The idealized and white-washed past of home cooking
March 15, 2019 6:08 PM   Subscribe

Measuring Ourselves Against an Idealized Home-Cooking Past Is a Recipe for Frustration The idea that everything would be better if we just cooked three meals a day from scratch like we did in the mythical past ignores both current realities, and the realities of our not so distant past. A new book, Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It is out, and challenges some of the preconceptions around the idea that if we just cook all our meals, all our problems will evaporate.

The American drive toward individualism, toward treating every problem as a measure of personal effort rather than as part of a larger system, elides the root causes of structural issues. It turns everything into a moral issue, rather than a reason to agitate for change. The murkiness around where the food we eat comes from and how it’s raised and how much sugar is added to it is a more than worthy cause of anxiety, considering the outsize influence that the food industry has on both the American regulation apparatus and dietary guidelines. Concern over not having the money or resources to prepare a decent meal while working insane hours is more than justified. But whitewashing the messy reality of history isn’t the cure to that anxiety or concern—and neither is buying a Blue Apron subscription.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (280 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
 
I need to read this. I am going deeper into debt every day just trying to keep myself fed via Grubhub burritos and pizza because everything else seems beyond my intellectual ability and energy level. And I'm not like, stupid, I just can't manage it.
posted by bleep at 6:15 PM on March 15 [17 favorites]


Meal planning and cooking is just work. All the shortcuts that are offered still leave you with work--I'd say about an hour a day minimum for a homecooked meal each night, and that's with weekend planning, and cooking experience. Feeding a family (or even yourself) is such a burden, and when people tell you it's not--they're selling you something.
posted by mmmbacon at 6:18 PM on March 15 [76 favorites]


Until relatively recently in human history people didn’t even have more than one cooking surface or pot, and they mostly ate the same one-pot meal over and over.
posted by Peach at 6:27 PM on March 15 [29 favorites]


My SO works. I am retired. My job is to make a fine meal at least 4 or 5 days a week. It is work. And considering the fact that I have various injuries and a bad back, it is not an easy thing. Yet I do it. Because it is deserved. Very much so.

I guess I should RTFA now.
posted by Splunge at 6:28 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


The malcontent and anxiety driven by an endless striving toward a romanticized past that never existed is, in many ways, the defining emotion of our time.

I find it helps to talk these things over with my mom, who has little nostalgia for her youth or the time her mom or grandma lived in.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:37 PM on March 15 [20 favorites]


Interesting.

I read somewhere recently, perhaps here, about the decline of boarding houses for single people, in which meals were included as part of the deal.

How about centralized, communal kitchens, or the cafeteria at the hospital or the meal service at the college dorm? Those of us who are making it work with takeout and whatever are already comfortable with going outside of our own kitchens.
posted by notyou at 6:46 PM on March 15 [25 favorites]


This is a really good read, ta.
I think that the push for everyone to dedicate so much time to cooking is a very widespread and rarely-discussed aspect of how the labor required to reproduce the workforce is managed socially, and obviously it's something that's very gendered in whose shoulders bear that burden.

It seems wretchedly inefficient that everyone be expected to be trained in this skill - and it is a skill that requires a great deal of knowledge, and also be expected to have personal equipment.

I've gotten into arguments in the past when I've said, I don't want to take away from people for whom cooking is something they enjoy, and I am one of those people, but in many ways I think it should be more relegated to hobby status.

Food production is vastly more efficient at scale, and I believe that if we removed the profit motive, then the majority of people would have little problem with obtaining their food from some sort of centre that aimed to produce healthy food more communally.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:47 PM on March 15 [40 favorites]


I live rurally. We buy local eggs, vegetables, fruit, cheese. What foods we can’t buy locally we buy domestically.

Where can we buy the time required to prepare and cook it every day?
posted by Construction Concern at 6:56 PM on March 15 [24 favorites]


I wrote a paper on working class food in London in c1900 - still one of my favourites.

They lived on tea, bread and margarine. Sometimes on a Sunday, they might have a roast. But then it would be bread and drippings, bread and margarine for the rest of the week.
posted by jb at 7:02 PM on March 15 [38 favorites]


Oh wait is that an option???
posted by bleep at 7:03 PM on March 15 [8 favorites]


Until relatively recently in human history people didn’t even have more than one cooking surface or pot, and they mostly ate the same one-pot meal over and over.

The counteracting force to pernicious foodism is something like the Instant Pot, which does both slow cooking (which doesn't need constant attention) and pressure cooking (which saves time).
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:05 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


bleep: I wouldn't recommend it. Between the poor diet and the constant smog, all the kids had rickets.

also, that bread wasn't exactly all-natural (MMM tasty chalk to whiten it up!)
posted by jb at 7:07 PM on March 15 [13 favorites]


If anyone is actually saying that cooking from scratch at home, 21 meals a week times N family members is easy, or ever was easy, can we just agree to ignore them? Yes, home cooked food is mostly better for you than eating out. But no one, outside maybe food network stars, is saying it’s easy or fast. Or at least, no one worth listening to is. I’ve gotten to the point where I cook almost all my meals now. You know how I do it? I make a giant batch of oatmeal for the week, and I make a giant batch of something for lunch. I eat the same lunch for 5-6 days. And that’s it. No dinners. And it STILL takes me 2-4 hours of meal prep on Sunday, never mind grocery shopping. I could not do that if I had to work weekends. I’m extremely privileged to be able to cook my own food, and that I don’t have family members complaining that they don’t want oatmeal for the 437th day in a row. I would never, EVER wonder why working families don’t cook more.
I hate cooking, btw.

I wish the blame for obesity, etc. was put squarely on the shoulders of the companies sneaking sugar into everything and selling us crap disguised as food, instead of on working parents trying to make do with what little time, energy, and money they have.

Also, I’m annoyed as hell at the “eat the rainbow”, “you’re not getting enough variety in your diets” health advice. I don’t have any real knowledge here, but I’m pretty sure most other animals on this planet eat a few select things, if not one thing, meal after meal. Why is it that we evolved to need a hundred different vitamins and minerals?
posted by greermahoney at 7:22 PM on March 15 [30 favorites]


The Vox interview with the authors is quite good: "It’s not that foodie doctrine is wrong, exactly — home-cooked meals are great, we should eat more vegetables, it is nice when families eat together — but rather that the prescriptions of (mostly white, mostly male) public food intellectuals stop making sense when confronted with real life."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:39 PM on March 15 [36 favorites]


Food isn't magic. Well, it can be. But it isn't the Answer. Except for some people. For instance, we have had spaghetti with meat sauce once a week for the last, oh, 44 years in my household because that's what we had once a week when we were first going out, and because now my spouse sees having spaghetti dinner as somehow representing love. Luckily for me, most of the time, my spouse cooks it. Tonight we had it even though our kid and our kid's partner couldn't make it and we could have gone out to eat. I am resigned.
posted by Peach at 7:41 PM on March 15 [7 favorites]


The evolutionary answer is, with the usual caveats about theories about evolutionary history, that we evolved to need to eat a widely varied diet because we could eat a widely varied diet. That is, we got so smart and so good at finding something to eat no matter where we looked that we were, as a species, able to get all of our necessary vitamins and nutrients from our food, and since the cellular machinery to synthesize your vitamins was energy-expensive and sitting unused a lot of the time, evolution tossed it out the window. Now we'd darn well better find our vitamins in our food because we can't make them on our own, unlike most other animals.

