I’ve been reading Cooked, which has me thinking…..
Or the question the book dodges….
Why don’t we cook anymore?
Which seems to imply there is a basemark/benchmark for a common good old days that is eluded to but never really defined or examined. There are some scary statistics gathered by agencies that have agendas, but are they really data? Even last week another study was released – that looked at 12 families. Twelve. Who said they didn’t have time, didn’t have money, didn’t have the kitchen…… How do twelve families represent what is going on in the whole country today? I can get a better – and bigger – cross section at my next family gathering. Or at lunch at work.
Anyhow, beyond questionable samples, Pollen and his ilk talk about how our Grandmas did things. But do we really have that common Grandma? Is common the same as average? Nobody is average, Grandma’s included.
I don’t even have that common Grandma among my grandmothers.Both of my Grandmas were uncommon and above average.
One, Nonna, came from the old country (one of the old countries my family is from, that is), and was famous for her bread that was baked in a wood-fired oven. Back in the old country. She never used a recipe, she just cooked things. Wonderfully. But she only cooked Nonna food. She wasn’t interested in trying new tastes or flavors, she was interested in making the new things taste familiar.
The other, Nana, loved going out to eat, and take out,and when she did cook, she double checked the Fannie Farmer on her shelf to help her memory. She worked in a grocery store. She loved food in boxes. Good FOB (Friend of Betty…. Crocker).
Betty Crocker, Nana’s kitchen friend.
BUT both Nana and Nonna assumed that a kitchen would have a hot place and a cold place, a wet place and a dry place. You would need a knife and a spoon and a pot and a pan, a dish and a bowl. And a table, to work on, to clear and to sit around to eat at. Nothing in the room was designed or coordinated or needed updating, it was functional and familiar and just fine just the way it was.
They assumed that everyone contributed to the meal, whether it was stirring the pot or earning the money to pay for the groceries or running down to the store to pick something up or reaching up on a high shelf to get something down or setting the table or sweeping the floor. Something. No free lunches. That sitting down was part of the meal, as was a prayer. That there was always enough, and if someone should show up at meal time, then there was plenty.
Waste was a sin, and an unnecessary one.
Besides the elusive common Grandma, and benchmark for how much have we lost when, there are a few other unanswered questions/broad assumptions that need a little more attention:
1. How to define cooking…
When I asked my son about summer cooking he said we didn’t cook, we just ate.
Back to salads, sandwiches and smoothies…
But according to SOME measures, putting bottled dressing on salad mix is cooking. Not in my house.
I’m with Alton Brown on this: Food + Heat + Cooking
Are salad based cookbooks really cookbooks or does there need to be another name for that genre, this category of food prep? But I digress…imagine that.
Sometimes I buy things for a salad and then eat them one component at a time…those little new potatoes I boiled up for One Potato Salad? Just as good, one potato at a time, either hot or cold. Is that cooking?
But we ate nonetheless. At home.Mostly.
2.Is the microwave cooking? Is it different if I’m ‘nuking’ something frozen by a corporation versus something I cooked and froze myself? Is re-heating/re purposing cooking? Broad categories don’t always hold up to close questioning.
3. The 800 pound Gorilla in the room seems to be the rise of dining out, that eating OUT became incredibly popular and as a family activity. Once upon a time dining out was for grownups, children stayed home with the babysitter – or Grandma – but in the late 60’s and early 70s that world changed. Just last week my brother asked me if I remembered the FIRST time we went to McDonald’s.
Darn tooting I do.
We had to get plain hamburgers, my mother wasn’t paying extra for overpriced cheese, BUT she could take us all out for under $10 and the place was child appropriate. So we went. BTW, there were no Happy Meals when I was young, but I can assure you, we were plenty happy.
And do you remember their mottos?
Lets eat out! (1960–1965)
Look for the Golden Arches! (1960–1967)
Go for the Goodness at McDonald’s (1962–1969)
The closest thing to home (1966–1969)
McDonald’s is your kind of place (1967 – January 22, 1971)
You deserve a break today (January 23, 1971 – April 23, 1975) (click the link, you know you want to sing along)
The sad old, and frankly, I just don’t buy it meme, that Cooked brings up is that more women in the workplace led to more people dining out, but I think he doesn’t look far enough back to see women entering the workplace in record numbers. Like the Mill Girls era back in the 1840’s. Or the Rosie the Riveter’s in the 1940’s . Woman just didn’t count in the workplace until the 1970’s. What was different in the 1960’s and ’70’s was
the advertising :
- that you work hard for your money and
- you deserve a break;
- that you just don’t have time;
- let us do the hard work for you,
- and that cooking is hard work and
- we’re the professionals, so let us do it for you.
- Overlapping, self serving advertising messages. In a time when more people see/hear more advertising then ever.
Which leaves us with..
4. Meals that people are left to prepare – since they don’t have time for the daily – are for the holidays and special occasions, which are already FRAUGHT and frightening, because they are occasional and special. Which therefore proves that cooking is hard and not something you would want to do everyday.
and so the cycle continues.