. It really was separate sections and easier to mark where the change of subject was.
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
I too would love to be able to edit.
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
I saw this really interesting family interaction at the library today. It really brought home this discussion:

There was a mum and two kids. The older boy, probably about 6 or 7 years old, wanted to go home to eat, whereas the mum, was adamant that they were going to eat at the cafeteria because she didn't want the effort of cooking and cleaning up. The boy, "But Mum, you always make us eat out, I want to eat home food". The Mum, "We don't always eat out, we had breakfast at home yesterday." boy, "but that was frozen breakfast, I want home food! Can we have home food for dinner if we have out food for lunch?" Mum, "No. We will have lunch here, then I'll heat some thing up for dinner" - and proceeded to list the acceptable lunch choices which included corn dogs (do they still make those?), hamburgers, ice cream, or chocolate bar. Then she described the options for dinner, which included ice cream, and two types of frozen pizza, the orange box or the one with a mascot on it.

I suppose it was nice of her giving her kids a choice of what to eat. Although spending an extra 5 minutes having this discussion in front of the checkout machine while there was a bunch of us waiting to use it...not so nice. Just a note, they were local, not travelling out of town or anything. I wondered if their kitchen was broken, but if their freezer and microwave are working, well, it's tough to cook something nice, but possible.

Having two kids, albeit well behaved ones from the look of things, and cooking must be terribly hard. But isn't that why we have slow cookers? I mean, I'm making scotch broth for dinner which took all of 3 minutes this morning, and will take another 5 or 10 min to put together tonight. Will do 3 of us, 2 meals a day, for three days and only cost $3.50 for the entire pot.

This mum was about my age, and it makes me wonder if she even knows how to cook. Her children obviously know about cooking, but could she know how easy it is to make affordable nutritious meals?

Sorry, I'm horribly bias and it's easy to get on a soap box if I'm living her life. I don't know how much frozen meals cost, so they may cost way less than my soup and actually be healthier than bone broth, some whole grains, some veg and meat in a pot. I'm not a nutritionist. I just found it an interesting example to have after reading this discussion.
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
Chris, I'll start with a disclaimer that I don't agree with everything he has to say, but I'll try to word this in a way that gives Pollan the benefit of the doubt. Also, please keep in mind; I'm the kind of person who makes a hot meal, every meal, and hasn't eaten anything prepared by another person or corporation for over a decade, due to allergies. That includes smoking my own bacon. I'm not the typical demographic that this book aims for. I think Pollan is writing for people who wish they cooked more, are tired of medical treating the symptoms, &c. Dreamers who need a gentle push to motivate them to becoming doers. They know something is wrong with the way our society approaches food, have probably read In Defence of Food, but don't really know where to go next.

For the most part, I am finding the book very interesting read. His narrative style (and it is very much a narrative) is engaging, if a, how to put it... crazy-naive-foolish for those of us who already cook frequently. He has that childlike enthusiasm for cooking, because he's never done it before, and that first time magic of taking some general stuff (say flour, water and salt), mixing them together in specific ways and getting bread (his like most favourite food ever) is this whole magic thing. And, quite frankly I remember feeling the same way about the first loaf of bread I ever made - and every loaf since.

I don't have the book in front of me, so I can't give you the sources, but I found the parts where he writes about food data gathering techniques really interesting. Companies hire these researchers to find out more of demographics - who cooks, what each family member eats, how they eat, &c. Over the last 40 years or so, the definition of cook has transformed from, an example: Getting some apples, flour, lard, &c and making a pie - vs - buying some pie filling and a pie crust. Another really interesting part was when he talks about buying microwave meals for the whole family and trying to have a sit down dinner, and how it cost the same as a cooked from scratch meal would but took just about the same amount of time to make (you have to heat each dish up individually in the microwave).