Evolution is an idiot. And kind of an asshole.
posted by Scattercat at 7:51 PM on March 15 [49 favorites]


Metafilter: Evolution is an idiot. And kind of an asshole.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:52 PM on March 15 [16 favorites]


If anyone is actually saying that cooking from scratch at home, 21 meals a week times N family members is easy, or ever was easy, can we just agree to ignore them?
I don't think they say it's easy, but they say you would be able to do it if you weren't such a lazy slob. They point out that people watch TV, and if they weren't sitting on their fat asses in front of the TV, they would have time to cook dinner. This is a thing. It used to be a thing on Metafilter, although I've been seeing less of it recently.

And the thing is, the problem is not cooking. The problem is fitting cooking into the rest of your life. And a lot of food moralists think a lot about cooking and not a lot about the rest of people's lives, which seems to be the point of this book.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:59 PM on March 15 [36 favorites]


that we evolved to need to eat a widely varied diet because we could eat a widely varied diet.

I 100% knew that was going to be the answer. Sigh.
But I didn't know the bit about synthesizing vitamins and minerals. That seems like a useful card we shouldn't have trashed.
posted by greermahoney at 7:59 PM on March 15 [7 favorites]


I’ve gotten to the point where I cook almost all my meals now. You know how I do it? I make a giant batch of oatmeal for the week, and I make a giant batch of something for lunch. I eat the same lunch for 5-6 days. And that’s it. No dinners. And it STILL takes me 2-4 hours of meal prep on Sunday, never mind grocery shopping.

I feel so much better after reading this! I spend so much time on the weekend prepping food for work and then somehow by Thursday I have to go to CVS and buy crackers because I ran out of prepared food. I thought I was just really bad/slow at food prep even though I cook all the time.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:24 PM on March 15 [14 favorites]


My wife and I both have a background in bar and restaurant. We both know our way around a kitchen. We are both retired and have time on our hands. We are not remotely foodies or gourmands. Beanery/diner is closer to the mark. We buy cheap house brand stuff from Walmart, largely staples rather than processed. We eat OK and share the load. We try to cater to each other's likes, dislikes and dietary restrictions. It's an "old people thing" that works for us. Not sure if any of this is germane to the problems expressed here, though...
posted by jim in austin at 8:25 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


"If anyone is actually saying that cooking from scratch at home, 21 meals a week times N family members is easy, or ever was easy, can we just agree to ignore them?"

They nag you about it now at the pediatrician's office, it's part of their spiel about raising healthy kids at age X for every well-child visit, along with questions put to the children about what they like to eat. As many of you know, I cook a LOT, because I grew up in a household where family meals were important, and because I work from home so I can take 20 minutes and throw together a soup midday, and because it's important to my spouse and kids. And I kind-of hate it! And I definitely burn out on it frequently. And I still get lectured at the pediatrician and scolded when I go to my doctor (well, he's not my doctor anymore), who condescendingly pointed out that I could lose weight if I just cooked at HOME. "Uh, I do, something like 19 out of 21 meals a week." "Well you need to cut out added sugar." "I don't add sugar to anything, and I'm careful to read labels so I don't buy surprise sugar where it shouldn't be." "Well then you need to stop eating processed white grains!" "I've never in my LIFE bought processed white grains, except for pasta once every other week or so, some pasta dishes won't work with whole grain pasta." "No desserts!" "No sweet tooth." "Well clearly you aren't eating leafy greens." "I eat six cups of greens literally every day for lunch." "There's sugar in the dressing." "I make the dressing." "WELL THEN I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU ABOUT WHY YOU'RE FAT!" And then he said, spitefully, "You probably already have diabetes," and ordered a fasting blood test and when it came back REALLY HEALTHY appended a nasty note to the test. (FIRED.)

Anyway, my least glorious parenting moment to date was when our new-to-us pediatrician was quizzing my kids about their favorite meals, to find out if they were eating healthy, and my then-7-year-old said, "Cassoulet!" and I was smug, and then she turned to my 5-year-old and he said, "COCKTAIL HOUR!"

(Which is when we go to grandma's for a holiday or birthday dinner and she puts out appetizer platters for everyone to nosh on while the adults have a drink before dinner! It's not as bad as he made it sound!)

But yeah, I generally prepare 14 meals a week from scratch (my husband deals with breakfasts because I am not a person before 8 a.m.) for five people and it is SO MUCH WORK and it takes SO MUCH TIME and SO MUCH BRAIN SPACE. And I have to grocery shop at least three times a week to do it, on top of getting a farm box, and I have grown to hate my kitchen and desire nothing so much as to not have to fuckin' cook 14 meals a week. Although a close second would be not having to think of seven dinners a week but whenever I ask my husband to help me plan the menu for the week he shrugs and says, "Whatever you feel like," because he does not understand the coming-up-with-ideas part is work too!

In summary, I cook a lot, in the idealized fashion presented by Food Thinkers like Michael Pollan, and I hate it and it is definitely one of my top-3 stressors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:36 PM on March 15 [136 favorites]


I think that cooking elaborate meals has become the only culturally acceptable way to eat healthy. Like, every meal has to be a whole thing. Half my meals are just cut up apples, cold meat and cheese or vegetables dipped in yogurt or hummus. Most people have relegated those to snack status but I say they are meals if your portion is big enough. Lower your standards! It's tasty, convenient and cheap.
posted by fshgrl at 8:37 PM on March 15 [88 favorites]


In summary, I cook a lot, in the idealized fashion presented by Food Thinkers like Michael Pollan, and I hate it and it is definitely one of my top-3 stressors.

My grandma, cooking meals for 8 kids, her husband and farm hands had a vision of retirement where she would cook and eat only 2 meals a day. This was her fantasy, never realized, but I think it became less tempting once the household cleared out.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:43 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


Ok, I’ll be the condescending contrarian bad guy here who has of course not read the book, because the premise seems so ridiculous. We’re eating crap because we don’t have domestic servants anymore? I’m going to argue that the rise of (the need for, actually) two income households, a total lack or respect for workers’ rights and our general acceptance that to be successful you need to put in ten hour work days, traffic/commuting are all much bigger demographic shifts that have influenced our ability to have the freshly prepared family dinner.

There is no question that planning and preparing food is work. And certainly Grandma’s invisible labor in making that happen in 1952 wasn’t appreciated. But we are not helpless in this regard.

Over many years, it’s been a priority in my spouse and my life to prepare food and eat communally. And it’s taken a long time to get where we are because there are many pressures working against it, but we’ve made all the little choices along the way that have made it possible: walkable neighborhood, with a supermarket next door to work, job schedules that alternate so that one of us is guaranteed to be home early enough to deal with kids and get dinner going. You don’t have to buy all organic, free range everything to be healthy, nor do you have to avoid all packaged premade foods — our romanticized grandmothers didn’t.

It’s not 21 meals a week. Breakfast is cereal or peanut butter toast or whatever. Lunch is a freakin sandwich and a banana. Dinners we plan out on Sunday night and write the menu on a whiteboard and one of us runs to the store for the weeks ingredients. We generally stick to easy recipes (hello Budget Bytes!) and the slow cooker is our friend.

It does take a little planning and a little work and we’re not perfect (two doctors, plus I’m in school), we end up ordering in or going out once a week out of necessity or exhaustion, but I shudder to think of the extra money we’d spend, the health effects, and the carbon footprint if we didn’t put in the effort.

I get that everything else in society is telling us we don’t have time or energy for this, but I also firmly believe we should be demanding it.

Signed,
A guy who recently lost his job at least partially because it wasn’t ok it was cutting into family dinner time.

