Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The End of Cooking

My husband grumbles as he paces through the pantry. "There's nothing in this house to eat," he complains.

It's about a weekly occurance. Nevermind that the fridge has leftovers inside, our tomatoes, onions and beans are fruitful, our freezer has chicken and other things inside and our pantry has staples.

It's not a question of nothing to eat. It's a question of simplicity. My guy, who most days loves to cook, just wants the five-minute fix.

While his lament is something I'm quite used to, I never though about it in terms of the bigger picture. And then I read Michael Pollan's recent article from the New York Times: "Out of the Kitchen, On to the Couch." In it, he discusses our cultural shift in the last 50 years from a nation of home cooks to one fascinated in watching and buying food, but uninterested in actually producing a true home-cooked meal.

He writes "today, 80 percent of the cost of food eaten in the home goes to someone other than a farmer, which is to say to industrial cooking and packaging and marketing."

Where are these costs going? Packaging and fillers. Just turn to the label of any processed food or mix, and you'll be amazed by the amount of fat, salt and/or sugar on the label.

Pollan notes that the speed of premade meals and helpers have made a difference to our waistline, if not just for the calorie count but because the "wait" factor is missing.
Cutler and his colleagues demonstrate that as the “time cost” of food preparation has fallen, calorie consumption has gone up, particularly consumption of the sort of snack and convenience foods that are typically cooked outside the home. They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed; since 1977, we’ve added approximately half a meal to our daily intake. Cutler and his colleagues also surveyed cooking patterns across several cultures and found that obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation. ...

The time and work involved in cooking, as well as the delay in gratification built into the process, served as an important check on our appetite. Now that check is gone, and we’re struggling to deal with the consequences.
Weight worries aside, Pollan notes that a certain part of our culture is eroding as well, quoting writers dating from the 1700s who say that the celebration of food - from the preparation through sharing - is what separates us from other animals. He writes, "it stands to reason that the decline of cooking in our time would have a profound effect on modern life."
What are your thoughts?


fem pen said...

I agree that it'd be better for everyone to invest more time in cooking, and by everybody I mean women AND men.

I was irritated by Pollan's comments about The Feminine Mystique demonizing cooking. Betty Friedman didn't demonize anything--she simply gave a voice to the frustration of a nation of housewives who felt trapped in their domestic lives. Salon did a great analysis on his article.

We all need to eat. We should all want to eat well. And since eating is, you know, kind of crucial to our existence, cooking should be something with which we ALL are concerned.

Robbie said...

The Salon piece is interesting, but I don't see anything anti-women about the fact that more women are working and thus not home to make meals. Two-income families (or in some cases, women carrying the financial weight) has meant a shift in how we do things, within our family dynamics and our entire culture. You can read article after article about how the balance of housework does not fall in proportion to the hours worked outside the home.

I can't imagine not raising my son to cook as well as my daughter. My husband will be by my side in our lessons. (By the way, he's cooking tonight!)

fem pen said...

Fair enough. I'm going to write about Pollan's piece in a post on my own blog soon (hopefully) that might articulate my point a little better. Maybe you could weigh in when I finish it?