I also suspect he's aiming for people my generation. I went to school in the 90s. My mother didn't cook; my father cooked but worked and seldom spent time in the kitchen. There was cooking classes available in highschool, but they were far from mandatory, in fact they were discouraged due to the expense of running them. I didn't like pre-cooked meals, so I did most of my own 'cooking' as a teen. Cooking at that time meaning, buying pre-made pasta, pre-made pasta sauce, frying some garlic and bacon to add to the sauce and maybe some carrots. If this book had been available to me as a teen, it would have totally revolutionized my life. But where I'm at now, well I find it an amusing narrative, interesting to see the feminist issues (which I never really considered before - I always saw cooking as a way of empowering people by giving themselves back control of the most important choice they can ever make in a day: what to eat - so it was neat to see why people thought of cooking as a form of enslavement), a good refresher as to the dangers of giving over your food choice to a capitalist system which focuses on maximizes profit not health, and gave me some ideas that I want to try in the kitchen.

Compared to his other books, Cooked isn't as good as In Defence of Food, but better than The Omnivore's Dilemma. I don't see it as a book that I will pour over time and time again, like a cookbook, but it is a nice reference to have on the shelf.
ATG117 May 18, 2013
If the family dinner is dead during the weekdays, it may very well be because two parents are working until 8 pm. With that type of schedule, which is typical these days in the corporate world, it would be very difficult to schedule dinner with young kids. I'm not sure that means that there can't be home cooked meals. Cooking on weekends or on weeknights is feasible, but as others have mentioned, you have to love to cook. I do, and that keeps me motivated especially when I'm cooking for others. But I know how difficult it is to conjure up the energy on a nightly basis and sometimes I'll eat oatmeal instead, so for those who have no time or passion for it, well...
Greenstuff May 18, 2013
Oh good, dymnyno, I was worried that I was the one who wrote that the family was dead. But it gave me even more food for thought!
Greenstuff May 18, 2013
Tell us more, trampledbygeese! No, I have not read the book, it's the many, many print and radio interviews that have me wondering.

Frankly, he comes off as someone who just invented cooking. After hearing for the umpteenth time, something to the effect of "we teach kids about sex, why not cooking?" I started to google around and found that there are lots of public schools that teach cooking (maybe it's just microwaving?) to both boys and girls, seemingly a step forward from my era, when boys took shop and girls took home ec. It's not the first time I've heard that the family dinner is dead. I just wonder how dead it really is.

So tell us more. Should we read the book? Or how about some of the original sources?
dymnyno May 18, 2013
I think that one of your points: "that the family is dead." is a very key issue. How many families gather together around the table every evening to enjoy dinner together? Are we a nation of wimpy parents who let our children dictate when and what they eat? What happened to the "traditional" meal where there was a set menu that everyone ate? Even if Mom made a vegetable that we didn't like, we had to at least try it! We didn't watch tv or play video games or talk on the phone during dinner. It was a time when we talked to each other about school, church, sports, our friends and world events and even it we wanted to be somewhere else that was not an option. We learned that what was on the table was the only choice for dinner.
dymnyno May 18, 2013
Yikes! I meant to quote "that the family DINNER is dead."
trampledbygeese May 18, 2013
You guys have actually read Cooked, right? How about the chapters where he discusses the gender issues throughout the last couple of hundred years, or the part where he talks about the data he's working from when saying that very few people actually cook from scratch anymore.

How about the part where he discusses how the definition of the word cook has been drastically altered over the last 70 years?

I'm only just finished the Bread chapter, but I haven't yet seen the part where he says 'no one cooks'. I'm not 100% happy with everything he says in this book, but I did notice he's very careful to qualify (and cite) his more general statements.