Oh, PS: my youngest kid tells me every night he won’t eat what we’ve made because it’s disgusting. You get used to it. It’s his choice if he wants to starve.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:45 PM on March 15 [40 favorites]


I've lived times where I've done scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, grilled or cold cheese for lunch, and meat plus veg side for dinner day after day after day after day. It's easy and simple, but it also requires dishes to be done (not everything can be dishwashered) and while it's delicious it can get a bit monotonous. It's also about as much time and energy my warehouse/blue collar lifestyle might afford toward trying to eat under my own power.
posted by hippybear at 8:46 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


It’s much easier to glorify a Brady Bunch lifestyle of dinner together every night than to acknowledge the systemic realities of exploited domestic labor that made it possible.

IOW, Alice doesn't live here anymore.
posted by drlith at 8:51 PM on March 15 [30 favorites]


I’m going to argue that the rise of (the need for, actually) two income households, a total lack or respect for workers’ rights and our general acceptance that to be successful you need to put in ten hour work days, traffic/commuting are all much bigger demographic shifts that have influenced our ability to have the freshly prepared family dinner.

But this is the argument the authors are making, also, I really do think it’s possible and worth it for people who choose to prepare food regularly. how much of a choice is it when one of the families the authors interview is homeless and living out of hotels without a stove? People don't choose to become homeless or dependent on food stamps or work so many shifts they can't cook.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:02 PM on March 15 [19 favorites]


I am in the process of diagnosis for celiac and am now on a gluten free diet (along with no lactose for now and vegetarian). Having until recently relied on being able to get a convenient healthy meal for lunch or if I work late, it's not great. I am privileged in not having to worry as much about costs, and in being a single person and being able to fully convert my kitchen. Additionally, I'm in a city with a fair number of options including prepared food delivery ($$$) if it comes to it. However, it's still a huge and mostly unavoidable time and money sink. The internet is full of blogs from people doing elaborate home cooking and baking and exploring myriad alternative sources of key nutrients, but I have a demanding job! Widely available gluten free products (bread, pasta, etc) are not as good for you as the gluten alternatives and are maligned. The message is essentially "well you should be cooking all your meals anyway" in order to be ideally virtuous and people don't really acknowledge how much of a burden that is.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:08 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Anyone fixated on recreating anything about 1950s America in our world today, is probably gonna have a bad time.

Basically everything about the 50s was a historical aberration, a result of the incredible "peace dividend" (aka the "other people getting fucked up dividend") that the US ended up with after WWII. Those single-earner families with homecooked meals on the table every night were not normal, and they shouldn't be considered "traditional" in any sense.

I think the 50s loom large because of the Baby Boom—it's the environment a very large generation of people grew up with, and have fond memories of, and those pleasant memories somehow got encoded into our culture as "traditional".

One of the things we lost that would be nice to have back were some of the inexpensive dining options aimed at people who didn't have cooking facilities or time to cook, that weren't either hideously expensive or terribly unhealthy. In the South, there used to be lots of "cafeterias", offering food that might be similar to what you'd cook at home, but... without cooking. (Which, okay, Southern cuisine isn't the epitome of healthfulness, but I suspect it's no worse than Aramark freezer-to-fryer crap.) And they all, at least the ones I'm familiar with that hung around long enough for people I know to go to them, also offered take-out. Generally paid by the pound, so you could scale the amount up or down based on the number of people you were feeding.

That strikes me as a pretty nice solution. It really doesn't make a ton of sense to have everyone cook at home. Cooking, like many other activities, benefits from economies of scale. It's always struck me as a bit weird that in our very industrialized world we're crazy about scaling most things up, but still think the optimal way to prepare food is for everyone to do it themselves. Even though it's wasteful (a commercial kitchen is much better about food use; their leftovers aren't going to be "leftovers", for starters, that's called "ingredients" for something else), and even though lots of people are, bluntly, fucking bad at cooking. Why are we making it this moral imperative that people who aren't interested in cooking, cook food? We don't moralize to people who don't make their own clothes, even though everyone needs clothes. No, you buy that stuff at the store, unless you're into making clothes. Food could be the same way, and it could be as healthy as whatever you would make at home, maybe more (a good cook can make stuff like greens taste a lot better than somebody who has no idea what they're doing).

It just seems like we were on our way to solving this in the 20s and 30s, and then after WWII everyone decided to play Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver and we forgot some of what we had previously figured out.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 PM on March 15 [70 favorites]




In the South, there used to be lots of "cafeterias"

Cafeterias doesn't deserve scare quotes. Cafeterias are a fine source of food. Better than fast food, but basically just as fast. And it wasn't just in south. I think it's a shame they've been receding. I ate at the Luby's in my hometown in southern New Mexico many times. Also, Golden Corral and the like are just flat-rate cafeterias, and they're everywhere.

Hell, when you think about it, a Subway restaurant is just a cafeteria limited to sandwich meats and vegetables.
posted by hippybear at 9:24 PM on March 15 [20 favorites]


I agree with a lot of the points here, especially about society blaming the individual, and I know it's a hundred times harder with kids, but as an older person who is the cook of my two-person household, I cook almost all our dinners, and we hardly ever eat out. I have lots of practice, I'll admit. I also have a pretty demanding job. Over the years, I learned a lot of shortcuts, and I learned to be handy with a knife. I go to one grocery store, and I know where everything is in that store, so I'm in and out quick (and pick up some local produce and meat once a week from a co-op). I cook enough for two days, so I have one day on, one day off cooking, usually. I have a list of 15 meals I can make in a hour or less on my phone, so I can come up with something easily if I haven't planned well enough. I keep a few things in the freezer as backup. I use canned beans most of the time. I'm getting into the Instant Pot.

This is one of the things, like handling your money, we should be teaching kids in grade school. But for goodness' sake, don't feel guilty if you can't do this. Like I said, I have lots of practice.
posted by merrill at 9:24 PM on March 15 [7 favorites]


No offense, slarty, but I think that a lot of your awesome, virtuous choices are facilitated by the fact that you are in a two-doctor family, and you have a lot of money and occupational privilege. Many, probably most, people aren't in a position to make the choices that you make. We have little control over our work schedules, and we can't choose jobs based on proximity to a grocery store. We probably can't afford to live in your neighborhood. You probably hire someone to perform a lot of the domestic labor that other people are doing for themselves. (Do you hire someone to clean your house? Do you think that you might have less time for meal prep on weekends if you were doing that labor yourself?) You probably have a nicer kitchen than many of us do, which makes it easier to cook. (Do you have a dishwasher? I don't, and washing all my dishes by hand adds a significant amount of time to meal prep.)

As the authors of this book point out, a lot of food "experts" are people like you: mostly men who are cut off by their class privilege from the realities that most families face. The virtue of this book is that they ignore the moralizing, ignorant voices of people like you and instead observe the actual lives of ordinary people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:35 PM on March 15 [43 favorites]


Cafeterias are a fine source of food.

I would love to eat at cafeterias! They’re cheap, I like communal eating, and I wouldn’t have to spend an hour cooking and cleaning.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:36 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


I also firmly believe we should be demanding it.

Ugh, demand something from someone else, please.

I have enough tedious chores in my life.
posted by praemunire at 9:36 PM on March 15 [13 favorites]


Meh. Nearly 100% of my meals are made by me; I very, very rarely purchase anything pre-made.  I don't consider myself special, nor do I say this to humble-brag.  Rather, I've made my peace with eating a limited repertoire—for the most part—of easily made foods I rather enjoy, and instead opt to make unusual/special dishes more rarely.

