Where did the notion start that we don’t have time to cook at home anymore?

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This article has tried to deliver an ‘easy read’ from the 21 reference books listed below. They make for some interesting reading. Hopefully I’ve (both) done the books justice and achieved something readable. I also hope it inspires you to cook more at home!

I’ve been trying to define that single moment or catalyst that decided ‘time is not our friend’, when it comes to home cooking. Our busy lifestyles have necessitated that we buy ready meals; dine in at restaurants or buy take out. Or has it?

Is that really the reason? I personally don’t believe this, and my research suggests home cooking is either static or improving. That’s a good thing. Covid 19 will help the cause of home cooking no end. It’s probably the only benefit, as social media has shown, the growth of home scratch cooking took off during lockdown and supermarkets have testified to the increased purchases of basic ingredients like flour, tinned tomato, butter, spices etc. People have been proud to reveal meals cooked whilst on lockdown. Long may the cooking revolution created by the terrible pandemic continue. And I’m not referring to ‘food assembly’ – adding dressing to a packet salad, I’m talking about scratch cooking at home.

It’s not my intention to shame or embarrass people who are not scratch cooking at home, but rather to highlight issues – in the hope of finding solutions to get you home cooking again. I have manufactured food for supermarkets for years, it was profitable, but at the expense of health. My only concern is that you learn one truth – home cooked food is much much healthier, for both mind and body, and family, especially if you follow a few simple rules! Good oils; reduced sugars and fats, fresh ingredients, a balanced diet, reduced salt and a relaxed environment. If you have a positive taste or smell memory from your youth… you probably had a great childhood. If cooking stresses you out – honestly, you’re doing something unnecessary and wrong!

So did we start cooking less at home when:

- Social media told us we were far to busy to cook. I find it amazing how many articles are produced by the mainstream modern media, stating we don’t have time to cook, or more subtly, for the (insert gender) on the go, – 5 quick recipes for (lousy) fast food! The 5 minute meal bollocks. Seriously how did this become a thing? Why is it necessary to ALWAYS try speed up our cooking process or ALWAYS find the quickest way to make some food item.

OR was it

- when both partners in a relationship went to work instead of a one ‘stay at home’ partner; OR

- Is it a sexist or cultural thing; OR

- When wages and salary fell below inflation for most of the labour force. So in order to make ends meet, people worked longer, more erratic hours and the loser was the home cooked meal. OR

- television stopped us sitting around the family dinner table any more; OR

- With the advent of the internet and social media. We don’t have time to surf the net AND cook.

Statista states (2020) we spend 143 minutes a day on mobile phones and 38 minutes on desk tops! A Day !! It’s UP year on year!

That would suggest a full 3–4 hours on average on social media … that’s a lot of ‘surfing’ time.

Personally I think it’s a combination of all of the above. But mainly social media and mainstream media telling us we are ‘Time poor’. Honestly I’m not sure it’s necessary or worthwhile to forego a home cooked meal for any of those points. But I’m certain very few of us are so busy, we can’t home cook a meal. Health and family time are just too valuable to forego. I’m reminded of our forefathers beating carpets and cleaning without vacuum cleaners; or dishwashers; or having to rely on coal or wood stoves; no added value foods or supermarkets, bringing up large families etc. Yet they found time to prepare meals. Don’t believe the myth.

I also think cooking programs on television and social media have something to do with it. Like porno – we watch porn stars humping for 40 minutes non stop and think ‘that’s normal’ – so unless we can achieve that, we are lousy in the sack and feel inadequate. What rubbish is that. We forget love, intimacy and all the good things, instead opting to become ‘humping machines’ taking tablets and finding aids to prolong rather than improve connectivity or enjoy our intimate moments. It becomes a competitive pressure rather than enjoyable. So stupid! And just as media drive the notion we are too time poor to cook, so they drive this need to shag for hours on end! Why, because it sells product.

Go rummage on the editing room floor and check out the hours of bloopers and the stop start moments of both porn and cooking shows. What you actually finally get to see is an edited version spliced together to give a perfect impression! It’s not reality folks!!

Food and cooking channels have morphed into porn equivalents – you only see the good bits. Experienced professional chefs whipping up a perfect meal that says – it’s easy, I did this in 15 minutes. The reality is nothing like that. Isn’t it crazy that we want to go longer in the bedroom and shorter in the kitchen! Haha! “Hoomans”, you just can’t fathom them out.

What cooking shows don’t teach or show you is process. The “how to” rather than the finished article. All you see is 10 little dishes of perfectly prepared ingredients, which get hastily thrown into a pot or pan on the way to producing a meal. But the ‘How’ is boring tv – that’s why they edit it out – but it’s the VITAL bit in learning how to cook. And accordingly, home cooks are deskilling in this area. Learning how to chop vegetables or debone protein is a necessary part of the process and a critical portion of the real skill, timing. Knowing how to pull a meal together, whilst using the kitchen time productively, multitasking – doing more than one thing simultaneously, this skill is lost in those edited cooking shows. That only comes with knowledge and experience. But it’s what makes cooking productive and enjoyable.

In good kitchens, a trainee chef spends weeks washing, cleaning peeling, chopping and pin boning before he starts actually cooking. And it’s for a reason – to learn three things: attention to detail, speed and timing. You watch a tv show on how to ‘produce’ a perfect “chicken a la king” and you expect to achieve the same result in the same 15 minutes that the professional did. Impossible. He does it in 15 minutes because he’s trained for 10 years to achieve that speed and ability, and the grunt work is off camera. Just like a footballer or rally driver. Do you honestly think you could just climb in a rally car and do the Paris Dakar rally? Of course not! Stop beating yourself up.