As for no-one cooking? I think that's far too absolute a statement to be true. It's like saying no swans are white (a famous logical axiom for about a thousand years before they realized there actually are black swans) or that no one spins yarn to weave cloth to sew their clothing anymore. (I personally know several hundred real life people who do, and a few thousand more internet people who also enjoy extreme fibre arts). Michael Polan may be a lot of things, but he's not stupid enough to make general statements like that.
Linn May 18, 2013
Pierino is right - you have to want to. Especially in today's world of easy food and over booked days. My daughter comes to visit more often because she likes to eat. She openly admits she is too lazy to go to the trouble I do, but she also works full time and is getting her MBA. Maybe it really is genetic, like blue eyes and blond hair.
dymnyno May 18, 2013
I am continually amazed by how many people don't know, care or want to take the time to cook. My DIL is limited to mac n cheese from a box and orders take out most nights. My son has learned to BBQ and is always asking me how to prepare recipes so he can feed them and our granddaughter who I hope will be more like her father. I think part of the problem is just laziness. The desire to make healthy and delicious food is my own motivating force. Even the food from The French Laundry can be too rich and complicated to enjoy every day. It's important to take the time to learn how to cook. I think a lot of people who don't cook think that it is like having a special talent and is something that they can't ever attain.The key is to start with easy basic recipes and build a repertoire. A lot of great hosts and hostesses are famous for simple things like spaghetti or BBQ or salads.
pierino May 18, 2013
Here's my perspective; I now live in a co-housing community---all ages, not just geezers. There are community meals two times a week. It was supposed to be my turn to be lead cook tonight (I always work with a theme)but I broke my foot a week ago. The rest of my team didn't want to assume control and opted for a "pizza party" with take out pizza from one of the worst pizza places in the history of takeout pizza. I ask people here why they don't sign up to be lead cook (both men and women) and they tell me "I don't know how to boil water." How pathetic is that? They want the community dining experience---and we have a great kitchen to work in---but they just don't want to cook. That prompted me to start beginner classes. These are people who are almost sanctimonious about healthy dining but then I find all these bottled salad dressings in the community fridge. So, the first class I tought was salad dressings. Sometimes just demonstrating how easy this stuff can be pays dividends.
drbabs May 18, 2013
Wow, pierino, that's amazing! (I live in a geezer community where there's a restaurant--no community dining experience--and the food is god awful; bottled salad dressing would be an improvement. Do all geezers like bland food? Frozen seafood? Overcooked chicken "cutlets?" Anyway, I hope your foot gets better soon.
Greenstuff May 18, 2013
Ditto, hope the foot heals quickly. And even more ditto--some of the best cooks I know buy bottled dressings even though salad dressings are about the easiest and best things to throw together quickly. It's a question that rates its own Hotline discussion.
healthierkitchen May 19, 2013
That is terrific, pierino. Salad dressing is so simple and yet so many people are intimidated.
mensaque May 26, 2013
Pierino,sorry about your foot...hope you get better soon.And about the bad pizza:till your friends learn from the best,know in your heart that if life gives you bad pizza...there's always ketchup,hahaha!(sorry,could not help myself!)
Kristen W. May 18, 2013
I think that is is, at it's heart, and economic issue that, over time, has the potential to become culturally ingrained. People (by "people", i pretty much mean women) in this country cooked more when one income was sufficient to support most households. Living on a single income is just impossible for many, many people, and so there is, as others have pointed out above, less energy available to be allocated towards cooking. Also, as working outside of the home has become more gender neutral, so has domestic work like cooking, BUT even in this day and age, many adult men grew up with mothers, not fathers, who cooked, and so they don't necessarily have the models and the sort of pedagogical lineage that many women have (yes these re generalizations; I'm talking about cultural trends, not individuals). The explosion of convenience foods and restaurant culture reflects this economically based reality that people need help getting food on the table b/c no one's home to cook it. I think love of cooking can mitigate against these things (as it has for me), but for someone who works full time getting a slow-food meal on the table every night is swimming upstream (and, of course, more power to those who do).