It's certainly not an approach that works for everyone, but if you're old enough to remember the time before infinite takeout options and endless pre-made food aisles, it's much the way we lived in the 70s and 80s.  Rotate through standard dishes, splurge on something more interesting once or twice a week.  The biggest difficulty for me was breaking the habit of something different every night for weeks on end.  

I don't particularly enjoy cooking, but I'm fairly good at it.  Quick stuff is my compromise.  It's a skill, much like any other, and it get s a lot easier to pull off once you build a stable of your own easily made variants.  I honestly think a lot of people's frustrations arise from getting too ambitious when cooking at home.  Skill level doesn't even really matter in this case.  Ambitious=time consuming as a general rule.  Keep it simple, keep it quick, and it's much less frustrating.

But of course, your mileage will vary.  Living on my own means I get to set my priorities without having to factor in other people, so I know that certainly helps.  I only have to please myself.  Getting a family on board with the same philosophy might be more challenging.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:36 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I once thought about writing a cook book for home cooks. I think a part of the reason cooking takes so long for so many is the way that cook books are written.

If I read the title to most recipes, I know how to cook that dish. I basically know a number of techniques and then apply as needed. Most people could be taught to cook this way. It saves me a ton of time, but it's still work. I usually either cook for the week beforehand, or cook simple meals throughout.

Really good observations in this thread. It is insane that really, there's no where to go to get prepared food that's healthy. Someone recently posted an AskMe about eating healthy while traveling, and my advice was to basically go the grocery store and buy fresh foods that were not prepared or processed. How can that be?
posted by xammerboy at 9:40 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Apologies, I wasn't putting scare quotes around 'cafeterias', it was meant to call out that word as having a meaning that some people may not have been familiar with. (My experience, growing up in the North, was that a "cafeteria" was by definition a private dining facility attached to some other institution, e.g. school or maybe an office building. The southern cafeteria is, at least in my experience, a different animal.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:02 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


I think people used to eat leftovers a lot more than they do now, at least I feel like when I read books set in the 70's or earlier, people ate leftovers a lot more than I hear about doing so today.

Anyway, my wife and I try to cook real dinners 4-5 times a week to eat together with our two young kids, and a big part of what makes that difficult is just deciding what to eat, without it devolving into "i dunno, whatever you want" which everyone hates. We came up with a really great solution, a google calendar that runs in perpetuity, with items repeating every second, third, fourth or sixth week, so the menu is different every week, but don't need to constantly come up with new stuff. We can update it to change sometand we never have to do take any action to update, I could look up what's for dinner on April 21, 2083 right now. We may not be around to cook it, but that's the official dinner.
posted by skewed at 10:02 PM on March 15 [20 favorites]


When I was single, I barely cooked and lived on rice plus a cheap (tuna, roast chicken) protein plus maybe a veg for most meals or ate out. When I was married, the spouse cared a lot about food so he dictated what we ate since he cooked. A kid came along and he had preferences I had to shop and prepare for.

And now I'm single again and the kid is gone part time, and I'm back to what I used to eat and... perfectly happy. I dislike cooking. And I can't eat out every meal, and a lot of restaurant food kinds sucks too. But it's fine. I like my simple easy meals. I will never learn to poach or make broth or have great knife skills. And it's fine.
posted by emjaybee at 10:03 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


I would love to eat at cafeterias! They’re cheap, I like communal eating, and I wouldn’t have to spend an hour cooking and cleaning.

Sleep-away camp in the 80's, I never understood why the adult staff LOVED the cafeteria ( mostly mid-20's, early-30's teachers taking a summer gig ), until I grew up and understood how much they LOVE showing up at mealtimes, eating, and dumping the dishes in a bus-tray. No menu planning. No shopping. No prep. No cooking. No cleanup.

Yeah, NOW I see the attraction.
posted by mikelieman at 10:15 PM on March 15 [24 favorites]


I read somewhere recently, perhaps here, about the decline of boarding houses for single people, in which meals were included as part of the deal.


Oh wow, yes...as a single guy, if I could rent a couple of rooms in a nice boarding house — with meals and cleaning included — a la Sherlock Holmes — that would be my ideal living arrangement.
posted by darkstar at 10:25 PM on March 15 [32 favorites]


THREE em dashes in one sentence? I’m outta control, y’all!
posted by darkstar at 10:34 PM on March 15 [27 favorites]


THREE em dashes in one sentence? I’m outta control, y’all!
posted by darkstar


Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis.
posted by hippybear at 10:39 PM on March 15 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure what level of fancy takes an hour a night to cook, but I rarely eat out (once a week at a meet-up, tops) and it takes me 15-20 min to make dinner most nights. Maybe a little longer if I'm making rice, but that doesn't require active effort. The longest it took recently was when I turned 3lbs of ground beef into kefte meatballs, but then I had the next several lunches and dinners "free" reheated in the microwave.

Granted, I take shortcuts like jarred curry simmer sauces, and I live alone so there's only my preferences to contend with. But it's still home cooking. And I've read enough historical novels to know that as a single woman, I'd hate to live in a gossipy, prying boarding house, even if communal meals were included. (The cleaning would be nice, though.)
posted by basalganglia at 10:40 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Granted, I take shortcuts like jarred curry simmer sauces
Ah, but those are the dreaded processed foods that make you a lazy, bad person. You are not shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. You are not limiting yourself to foods that your great-great-grandmother would have recognized. I bet you're not even vegan until 6:00 PM. Just because you think you're doing ok doesn't mean that the food moralist brigade would agree.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:46 PM on March 15 [35 favorites]


Yeah, I have to admit that communal living can definitely be hit or miss.
posted by darkstar at 10:46 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


What you really want is the old-school Oxbridge/Yale residential college/Harvard house setup: sitting room, bedroom, bathroom on an entryway (cleaned by someone else) and then eating in the dining hall. Having recently moved, I've been contemplating how tempting it would be to relapse into that way of life.
posted by praemunire at 10:49 PM on March 15 [14 favorites]


Where is this food moralist brigade and how does it make itself known? I'm living a life wherein it doesn't exist, apparently. Is there literal menu shaming going on out in some slice of society?
posted by hippybear at 10:49 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


"Where is this food moralist brigade and how does it make itself known? "

I mean if you have kids they literally lecture you about it at the pediatrician's office every year.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 PM on March 15 [27 favorites]


Michael Pollan is the grand-daddy of the food moralists. You can see his 7 rules for eating here. That sinful curry simmer sauce probably violates rule 1 (don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize), rule 2 (don't eat anything with more than five ingredients, which I think is actually don't eat any food product with more than five ingredients. You can use more than five ingredients in something that you cook yourself), rule 3 (only shop the perimeter of the supermarket), and rule 4 (don't eat anything that won't eventually rot). Former New York Times writer and best-selling author Mark Bittman is the one telling us all we should be vegan until 6 PM.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:58 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


What you really want is the old-school Oxbridge/Yale residential college/Harvard house setup: sitting room, bedroom, bathroom on an entryway (cleaned by someone else) and then eating in the dining hall.


Five years ago, when looking for a new place to live nearer work, I initially rented a room in a large house where a half-dozen others were doing the same. Meals and cleaning weren’t included; it was just a room rental. I was excited about the prospect of making new friends and reviving the old cameraderies such as I’d experienced in college dorms and renting with my pals in my 20s.

