Do We Need to Cook?
I had wanted to write something brilliant and witty about Michael Pollan's long paean to cooking, but I couldn't figure out what to say about it. Something was nagging at me. Something felt off in the article. But I didn't know what. So I let it go. Until yesterday, when Tom Philpott nailed it:
[T]hrough most of history, cooking was generally something to be avoided—an activity people strived to be able to pay (or force) someone else to do. And that history, no doubt, explains much of the appeal of fast food and convenience food. In [Julia] Child’s time, “middle class people had maids or someone to help” cook; today, everyone does. Just walk into a McDonald’s with the equivalent of an hour’s minimum wage in your pocket, and you can eat like a king (at least in calorie terms).
This idea of cooking as a virtue—as something one should do, like exercising and tooth brushing—seems quite new. Not wrong—just new. And that means that by giving up cooking, we’re not becoming less human, as Pollan suggests, but succumbing to an all-too-human impulse.
If we're pinning our salvation on an unstoppable wave of new and enthusiastic home cooks, then we might as well all sew elastic into our waistbands now. I'm young and I'm childless. I love to cook. I can afford good ingredients. I take pleasure in time spent before the stove. Cooking is literally my only true hobby. And I make my own dinner three times a week. On a good week.
Is my experience universal? Of course not. But the trends are not favorable to cooking. People are spending more time at work. Both partners are wage-earners. Parents want to spend more direct time with their children. Takeout is more convenient and less costly. Friends live farther away. If our current mode of eating is unsustainable -- and the health impacts suggest that it certainly has some problems -- then a new norm will have to be established. But it will have to be established in concert, rather than in contradiction, to the trends of modernity. Luckily, there's no reason that can't happen. How we eat is more important than whether we cook. Pollan is counting on the fact that people tend to cook healthier foods than they purchase. But I think changing purchasing decisions will take a lot less work than changing actual habits and teaching brand new skills.
Photo credit: Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post
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