pierino May 18, 2013
Pierino first learned to cook from his mother. She was a working Mom who owned her own real estate business. I inherited her astounding collection of cookbooks. Mom's solution was to prepare an elaborate main course but then serve it with some Birdseye frozen convenience side. It was obvious early on that I had and interest in and aptitude for cooking. Unfortunately at the time the only "cooking schools" were trade schools. Or you worked a hot line at Sizzler or something. So I went to university instead. But the cooking gene remained active, and travel gave me the opportunity to taste new foods and reverse engineer them. In the end you have to WANT to do it. But it has ceased to be a gender thing. In the restaurant world women have to fight their way to the top. At home they begin at the top.
Hilarybee May 18, 2013
This is such an interesting discussion! My husband and his family do not cook, even his extended family rarely prepare their own meals. My mother cooked our meals everyday (Yes, she worked full time- but was a high school teacher, so she came home from work at the same time we came home from school) The only meal we ate out was on family night at a local restaurant. My parents were extremely strict about eating out. I cook dinner everyday, and I take my parents' idea of eating out once a week as serious as they did.
Michael Pollan probably wouldn't approve of my mother's shortcuts, which are more Sandra Lee than anything else. I think Pollan has an idea of fresh, from scratch cooking that is not a reality for a lot of Americans. I live an urban neighborhood, and our grocery store is seriously inadequate. Most days I can't find vegetables better than carrots and bagged lettuce. The Farmer's Market is only open one day a week--what happens if you can't make it on that day? Or can't afford a CSA? I can afford a CSA box and I drive to the next suburb over for my groceries. But many of my neighbors cannot afford more than what WIC or their small budgets afford them. That leaves them with a lot of SPAM (very popular in my neighborhood for some reason) and McDonald's. Every time I go grocery shopping, or buy an expensive ingredient, I am thankful that I can afford it. Michael Pollan, I don't think, has a realistic grasp of those struggles.
healthierkitchen May 18, 2013
Neither my 20 year old son nor my 18 year old daughter (different schools) had any cooking in their schools. I think my daughter's large public h.s. might have had a food course, but it was not required and I don't think she knew anyone who took it. Both do cook because I cook and because they also see cooking as a creative process as well as an opportunity to eat healthy, great tasting food. Both also enjoy eating out, as do my husband and I - we enjoy the opportunity to enjoy something special that we either don't know how to cook or just don't do as well. Most people I know "cook" most of the time, but I think few of them would pass Michael Pollan's test. Where do we draw the line? Even among this food52 community of active cooks and food lovers, we differ in approach. While I will spatchcock and roast and braise a chicken quite happily, I'll also sometimes use a rotisserie chicken from the store to shred for quick dishes. If I forget to thaw my own stock, or run out, or get strapped for time, I'll use stock in a box without thinking twice. And I always have a couple of jars of Rao's marinara sauce in the pantry for those occasions when the best I can do is boil water and make a salad. I have learned to read labels and taught my kids to do so too, so that the packaged items we buy contain only the ingredients we'd use if we make it ourselves. I don't see any shame in relying on a short cut as in almost every case, what I make at home, even using a packaged item or a canned bean, etc. will be better than fast food carry out. That said, most people I know that "cook" at home, use many more packaged foods than I and are less willing or able to spend a little extra time to do something like marinate meat on a weeknight because it's an extra step they perceive they don't have time for. It's one thing for a young, single person to first start making dinner at 9 pm after a long day (like my son) as he will stay up until 1 am at minimum. In a household where two working partners get home at 7 or 8, is it reasonable to have kids wait until 8 or 9 pm to eat, when they probably should be going to bed by then or soon after? In the case of families, at least, is it better to have a family meal at a reasonable hour even if that means relying on some help from outside? Sometimes, the two really are mutually exclusive.