Plus chefs make the same dishes over and over. I’ve said this before. You cook chicken a la king or bolognaise or lasagne a few times a year. That chef makes it a few times a day! And furthermore, his tv show is 8 hours of filming edited down to 15 minutes of show! Its the same on social media cooking shows. It’s not reality.

So home cooks need to relax, learn simple stuff like carrots take longer to cook than peas. While sautéing the onions, prepare something else, don’t stand watching onions cook – it’s like watching paint dry. Grate tomorrow’s cheese or chop onions for tomorrow, while cooking today’s chicken.

PRODUCTIVITY!! It’s key. Always plan ahead and prepare for tomorrow. If you plan tomorrow’s food and prepare it today, you’re getting ahead of the curve and getting organised. That organisation buys you time. Make in bulk and freeze! This is vital. See the kitchen hour as “my time to relax”, a therapy, unwind, chop the hell out of the carrot as if it’s the guy who cut you off in traffic … not as a slog. And yes, some people hate cooking. My wife is one of those … she’d rather extract her own hemorrhoids with rusty pliers than cook. And that’s fine too. I love cooking. So she chats to me while I cook, or irons or does something around me. Cooking is great family bonding time. No self respecting child doesn’t want to mess with food … so let them join in. It’s cheaper than play dough. Just don’t make it mandatory or authoritarian and you’ve got helpers. 76% of female parents want to cook more, but equally feel overwhelmed they’re not spending time with children – so, combine the two. Have a good food fight with your kids now and again, with the peelings and scraps, yes the politically correct will tell you off, … it’s a bit wasteful, but food needs to be fun too. Let them squish a tin of tomatoes through their fingers for your meat sauce, or knead the dough for bread. Rub the offcuts of a tomato top in your child’s hair … it’s a natural vitamin, so can’t hurt, but creates a memory and a bit of amusement. Expect retaliation though! And don’t get anal about cleanliness either – it’s a little natural dirt that helps build up the immune system. So what if the kids hands aren’t “surgeon” clean. You’re cooking it anyway.

The cooking part of cooking – i.e. the putting ON the heat and sizzling something is 20% of the process. 80% is preparation and experience and that comes with repetition. If you want to be a good home cook learn 10 dinner dishes and make them repeatedly. Your family won’t mind. You’ll get faster, the flavour and quality will improve and you can grow your base (add 10 more) once you’ve mastered the first 10 dishes. No family will complain if you make lasagne once every ten days – if it tastes great.

But here’s the million dollar question – how much time in the kitchen is too much, if it increases your longevity, improves your families health. What price won’t you pay for health! Yes, I thought so.

My view is twofold –

  1. We don’t have the skills to cook ergonomically or efficiently any more – we waste too much time and ingredients. This is directly linked to a lack of skill. We need to get this skill back urgently. Our forefathers wasted nothing. Every off-cut had a use. You cook a few dishes well and those skills will return. Start thinking about what you’re doing – what can I do with the carrot peelings, don’t just dump them in the bin. Make veg stock or carrot soup. If it’s not enough – freeze it till you’ve got enough … and so on. The more you put INTO cooking, I promise you, the more you’ll get out;
  2. We want to be perfect cooks from the get go … this is improbable. Perfection takes time and a repetitive process.

I hope I’ve made my point by now. One modern trend that is inspiring, is that men are far more comfortable in the kitchen than 2 decades ago. Furthermore – an interesting fact between men and women – uneducated women are much more likely to spend more time in the kitchen than educated women, is that a “I’ve escaped the apron strings, I’m not going back’ thing. Yet it’s the total reverse for men. Educated men have increased time spent in the kitchen from 37.9% in 2003 to 51.9% in 2016 are far more likely to cook than blue collar or uneducated men – (nutritional journal – bmc). Non Hispanic black men have spend the lowest percentage of time in the kitchens. In all ethnicities the percentage of males in the kitchen has grown. Except non Hispanic black men. Yet so many black men are great line cooks and chefs. Go figure!

Please, cook more. Practise makes perfect. I want you to live longer and stop putting money in the pockets of restaurant chains. Financial savings on home cooked meals is significant. Research shows as much as 20%.

B

References below:

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Lichtenstein AH, Ludwig DS. Bring back home economics education. JAMA. 2010;303:

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Lam MCL, Adams J. Association between home food preparation skills and behaviour, and consumption of ultra-processed foods: cross-sectional analysis of the UK National Diet and nutrition survey (2008 – 2009). Int J Behav Nutr Phy. 2017;14:68.

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Caraher M, Dixon P, Lang T, Carr-Hill R. Access to healthy foods: part I. Barriers to accessing healthy foods: differentials by gender, social class, income and mode of transport. Health Educ J. 1998;57:191 – 201.

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Winkler E, Turrell G. Confidence to cook vegetables and the buying habits of Australian households. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:S52 – 61.

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Lane SR, Fisher SM. The influence of celebrity chefs on a student population. Brit Food J. 2015;117:614 – 28.

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Hearn G, Collie N, Lyle P, Choi JH-J, Foth M. Using communicative ecology theory to scope the emerging role of social media in the evolution of urban food systems. Futures. 2014;62:202 – 12.

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Smith LP, Ng SW, Popkin BM. Resistant to the recession: US adults maintain cooking and away-from-home eating patterns during times of economic turbulence. Am J Public Health. 2014;104:840 – 6.

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Sealy YM. Parents’ food choices: obesity among minority parents and children. J Commun Health Nurs. 2010;27:1 – 11.

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