Within the first 48 hours I was there, I experienced fellow housemates stealing my food, having loud late-night partying on a weeknight including drunken guys snorting coke off of the bathroom counter at 2am, and filth/disarray in the common areas. I wasn’t even there long enough for my housemates to begin prying into my personal life, because on the third day, I broke the month-to-month lease, forfeited my deposit, and rented an actual apartment.

Now I’m living alone in a condo and appreciate the independence, but the Harvard resident house arrangement sounds like it hits the sweet spot between having enough space to have privacy, while still feeling connected to others. And then, more germane to this thread, eating in the dining hall would be perfect.
posted by darkstar at 11:01 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Huh. I mean, I've heard of these people and their ideas about food, but are people's lives being ruined if they don't follow them? Are they being shunned and their children not invited to the right sorts of parties and stuff because they don't follow them?

I mean if you have kids they literally lecture you about it at the pediatrician's office every year.

But, like, other than a yearly lecture...
posted by hippybear at 11:01 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Yup, moralizing about other people's food decisions is pretty low-hitting. But I don't get why the "home cooking" option is 1 hr, five course, restaurant quality instagrammable meals on fine bone China. I guess, classism.

But if you do prioritize or enjoy cooking (and not everyone does) can make a home cooked meal in less time that it takes to watch an episode of Arrested Development. Including, if you want, curry from scratch, which my mom did after work several nights a week, for a family of 5. Reheats terribly, though, so it's pretty inefficient for us solo travelers.
posted by basalganglia at 11:15 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


hippybear you are of the male persuasion yes? Think hard on why you aren't getting the judgement(tm) about everything you do foodwise.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:16 PM on March 15 [49 favorites]


re: cafeterias

My mom and I did some digging into the floor plans and history of my condo building when I bought it. It was an apartment building built in 1920. Some of the units are huge--2-3 bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a maid's room. Most are much smaller. One bedroom, with a bath and a living room. These smaller apartments did not have kitchens as we think of kitchens. No iceboxes, no stoves (apparently, before the 1930s, only 8% of American households had mechanical refrigerators. I've seen references to Chicago apartment buildings having ice boxes in the apartments, but they were not installed by residents, not landlords). We could not find out for sure if they had cook tops, but there were electric kettles in the world in 1920. So, presumably, you could make toast and coffee in the kitchen space, store things people used to keep on counters instead of fridges (like hard cheeses and the eggs you'd eat in a couple days), but not really cook.

(in fact, what's now the kitchen in my unit is mostly carved from the Murphy bed, which allowed my apartment to accommodate roommates)

The folks who lived in the apartments for single people just likely did not cook at home. There was a canteen in the lobby for dinner after work. I sort of loved that idea when I lived there, alone. I'd eat at the lunch counter at work. I'd stop at the farmers market across from my office on the way home--have fruit and cheese for dinner. Get a loaf of bread and soft-boil an egg on the weekend. I would have loved a canteen in the lobby, to get some simple hot dinner to take with me.

Not quite the same as boarding houses--I imagine the cost was not part of the rent--but a similar thing.

Anyway. The 1950's, of course, were quite different. And that 1950's nuclear family roast beast and potatoes served by mom in pearls fantasy is a very different thing than single ladies in apartments in the city or the comment above about eating bread and drippings all week.
posted by crush at 11:17 PM on March 15 [19 favorites]


don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize

My great grandmother fed her family with what she could afford which was almost entirely boiled potatoes and limp fish, if family lore is to be believed, with butter if they had the money. I've always loved this rule because it encapsulates (for me at least) the "oh, the good old days!" hazy history so beloved of anyone who never risked dying in childbirth or from easily preventable diseases. My great grandmother would have LOVED microwaves, frozen food, fast food and takeaway, and I suspect would have been happy to tell you (albeit in Dutch) to take your rose-coloured sanitisation of history and stuff it where the sun don't shine (aka Friesland).
posted by ninazer0 at 11:18 PM on March 15 [41 favorites]


"Are they being shunned and their children not invited to the right sorts of parties and stuff because they don't follow them? "

Um, YES. Your kid will absolutely get dropped from some playdates because you're giving them goldfish crackers instead of Annie's Organic cheddar bunnies. And this was not in Park Slope, this was in Peoria. People totally judge whether they think their kids can be friends with your kids based on what kinds of snacks you serve and what your kids eat at home. It's obviously a class marker, and it's a huge area for "mompetition." People talk about food at birthday parties and preschool pickup and what they think is appropriate and inappropriate to feed children, and there are a lot of parents out there with strong orthorexic attitudes towards their kids' diets, and they will tell you, right to your face, that you are poisoning your children by letting them eat whatever the thing is that they happen to disapprove of.

I understand that because you are not a middle-aged woman with children, it isn't something YOU'RE seeing, but it's absolutely the toxic sludge I swim in day in and day out, and I am well-aware that I am being judged as a human being and as a mother based on what I feed my family. They literally bring up what I send for lunch at parent-teacher conferences! We get lists of what constitutes appropriate snacks to bring to kiddie soccer. You are no longer allowed to have cookies or cupcakes at school birthdays because it encourages unhealthy eating. I've been asked what bakery I'm buying my kid's birthday cake from, so the parent can decide if their kid is allowed to come to the party or not based on whether the bakery is "wholesome" enough.

And I mean of COURSE I buy the damn organic cheddar bunnies before a playdate with a new kid, because I'm not going to risk having their mom say they can't come back because I gave them goldfish crackers with dirty, dirty GMO grain on the ingredient list.

And then I eat all the Annie's Organic cheddar bunnies because those things are fucking crack.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:19 PM on March 15 [109 favorites]


don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food

I mean, my great grandmother literally died of starvation, so...
posted by basalganglia at 11:19 PM on March 15 [31 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I have no children, but based on my own childhood (granted, ancient history at this point) that is a level of inter-family judgement that did not exist back then. What a shithole the US has become in 30-40 years!
posted by hippybear at 11:23 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


hippybear, it definitely existed back then, and if anything the judgement of working moms damaging their children was even more virulent.
posted by basalganglia at 11:29 PM on March 15 [23 favorites]


Yeah, working singles cooking hot meals for themselves day-in-day-out is definitely more of a 50s (maybe even 70s)-and-onwards phenomenon. Plenty of cheaper older apartments with no actual kitchen, not even the sad little retrofitted wedged-in kitchen of the modern NYC 1-bed. You'd live in a boarding house, or a shared residence with boarding, or you'd eat your hot meals at lunch counters and diners.
posted by praemunire at 11:29 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


My first girlfriend went to U of M, and I really liked her co-op housing there. The part of it that was relevant to this thread was how everyone had rotating work duties. Food was the responsibility of a couple people on certain nights, and they'd cook for the whole house. Money for groceries was communal, and there was fridge space for people's individual purchases. Dietary needs were always accommodated (although I can't remember if anyone there at the time had to avoid gluten cross-contamination).

It wasn't a perfect system by any means, but I think that's honestly my ideal housing arrangement: social and communal, with plenty of shared space for workshops and other work, but with everyone able to get some privacy as needed. I would be willing to cook one night, and clean up after dinner another night, if I knew that the rest of the labor for the rest of the week would be shared fairly between my housemates
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:29 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


that is a level of inter-family judgement that did not exist back then.

That. You. Knew. Of.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:29 PM on March 15 [37 favorites]


I'll accept that.
posted by hippybear at 11:33 PM on March 15 [9 favorites]




I’m not a mom but many of my friends are and this food shaming is awful. I hear about this snack stuff and the judgement.

