"There are now millions of people who spend more time watching food being cooked on television than they spend actually cooking it themselves."
I've just started reading Cooked, Mike Pollan's new book, and the above quote, sitting right there on page 3, jumped up and slapped me in the face.
If there are so many cooking shows on TV, so many cookbooks and cooking articles offered up by our media, and soooooo many food blogs and food websites out there, how can it be remotely possible that people now cook less than ever?
And yet it's true. Pollan cites survey data indicating that American households spend, on average, just 27 minutes a day cooking, less than half what we spent in the 1960s. Worse, today, many households define "cooking" in a way that's generous to the point of utter meaninglessness. I'm sorry, but making a sandwich or microwaving a bowl of canned soup ain't cooking. It's just... not.
As a culture, we're replacing actual cooking with vicarious cooking. But why?
One theory: watching someone else cook is a lot easier than actually cooking. Better still, watching gives you a vague feeling of participation that suffices for the real activity. You don't even need to get up off your couch.
Not to mention, there's only a fixed amount of time in a day, right? So if you squander an hour in front of the tube (even if it's watching Guy Fieri make obtuse comments about somebody's chicken wings) that's an hour stolen from your day that you could have spent... cooking.
Hmm. It's getting kind of late and I'm hungry. Guess I better order takeout.
Yet all the benefits of cooking (learning kitchen skills, being closer to your food, understanding the nuances of a good diet, saving lots of money, and so on), only come your way if you actually practice cooking. It's a skill. It's no different from learning a new video game, learning the various features of your latest iThing, learning the plot arc of your latest TV show, or any of a number of other activities we (passively) spend our time on. If that's how you define learning.
Ironically, cooking--at least the way I teach it here at CK--is quite a bit easier* than these other activities. Either way, however, it's clear that these passive, consumption-based activities are increasingly crowding out more valuable, productive practices that we could learn with this time.
Yes, clearly, not everyone has time or resources to cook every night, and yes, cooking does involve a bit of a learning curve (although it's not that steep a learning curve--for example, I pride myself that most of the recipes featured here at CK can be made with minimal cooking skills, in under 30 minutes, and for a mere $1-2 per serving).
But the real conclusion here is how easy it is to confuse watching something with actually doing something. And that holds true for much more than just cooking. We've got to stop watching other people do things and start doing things ourselves.
Readers, what's your view? Why do you think people are cooking less than ever?
* This could well be a function of my general incompetence at both technology and video games. Your mileage may vary.
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