Cooking culture?

I just read Amanda Marcotte’s Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner, which evidently courted controversy by suggesting that the benefits of home-cooking (healthier, cheaper) aren’t worth the stress. She based her column on a survey of 150 mothers and an in-depth study of 12 families.

Having read the abstract of and feature about the study – both found here – I think the controversy resulted from Marcotte’s interpretation of the data. She seemed to make a bigger case for women being influenced by “foodie” culture than the study itself did.

Also she writes “Low-income women often don’t have the money for fresh produce and, in many cases, can’t afford to pay for even a basic kitchen setup.” (Emphasis mine.)  In the study itself, transportation was a factor more than having a decent kitchen. I can attest to buying food at a more-expensive grocery store next to my apartment building because the cheaper chain-store grocery was miles down the road. (As a bonus, I learned to cook strange “ethnic” food like perogis and polenta – not in the same dish, of course!)

I like the study’s commentary: “Cooking is at times joyful, but it is also filled with time pressures, tradeoffs designed to save money, and the burden of pleasing others.” That describes my culinary practices – even when I’m cooking for myself. For example, I can’t have fish for lunch – except tuna – because my co-workers complain. (I especially hate  one fellow asking, “What are you eating?”  I wanted to answer, “Food, you idiot.”)

I felt sorry for women whose children and/or boyfriends dictated what they cooked. My mother told us when we were young, “I’m not a short-order cook.” She cooked one supper for all, unless we had an involuntary reaction, like my youngest brother gagging on chicken liver and gizzards even if it were hidden in rice.

Although cooking shows were mentioned, I was surprised that neither the study nor Marcotte’s op ed mentioned something I thought would have more effect the women’s feelings about cooking: the healthy-eating programs pushed by government entities. This fall has been rather quiet, but the last two school years have featured changes in cafeteria menus and more outreach to parents about preparing snacks at home.