I live in Europe now and not the states. I’ve had more than one person here tell me about Americans who go on about sugar being poison and wanting to know every ingredient if they were being invited to dinner or going to a restaurant.

I don’t really hang out with other Americans here so I haven’t experienced it firsthand but i can say I ran into it back home a lot more. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone discuss food ingredients in ages unless it was an actual allergy like shellfish or something.

(Removed a bit replying to a comment no longer here )
posted by sio42 at 11:33 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Hippybear, a classic example is the snacks for school. Did your mom make the cookies/cupcakes or were they store bought? And if store bought, were they from the right store?

I remember this from childhood. And I know I’ve come across references to it in books I read as a kid and never batted an eye because it was so normal.
posted by sio42 at 11:37 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Cooking is manually and logistically labor intensive, which is why the market cannot support it: eating out has the same absurdities as paying for bottled water.

I love food and cooking, I'm self taught; recently after much trial and error over months finally learned to sharpen a knife so it's guaranteed to slice tomato skins. But I also think that food is a Basic Need and the more time more people have to individually devote to securing this need, it takes away time from other things we might rather be doing.

Oh, and the worst part is the cleanup. I've found what helps is approaching cleanup as a kind of art. Kind of, Marie Kono-ize the process of it. But the part that's often de-emphasized is the cleanup, which when doing substantial scratch cooking matters a lot.

I really do hope that one day we'll get robots to do cooking and cleaning for us. It would not solve society's problems, but the basic robotization of the physical aspects of tasks I don't see any fundamental technological barriers to, and of course who knows plus ça change, but I'm excited to see this happen in my lifetime.
posted by polymodus at 11:50 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


. Did your mom make the cookies/cupcakes or were they store bought? And if store bought, were they from the right store?


Parents send snacks to school? I've never even heard of this and I went to school.
posted by yonega at 11:53 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Birthday cupcakes were definitely a thing in my elementary school. Also, for certain group activities like weekend band/orchestra, or sports practices, there was a snack rotation among families.

At 12, I got into a youth orchestra that met on Saturday mornings in a fancy suburb, and those parents were fucking vicious to my mom who brought in Doritos instead of organic corn chips or celery or something. Guess what, Doritos day was the only time there wasn't a million leftovers.
posted by basalganglia at 12:01 AM on March 16 [19 favorites]


As half of a couple who loves cooking more than maybe anything else, and is also five months into parenting, I can say that if we could buy affordable and healthy pre-prepped food we would do it literally all of the time.

Selling like gangbusters in the UK charts are a couple of cookbooks based on the concept of just tossing some veggies, sometimes meat, and a couple of flavours into a roasting tin, chucking that in the oven, and that's it. It's a godsend and we now rarely cook any other way, but even this has a level of time and ingredient cost that puts it beyond a huge amount of people. It's hard to know how to help folks with this.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:04 AM on March 16 [13 favorites]


Parents send snacks to school? I've never even heard of this and I went to school.

There is a ridiculous amount of "treats" circulating in my kids school.
They had treats for freaking St. Patricks Day today.

I have not, however, ever heard anyone complain that the treats were store bought or cheap or otherwise showing lack of effort or commitment.
What difference does it make to anyone? The kids sure as hell don't care.

posted by madajb at 12:13 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


They don’t complain, they make snide passive aggressive comments about how great Jennifer’s cupcakes are. (Jennifer being the child). No the children don’t care but there are many mothers that have unfortunately chosen to care, for whatever reasons. I feel bad for them.

Yes, 30+ years ago at my inner city school bringing treats to school was a regular thing. Birthdays, various holidays, etc.

I realize y’all are shocked, just Shocked some of us say this happened. But it did. And does. Frequently. I can’t even remember specific incidents from childhood because it was so normal. Right up there with where your parents were able to afford where to have your birthday party and invite your entire class. (That part the kids did care about haha!)
posted by sio42 at 12:56 AM on March 16 [14 favorites]


Minor point: There's at least a 50 year age range for people reading Michael Pollan, so their great-grandmothers aren't all from the same era. Does anyone know what Pollan actually had in mind?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 1:15 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I would guess Pollan actually means "modern" food preservation processes, so only great-grandmothers who died before, what, the last half of the 19th century?

And if it's food preserved in a lead-sealed tin can or the like, it's all good!
posted by AnhydrousLove at 1:21 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize

You mean like this?

Or this?

How about this?

Yum!

Yumyum!

Seriously, if anyone says that, back away slowly. They might be holding a cleaver behind their back.
posted by happyroach at 1:43 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]


Hey, A post all mefites can really get their teeth into! It’s got it all - cultural differences to chew over, class snobbery, inverse class snobbery, plus it’s something everyone does so everyone has an opinion! Anyway, here’s mine...

I read somewhere recently, perhaps here, about the decline of boarding houses for single people, in which meals were included as part of the deal.

This might be because those boarding houses represented one of the few socially acceptable ways for single women to make a living at the time. In the modern world, a single woman can go out and get a better paying job & therefore sitting at home preparing meals for a set of (probably ungrateful) lodgers day in day is not going to be a very appealing prospect. It probably wasn’t a very appealing prospect at the time, but at least it kept the wolf from the door.

What you really want is the old-school Oxbridge/Yale residential college/Harvard house setup: sitting room, bedroom, bathroom on an entryway (cleaned by someone else) and then eating in the dining hall.

All these institutions have significant endowments that enable them to partly subsidize the cost of the dining hall food (even if it’s just that they don’t have to pay for the cost of the building). It’s fantastic to have cheap, hearty food at your disposal three times a day, but I don’t know if the economics of it actually work out without that subsidy. Will people really pay the fully loaded cost of high quality cafeteria food? The cafeteria in my local Waitrose usually seems busy enough, and the other local supermarkets also seem to have them, so there’s at least some demand, but clearly not enough for everyone to eat this way. (Some big employers still have cafeteria too, it’s not a totally lost way of eating: Again, presumably the cost is subsidized in one way or another.)
posted by pharm at 2:25 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Half my meals are just cut up apples, cold meat and cheese or vegetables dipped in yogurt or hummus. Most people have relegated those to snack status but I say they are meals if your portion is big enough. Lower your standards! It's tasty, convenient and cheap.

Ok, I haven't read TFA yet, but I just wanted to say that if you spend five minutes artfully arranging these things on a nice platter and call it a cheese plate, it becomes a sort of avant garde meal, a little rebellious but definitely within the realm of "dinner". In my house we call it "stupendous dinner" and my kid requests it about twice a week.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 3:14 AM on March 16 [27 favorites]


I started writing about being the cook — and the meal planning that’s required when your partner doesn’t cook at all unless it is poached eggs, coffee, or starches. But upon return, it’s moved onto kids snacks. And I’m terrified and sad at all the food snobbery. We don’t have kids so this is all quite mysterious but this certainly explains when I bring food to friends’ houses who have children. Luckily I have reputation as enthusiastic home cook - so it’s limited to: nuts? I am upfront that I use butter, milk, eggs, and flour, no compromising. They don’t have to eat my delicious stuff.

I’ve lately begun to make super big batches and freeze in two-portion quantities. And I have a fast/slow cooker — instapot not available here - so I can make Filipino home cooking. Or a yankee pot roast. Whatever. But I’ve ended up with a nice backlog of almost half dozen ( at least 2 sets each) different dinners happily frozen.