drbabs May 18, 2013
Having kids at home definitely changes the equation because there are always after school activities, homework, and the need for sleep impinging on dinner time, especially in families where both parents work 9-5. That's one of the reasons I like the column "Jenny's in the Kitchen" so much--she finds weeknight friendly recipes. Of course you have to plan ahead if you want to be able to start cooking when you walk in the door, and that may be more than we can do on some nights. I was lucky that my daughter loved cheese and raw vegetables--there were many nights that we had cheese and crackers and raw vegetables and hummus or a yogurt dip for dinner. Is that cooking? At least we were eating together at home and she was able to get her homework done and get to bed at a reasonable hour.
jsdunbar May 18, 2013
Interesting discussion. I cook dinner 6 nights a week & my husband 1 night. I love that 1 night, even though I love to cook. He makes very simple meals, but that's fine - I get a break. My 27-yr-old son, a vegetarian, cooks most of his own meals, his 30-yr-old brother is a chef, & their 2 older sisters cook most of their own meals. As does my 87-yr-old mother. If she eats out it's because someone suggests it, 2 or 3 times a month, & she avoids processed foods because she doesn't consider them healthy. I hadn't considered that we might be unusual 'till I read this conversation.
ATG117 May 18, 2013
well to be clear, whether or not there are good reasons for cooking less, most of the time, I don't think there are justifications for eating food that's bad for you. In that same vein, I don't support Sandra Lee's method of cooking with products that are processed and bad. Meals , time or no time, should be comprised of whole foods--making an omelette and putting together a green salad--doesn't take long and isn't expensive.
Sam1148 May 17, 2013
Which is one of the reasons I hate 'chefs' deride sandra dee, or rachel ray. Those people bring a popular 'quick and easy' entry point to cooking.
Yeah, pro chefs etc might not like them...but WTF? they have good ideas for us slobs at home trying to do better. Julia Child reached for the can Campbell beef consume for french onion soup in her show. WHY? because she knew that's people had on hand.
A shortcut and a meal..and even used a coil top oven..OMG..NOT A GAS STOVE.
sexyLAMBCHOPx May 18, 2013
Racheal Ray's tv show really gave my the confidence to start cooking (and how) to in my mid 20's once I had an interest.
ATG117 May 17, 2013
I think a lot of people are cooking more and many are cooking less, but I'm not sure that all people are cooking less because of the reasons usually presumed. People are staying single longer, too. Cooking for one doesn't always make sense. Does tossing a salad together, making and omelet, or assembling a yogurt parfait count as cooking? Is it terrible if you pick up a roll of sushi or a salad on your way home from work? Work...A lot of people are also working more hours. If you're first getting home at 10 or 9 or even 8, chances you have any desire to start cooking are much lower. And then there are those who don't have access to ingredients or the knowledge to cook healthful and tasty food. So, many issues here.
petitbleu May 17, 2013
I absolutely think that more and more people cook less and less. However, I don't necessarily believe that it's out of laziness or ignorance. We simply have more of a choice about whether we cook or not. Not cooking is very easy to do. I would tend to argue that cooking is also very easy, but I happen to derive a lot of pleasure from the act of cooking, so it's easy for me to say.
It is really frustrating, though, to be bombarded by "food 1%ers" talking about how easy and ethical cooking healthful, natural, organic, local meals is. It's just utopian and unrealistic.
And I will agree with Sam that the onus seems to be on women (and the fault for falling prey to processed foods in the first place). My husband is a great cook, but he practically has unicorn status in my family--none of the men cook. Or even do the dishes after dinner. I think things are starting to change in this regard, but whether it's too little too late I can't say.
It's certainly a conversation we should be having, though, and interjected by a fair deal of real talk.

