Cooking has apparently become mostly a spectator sport. There are more than 25 well known celebrity chefs cooking on TV today, yet fewer people are actually cooking than ever before. Apparently only 27% of Americans cook on a daily basis*(2). It’s not that they don’t want to, though. When surveyed, a full ninety eight percent of Americans say they prefer to prepare a meal at home*. Then why aren’t they doing it?
Why Not to Cook
The reasons not to cook are hard to ignore. Even though I am a daily cook, I certainly feel the pain. It takes time to shop, prep, cook and clean. It requires forethought, preparation, equipment, skill/experience and patience.
Another drawback to cooking is that it isn’t always the optimal economic decision. If my goal is calories per dollar, I could certainly do better buying a burger, pizza, submarine sandwich or bucket of fried chicken from the large chains who get wholesale pricing on already cheap ingredients and benefit from automation and low-cost labor.
One last drawback to cooking that I don’t want to dismiss applies specifically to women. It is the modern public perception that an empowered woman is free from the ball and chain that is the kitchen.
Despite these reasons not to cook, I still do it nearly every day for every meal. Here is my attempt to explain why it’s worth carving out time every day to cook.
Cooking is healthier. The nutritional difference between supermarket and restaurant prepared foods versus home cooked foods is far bigger than almost everyone realizes.
Food labels are egregiously misleading and often outright fraudulent. Restaurants don’t have to list ingredients in their food and they take advantage of this.
The quality of ingredients in restaurant and packaged foods is also far inferior to what I use when I cook at home. Only by cooking can I know and control what I’m eating and avoid the post-restaurant belly bloat and eventual weight gain that I usually experience after extended trips where I eat out often.
Cooking gives freedom, choice and society-shifting action. I want Pho, but without the MSG and with broth from pastured beef. I want granola that doesn’t skimp on the cashews and which uses the fats and sweeteners that I like. I want French fries made the old fashioned way – in beef tallow or duck fat. And I want real German style sourdough rye bread. Good luck buying any of this anywhere in the US. Only cooking gives me the freedom and control to make and eat exactly what I want.
If enough people boycott the fake, cheap impersonations of these foods, I believe it will send a message to the food producers that, like Europeans, food quality trumps price and convenience. Maybe new producers will enter the market and start offering these higher quality dishes made the traditional way.
Cooking is exercise for the mind and body. It takes my mind off the stresses in my life.
Cooking is a natural anti-depressant. We are facing a depression epidemic in our country and I believe that a part of the reason is that we’re not making or fixing or tending things anymore and we’re missing out on the unexpected satisfaction that these jobs give.
If you want to cook more but suffer from the challenges listed above, then I suggest an experiment. Carve out just 30 minutes and use the time to make a meal plan for one week. Plan the entire week, including all needed groceries and scheduling of tasks, all at once. And then just give it a go.
The great thing about cooking is that, unlike other crafts or trades, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment or advanced training to get started. You should, however, plan to ruin some ingredients. You’ll also get a few cuts and burns. You’ll cry from onion fumes or maybe worse – rub your eyes after slicing hot peppers. These are the experiences that make the best stories and memories. And they’re the best way to learn.
So be brave. Lower your expectations. Embrace the mistakes and imperfections. Just do it!
- a 2016 study by ReportLinker found that cooking at home is the preferred way to prepare a meal for 98% of Americans, https://www.reportlinker.com/insight/americans-cooking-habits.html
- *2 – according to a survey by Artisola earlier this year, http://www.supermarketguru.com/the-lempert-report/who-is-cooking-at-home.html
[This is an excerpt from the “Why cook?” article that is coming out in the fall edition of the Wise Traditions journal.]