The thing that I completely agree with is lack of cafeterias. The solid, dependable low key cafe that serves toast, two poached eggs, and sausage or bacon with roasted tomato for under $10 is almost extinct in Welly. My last fav cafe was in Mt. Cook then it changed hands. Is awful now. It’s a quite pricey everywhere.

I have became a tiny old lady who shakes her tiny fist and growls “back in my day . . . “
posted by lemon_icing at 3:33 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


I live in America but work with a lot of Europeans and they absolutely love going on sneerfests about Americans and their disgusting bodies and disgusting foods and the whole nine yards. You can imagine what they're saying.

My great-grandmother's recognizable foods were what was available in 1900s rural Saskatchewan. No thanks. Not that all of that stuff is "bad" (please let this year be the year the idea of "bad food" is CLEANSED FROM THE EARTH), but I like sushi too.

One thing I don't see mentioned often in these pieces is that in addition to not having enough *time* to cook, if you're poorer you are probably at higher risk of living in a place with an active vermin infestation. Good luck cooking two or three meals a day from scratch when you have hundreds of roommates not on the lease who are all very interested in whatever it is you're making!
posted by threementholsandafuneral at 3:46 AM on March 16 [15 favorites]


I've cooked all meals all my adult life, because of allergies. I don't mind it, but it's a bit of a joke in the family that it takes time, so we often eat late. When the kids were small, they would have snacks at the kitchen table while I was cooking and often fill themselves on those (sticks of veg with a yogurt dip). When my father and my grandmother were old and dying, I cooked for them too. That was stressful, I'll admit that.
But what I wanted to say is: this is more of a problem in the US because many of you work so long hours, and when we lived in the US, I also found it more difficult to find affordable and good quality produce. It was there, but shopping was much more time-consuming than it was here at the same time. That may have changed. I think that in many countries in Europe, where people prioritize home cooking and family meals, the governments try to make that a realistic choice through laws regulating work hours, child leave and urban planning, down to how a kitchen should function. With more or less success: there's a reason women don't want children in some European countries, so nothing is perfect. But there is an intention that is backed up politically. For instance in this country, there is a strict planning limitation on big-box stores, because they out-compete the in-town stores and create food deserts that are inaccessible to people without cars.

What I'm trying to say is, that even though I am a food snob and very interested in food politics and food history, I think the main issue here is not the food but the structural conditions for family life. Everyone should have fair pay, fair hours, proper access to food and good homes. Socialism!
posted by mumimor at 4:08 AM on March 16 [32 favorites]


The company I work for believes an army travels on it's stomach, and there's a kitchen downstairs where the senior men go in shoulder to shoulder and crank out ten or twelve items daily at seven thirty a.m. We all seem to have previous restaurant experience so it happens quick and the cleanup is simultaneous. It's a great team building experience for the 80 or so people in the office.

I never forget what a privilege this is, and it is one thing that really makes the hard work and long hours feel worthwhile.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:19 AM on March 16 [12 favorites]


We used to cook most days (cooking is one of my primary interests/hobbies) and make green juices to last the week on the weekend, but since the arrival of the Little Bundle of Joy it's all we can do to even keep ourselves fed.

I used to laugh at the race-to-the-bottom 15 minute meals with 5 ingredients! => 3 minute meals with 1.5 ingredients!! cookbooks that keep coming out, but I see the appeal now.

Our dinners are now mostly in the format of quick vinaigrette and a bag of assorted greens, possibly red onion, possibly fennel, plus ... something TBD.

Or just pizza if we had a rough night.
posted by flippant at 4:29 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


On judging parents for food: I have vivid memories of the point in elementary school in Toronto in 1977 where the school opened a lunch program (a place for kids to eat packed lunch, not a fancy subsidy) and there was a protest where moms picketed the school...because every child deserves to go home for a hot lunch! Mind you there was a whole underground market in moms that would provide hot lunches for other familes’ Kids, but still.

Also at that time my family ate a pretty firm set of maybe 8 or 9 meals for dinner many of which involved ground beef and included canned peas, and lunch was basically sandwiches, soup, some form of Chef Boyardee, or hot dogs. My more WASP Canadian friends also enjoyed kids’ dinner, while the real meal was the parents’ after the kids went to bed. I also remember eating a number of meals where the mom made hamburger for the kids but a steak for the dad.

We don’t eat out much unless we’re at a festival or at a museum or something, maybe once a month, a few times in a really busy month. We do however buy rotisserie chicken a few times a month. My family includes my MIL and we have two low-carbers, a lactose-intolerant child, and I minimize beef, dairy, and yes, am vegan before 6 if possible both for weight and planet reasons, especially since the dinners are generally low carb. My kids’ current schools don’t have cafeterias at all so they have to bring lunch every day, and there are no microwaves. My MIL can reheat things but generally doesn’t cook (she will in a pinch, like eggs and toast.)

I have a menu we rotate through on about a 3 week cycle. It’s a fair amount of effort but it grew over time so I’m used to it. We use an Instant Pot/slow cooker 2-3 times a week and have *a lot* of soups, curries, and stews, quiches, and hearty salads. What we don’t have is spontaneity.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:33 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]


The problem is not just having the time but having the time at the right point during the day to cook a meal. All these people maligning Netflix might want to think about when most people watch Netflix, which is not between the hours of five and seven, when most dinners need to be prepared.

And if you’re a family with small children, when do you think there are magical hours for meal prep to be found on the weekends? Do you think we already sleep too much that cutting into that would be productive?

We cook every night and it is a humongous pain in the ass. My husband and I both work from home so we have the ideal set up and it’s STILL a humongous pain in the ass.
posted by lydhre at 4:34 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]


Soylent is good now.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:55 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


They point out that people watch TV, and if they weren't sitting on their fat asses in front of the TV, they would have time to cook dinner.

Butbutbut... these hours are not exchangeable!! People are, I presume, watching TV after suppertime. You can’t frontload that two hours and spend it cooking instead and eat at 8 pm, not if you have kids anyway. I mean I guess you can but it’s not clear to me that that’s a win for a little kid’s health! Little eirias is a nightmare on wheels if she doesn’t get to bed til 9.

Mr. eirias used to be chief cook and bottle washer but life changed once school started for Little eirias and now it’s fallen to me. I’m still not great at it, but my biggest problem is planning. I forget to meal plan, or I remember to meal plan but I don’t manage to leave work in time to execute the plan, or I forget to defrost the meat, or whatever. I would say we probably eat two to three from-scratch-ish meals a week, and one meal with some prepared ingredients (like those awesome tamales from our grocery store’s deli case). Last night I was bone tired and I tried to make Swedish pancakes because it seemed easy but I somehow screwed em up and we said eff it and made a box of Annie’s m&c.

Food judginess in schools, oy. It comes up at PTA meetings and it’s a merry-go-round of opinions dressed up as facts. I’m fat and any contributions from me would therefore be viewed with suspicion, so I just treat those conversations like bad weather and wait quietly for them to pass. Really I just want whatever policy they implement to 1) not marginalize kids whose restrictions aren’t a matter of choice (my kid’s classroom teacher is great about this; there is always a nut free option; I can’t speak for other rooms though) and 2) not require significant food prep. We usually stick to veggie trays and bags of oranges at school potlucks because those are easy, inclusive, and safe from judgment.
posted by eirias at 4:57 AM on March 16 [13 favorites]


....So, I RTFA, and I kept furrowing my brow at things they were saying and thinking "but....I don't agree." I actually am able to prepare meals for myself every day, I actually do eat homecooked meals as an overwhelming rule.