Voted the Best Reply!

drbabs May 17, 2013
Well, I love to cook, but sometimes it's drudgery. Sometimes we have days or weeks that kick our butts and we're lucky we can order pizza or go out to dinner, or just eat pistachios and drink wine and call it dinner.
MTMitchell May 17, 2013
Agreed. And I when I saw his interview I wanted to tell him that a lot of people want to do more of what he's telling us all to do but there are road blocks ... Time, food deserts, knowledge, etc. I want him to give people little steps that get them closer and also advocate for wholesale change in access to decent food so people in every community can get the basics required to cook for themselves at least sometimes. And I also thought the tone of his comments tended towards "hey, ladies, get in the kitchen! How come you aren't there already?!" And I said to the tv "because my husband is as capable of putting a good meal on the table as I am and I too work full-time."
Sam1148 May 17, 2013
I saw a bit about this same issue this week. His attitudes seem to be sexist. As a "woman" must be cooking for their family.
"I have found myself frustrated with Michael Pollan lately. In the course of promoting his new book about cooking, he's taken to spouting some opinions that I'll frankly call claptrap. He's mocked women who felt trapped by the kitchen drudgery that they got stuck with simply because they owned a vagina. He's implied that it's easy (if you're not lazy) for everyone to make every meal an ideologically sound slow-food meal. In general, he's disparaged the very idea that some people don't like to cook."
Sam1148 May 17, 2013
When Michael Pollan says 'no one cooks'...he means they don't cook stuff he'd like them to cook.
pierino May 18, 2013
Sam, one thing about Pollan is that he is in love with the sound of his own voice. Perhaps the reason that he is a late comer to actual cooking is that he's been so busy yammering about food. I once attended a panel discussion with three other guests and he couldn't shut up.
MTMitchell May 17, 2013
He was on a local public tv show the other night. While I get and appreciate what he's saying...and I think a lot of stuff can be done in advance, etc. there has to be wiggle room. And he seems almost opposed to wiggle room and really disconnected from what a lot of people's lives are like day-to-day. Or at least that's how he presented himself. it was a tad...judgy-judgy. He has WAY more resources at his disposal than a lot of people (let's call him the food world 1%) and I wish he'd be more upfront about that and provide a more realistic/less stringent perspective and ideas more people could use. we cook as many nights as we can (which is most nights) and eat as non-processed as we can. And this week has kicked my butt so we're ordering a pizza and I had a meeting boxed lunch. It's not the end of the world. PS -- we don't live in a food desert. Makes it a lot easier to cook for ourselves and eat better.
drbabs May 17, 2013
I work with a bunch of young women and they rarely cook. So I don't know if there's data, but I know that at least where we live, takeout and restaurants are so plentiful that it's often easier to drive through or order than it is to cook. My daughter definitely didn't have cooking, home ec or "family and consumer science" in school, and while I think she absorbed some enjoyment of cooking (or at least baking) from me, she'd much rather go out than eat in. I think sites like Food52 are great for getting people to cook more, but in some ways it's preaching to the choir--you don't sign in till you're already cooking. I've given my co-workers the Food52 cookbooks for Christmas for the past 2 years, and for many of them, it was the first cookbook they ever owned. My stepsons are both fortunate to have married women who are really good cooks. So I don't know what the answer is, but I think it's an interesting discussion.
Sam1148 May 17, 2013
Barbra I repsect you but the ending statement falls into the same sexist trap--"Fortunate to married women who cook". What's wrong with getting them off their lazyboys and making a meal? Interesting discussion, but until we address the underlying sexism it's pretty much for nothing.
drbabs May 17, 2013
Sam, you are so right. And in fact, one of my stepsons has been out of work on disability, so he has become an accomplished cook. My other stepson travels about 80% of the time, so it really is left to my daughter in law. I actually didn't mean it in a sexist way, but in the way that I think it's good for families if at least one adult cooks. Thanks for pointing that out to me. We all have our blind spots I suppose, and you uncovered one of mine,
Sam1148 May 17, 2013
It's So ingrained in our culture that women do 'women's work
Now, we're seeing a new crop of cooks..and males cooking, due to the unfortunate competitiveness of cooking shows on TV now.
When I was young cooking was 'women's work'. Now, Despite Pollan's book, it's joint effort. But then again males get all
competitive. I fully expect in 20 years some dude is going be yelling at son, "YOU CALL THIS A CREME BURLEE?...YOU IDIOT, I COULD DO THAT IN MY SLEEP AT YOUR AGE".
LucyS May 25, 2013
Sam and Barbara, I hope you don't mind my jumping in on this conversation, I find it so interesting. I'm in my mid twenties and I have very few friends who like to cook, or cook well. I think your conversation about gender is so fascinating, too. We didn't have home ec - I would have LOVED to learn to cook in school, but I think I would have resented it if it were only girls. I think it's interesting, and so sad, that cooking at home is still perceived as woman's work, while cooking as a career, competitive chef has the same gender bias as many other careers - many more men than women. It seems like when cooking is a chore, it's a woman's job, and when it's a career, it's a man's job.
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