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Yes, let’s eat in, but there’s a better way

August 6th, 2008 · 8 Comments · Eating out, Food in the news, Food preparation

Good news! More people are eating home-cooked meals. Bad news! It isn’t what I’d call cooking. Good news! It’s a start, and it could maybe get people thinking about real cooking again. At least I hope so.

The food-spending update

Several reports from the last few weeks suggest more people are eating at home, largely due to budgets pinched by rising prices for food, fuel and everything else:

  • The restaurant industry reported sales down in June. CNN presented a related report. (The Sacramento Bee , though, suggested that people were merely trading down to cheaper restaurants. Oy.)
  • The New York Times, meanwhile, reported on sales being up at Kraft as a result of pinched wallets.
  • Farmers markets are booming, although I haven’t been able to find a link just yet. (Feel free to suggest one!)

The eating opportunity

As previously noted, there’s some evidence that serving processed food at home (hello, Kraft) isn’t really a time saver, despite apparent attitudes to the contrary, and that eating whole foods is healthier for you. I think this trend away from restaurants creates an opening for home-cooking advocates like me.

From time to time I think about creating a website or writing a book to teach noncooks how to cook. I’d like to see common perceptions of cooking move from its being either a chore or entertainment conducted by chefs and TV personalities. I’d love to do something to make cooking accessible. I realize there are folks who might let themselves starve before they’d cook their own food, and they’re probably a lost cause. But there are lots of other people who might cook if they had a clue. What do you think?

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • Meryl

    For the farmer’s market link, just check out localharvest.org. Don’t know if it shows they’re booming, but it certainly shows there are a lot of them!

    As to the cooking thing…I think a lot of not cooking maybe relates to not planning. For example, I saw an article the other day on grocery shopping that told people to “make a list of all the meals they were going to make in the next week, check the pantry to see what necessary ingredients were already there, then put the rest of the necessary ingredients on the grocery list.”

    Are there people who don’t do that? I guess if you’re just good enough that you can remember what you have, or just invent meals while you’re standing in the produce aisle, maybe you wouldn’t need such a list, but, wow I couldn’t make it without one!

  • Joanne

    I almost never make a list. I never plan what I’m going to make for a week unless I have a lot of guests coming. I eat 3 meals a day at home most days, too. I have a well stocked pantry (probably overstocked) and I go to the farmer’s market 1 or 2 times a week. I go to a Whole Foods for essential fancy foods once every two weeks at the most. I go to the regular grocery store as rarely as I can get away with–once every two weeks or less. I’d rather go to my garden or a farm than our local Kroger’s!

  • Janet Majure

    Meryl, I’m sure you’re right about planning. There are LOTS of people who do exactly as you suggest—making up meals on the fly—and I’ve been among them. Thing is, I can do it because I know how to cook. I can say, “Oh, the Brussels sprouts look great! Maybe I’ll roast them and have them with a nice roast chicken.” But people who don’t know how to cook and don’t plan, either? I suspect it’s “meal kits.” Ugh. And, yes, Local Harvest is a great resource.

    And you, Joanne, also know what you’re doing, but you probably learned it growing up and perfected it in young adulthood. How do we reach the noncooks? Or are they perfectly happy not involving themselves in cooking?

  • Joanne

    You know, I have tried to engage noncooks. I have even done a workshop for undergrads to teach them (no kidding) to boil water and heat up sauce for their own spaghetti. It seems hard to even get a foothold! Frankly, our society doesn’t value cooking, or good food…and while I am so happy to try to help people along the way, they have to see the value in it for themselves before they’ll bother. A lot of the students I feed at our table have never encountered fresh local foods or some of the veggies, etc. I offer. It’s hard to even predict what they will be willing to eat.

    Oddly, my mother is often a listmaker and a devotee of pre-made food and mixes. (a product of the better living through chemistry home-ec. programs!) She had to concentrate on recipes and would get upset if we interrupted her while she was cooking. I learned my skills from friends and other reading and experiences away from home. I have two brothers and they are both good cooks…and at least one is doing without the mixes and precision! Sometimes our cooking choices are a reaction to upbringing as much as a result of it. (My mother’s canning experience begins and ends with strawberry jam, preferably freezer jam, for instance!)

  • Diane

    You do a great job of helping us see how to use fresh, local food and just what happens to be in the house. My mom taught me that you should not buy more food until what you had available was put to good use, and also to substitute when needed to avoid buying more ingredients. And, like you, she was a very good cook. That was a good lesson. Thank you, thank you!

  • Janet Majure

    I hate to say it, but I fear you’re right, Joanne. I just don’t understand how people can care so little about what they put in their mouths. No doubt they can’t figure out why I (wee) think it matters.

    You are kind, Diane, and I hope you’re right about my being helpful. Thank you,

  • Joanne

    One last thing, and then I’ll stop! I sometimes think people don’t know what good homemade local food tastes like or is supposed to taste like. I mean, if you think all tomatoes taste grainy, watery and yucky from the grocery store, are you even motivated to taste a good one? Also, just like anything else, you have to be taught to appreciate good food. My nephew (age 2) is fed all sorts of food, from butternut squash to sushi. He loves dried fruit and nuts and will go out of his way to ask for certain healthy foods. I’m sure he’ll grow up to have a good palate. (two Cornell hotel school grad parents can’t hurt) However, I encounter college students all the time who turn their nose up at whatever I offer in the way of fresh fruits and veggies. Their parents didn’t offer it to them, and they aren’t adventurous enough to try it as a 20 year old. That’s a big part of the problem. Homemade food is often high priced restaurant food in our country, and processed fast food filled with corn syrup? That’s cheap. Hmph.

  • Janet Majure

    Carry on, Joanne, carry on. I’m sure you’re right about many people not knowing what good food tastes like, local or otherwise. What a shame.