A few weeks ago Michael Pollan wrote for The New York Times Magazine this amazing story examining cooking in America – or more accurately the lack of cooking in America. The story was timed to the release of the movie “Julie and Julia.” It was a super long story and covered a lot of ground.
The part that caught my eye was his examination of why many parents are not cooking for their families anymore, how this trend developed in America and how it is affecting our children.
He points out in one part of the story that women used to view cooking as a moral imperative on par with childcare. That not cooking for your family was a dereliction of duty.
If you have the time, Pollan’s entire article is well worth reading but for our discussion here are a few of the more salient points:
“Yes, women with jobs outside the home spend less time cooking – but so do women without jobs. The amount of time spent on food preparation in America has fallen at the same precipitous rate among women who don’t work outside the home as it has among women who do: in both cases, a decline of about 40 percent since 1965.”
Pollan quotes from Laura Shapiro’s Book “Something from the oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America” which said that the food industry tried to “persuade millions of Americans to develop a lasting taste for meals that were a lot like field rations.”
“After World War II, the food industry labored mightily to sell American women on all the processed-food wonders it had invented to feed the troops: canned meals, freeze-dried foods, dehydrated potatoes, powdered orange juice and coffee, instant everything.”
Shapiro makes the point in her book that the shift toward industrial cookery was NOT in response to the demands of newly working women entering the work force BUT as a supply-driven phenomenon from these food companies!
Pollan goes on to say that it took years of clever, continuous marketing to break down that resistance.
Toward the end of the article, Pollan examines how our not cooking is adversely affecting our families.
“As 2003 study by a group of Harvard economists led by David Cutler found that the rise of food preparation outside the home could explain most of the increase in obesity in America.”
Simply what the study found was that foods that were difficult or time consuming to make were often ones that are bad for us – such as the French fry or the donut. It’s a big pain to fry donuts or French fries at home. So foods that used to be cooked and served occasionally became everyday foods when you could buy them mass produced and not have to cook them for yourself.
Cutler found that obesity rates are inversely correlated to the amount of time spent preparing food.
The last quote in the story says basically if you want to lose weight, only eat the food you actually cook yourself. (I’m not sure I completely agree with this point. I bake a lot of homemade cakes and cookies and they aren’t making me any thinner.)
There’s a lot to chew on in this article. (HeHeHe. Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) So what do you think:
Do you cook for your family? If so, how often? How much from scratch and how much is it “assembling,” or putting together pre-prepped foods? If you were not working outside the home would it change the amount you are cooking?
Do you buy this argument that it’s a massive marketing campaign over a period of years that convinced American families to turn to more processed foods or do you believe the change is based on ease and time savings that working families needed? Is it supplier driven or consumer driven?
Is there a “moral imperative” to cook? Do you buy Pollan’s assertion that if you cooked for your family they would be healthier – the rule if you can make it from scratch you can eat it?