BUT - nearly in the same second I also realized that that is because I have some very, very big advantages: a) I enjoy cooking in general, b) I am comfortable in a kitchen, and c) I am only cooking for myself alone. And d) I am okay with eating the same thing a couple times the same week and happen to know a bunch of really quick-and-easy recipes.

Also, that "homecooking" for lunches is batch cooking at the start of the week - this AskMe gave me a couple ideas for some simple things to do on the weekend to stock up my fridge, and then I brown-bag my lunches with stuff that I draw from a stash over the week. Still takes time to do, I just figured out a way to cram the various steps into my day. And dinner is usually something simple; I have a couple cookbooks that focus on single eaters and "simple suppers", most of which involve some simple things with eggs. Or I make a big batch of soup once and then just keep eating it every other night until it's gone.

Stuff like this too:

Half my meals are just cut up apples, cold meat and cheese or vegetables dipped in yogurt or hummus. Most people have relegated those to snack status but I say they are meals if your portion is big enough.

This is basically the ploughman's lunch approach, and absolutely works.

Again, though: I am able to get away with doing most of my own cooking, but I am definitely, definitely the exception that proves the rule. I also like cooking, which I realize gives me a huge, huge boost. Many of all y'all don't, or don't feel confident in a kitchen and were never given the chance to practice - I will only say that if you really and genuinely want to try to learn more about cooking, it is indeed possible. But if you don't, if the whole idea of trying to cook just gives you the screaming fantods and you never liked it and it just exhausted you, the ploughman's lunch kind of idea or finding just one super-easy thing to make and then just eating it again and again is just fine too. Or, eating takeout all the time if you can afford it; hell, there are days that even I just want Grubhub. (I also had a day this past week where I just craved junk, and picked up a box of Annie's mac-and-cheese and a box of frozen chicken fingers.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:23 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


And if you’re a family with small children, when do you think there are magical hours for meal prep to be found on the weekends? Do you think we already sleep too much that cutting into that would be productive?

+1 to this. We tried this in kindergarten, or I did since cooking is my job now, and when it works it's amazing!! and the week's meals are delicious, but now that Little eirias has two weekend activities and I'm usually the parent on duty for both of them, there's just not as much time left on those days. We also try to squeeze in some socializing for us and/or her on those days and then it's like ... where'd my cooking time go? Sigh.
posted by eirias at 5:44 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Food is a sustenance to our physical bodies just as spirituality or self care is to our mental wellbeing.
Our family had well rounded meals growing up. My mother, who was a single mom of 4, worked a full week with a long commute, made it a priority for us to have a well-rounded meal at the table each night. Family style. Breakfast and lunch were simple, sometimes we grazed throughout the day until dinner.
Now that I have my own family, I realize the savings and health benefits of eating at home-some meals healthier than others- and having together time each night to catch up.
Cooking, for me, has been self taught since I placed little importance on it while growing up and even through my 30’s. While I draw a lot of inspiration from my mom and her values, I think it ultimately comes down to what we place importance on and how we benefit from our choices. I’m the first to want to order pizza when I’m exhausted too, but I’m also cognizant of the long term effects of what I put in my body and behaviors I model for my kiddos.
posted by ascrabblecat at 5:46 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


One of the interesting things (to me) about the planning and shopping part is the extent to which it hasn't been automated. I can think of a number of companies that have tried to do it: generate a weekly meal plan + shopping list based on your preferences and location and budget (and if we're really fancy, what's on sale at the store) and it just doesn't work. If it was easy an algorithm could do it.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:54 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I don't have kids, so I reckon I'm cool to keep having bread, butter and tea for meals right? Or cheese and crackers. (my husband says "that's not dinner! But if I eat it at dinner time it's dinner. Just like leftovers can be breakfast)
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:56 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Slarty Bartfast: Breakfast is cereal or peanut butter toast or whatever. Lunch is a freakin sandwich and a banana.

This. I'm happy to live in a country where three hot meals is not seen as something to aspire to. No one here expects that.
Bread for breakfast and bread for lunch is not a shortcut; it means you're eating healthily and Doing Things Right, so carry on. If you can manage to add some fruit and veg to that, AND have a hot meal that includes vegetables in the evening, you're pretty much winning the eating olympics.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:06 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


My wife sometimes goes on a tear about “needing to eat some real meals” but I am pretty happy with whatever I put together to graze on. I think the comment about the ploughman’s lunch focuses my thoughts on the issue: what she wants is a respectable name for a meal, not some specific items.

This snack-shaming thing is a toughie. Part of me wants to say “you’re better off not playing with little Crystal if her parents are classist/unscientific assholes” but I realize that’s not fair to either kid. I guess it has to go in the “many people suck unconsciously” bin. Unfortunate that that bin is so large.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:14 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I was a cook and kitchen manager in busy restaurants as a stripling; I know how to turn out food. I certainly know that it is labor. I shop for, prepare, cook, and clean up the meals for my family because I have the skills and crucially because I work from home and set my hours in my "real" job.

I have tended to think that the decline in general knowledge of food preparation is bad, so I may be brainwashed in the way this article argues, but I think it is a knowledge that is both ordinary and magical and some people need to keep the somewhat literal flame burning.

I feel a responsibility to my sons to model the *option* of cooking for yourself and your family. I think people should be *able* to cook their own food and know how to assist in everyday cooking. I know that I have comforted the afflicted in times of grief and struggle by putting the right food, often very simple, in front of them at the right time. I also know that the obligation to feed others leads at times to enormous resentment.

What can I offer? Perspective that this is a long game. A new kind of balance has come because my kids have learned to cook. They often feed themselves, each other and occasionally the whole family. Preparing food is a burden. Ask others to share the burden if it falls mostly on you.
posted by Glomar response at 6:19 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


Some of the big-family-meal thing in my mother's and grandmother's life was about power - the power over the family, and a refusal to surrender that power. Women on that side of the family were smart, strong, dominating, and essential, and at the same time they were not the glorious creatures that men were and so they had to have a zone of power. Cooking was it. My mother (Ph.D, also M.Div) hated cooking and was bad at it, and yet still, in her Parkinsonian old age, she insisted on gathering the extended family together and performing the family feed, which meant things like (from my journal at the time):
Last night I sat with my mother and my sister at the kitchen table of my mother’s house. With shaking hands, my mother cut an apple into pieces with a large knife. Shaking hands, waving hands, waving knife, a display that frightened my sister, but my mother grimly chopped.
We knew my grandmother was failing when she prepared a one-pound roast for a family dinner for ten or so.

Sometimes in order to function I myself had to surrender the power of feeding the multitudes in order to have different kinds of power such as a job and degrees and my own sport. My kid went to day care with a Chef Boyardee microwave meal in her lunch bag because she would eat it. She would eat it cold.
posted by Peach at 6:22 AM on March 16 [13 favorites]


I rented a room in the 80s that came with communal cooking responsibilities. There were 5 of us renting and each had to agree to buy/cook/cleanup one worknight a week. Only having to cook one night meant that you put your heart into it and make something worthwhile, like a roast or lasagna. On the receiving end, it was pretty excellent to come home 4 nights a week to a sit down meal and then head back to your room. Unfortunately, a couple of the roommates (who's meals were never really looked forward to) started slacking off pretty bad with repeated tuna casserole or spaghetti with crappy canned sauce. One got pissed off over something and threw turkey legs into the microwave, pushed the button for +20 minutes and left. I moved out shortly afterwards and I don’t think the system continued much after that.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:39 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


For all the talk about missing cafeterias, I think you might be overlooking the fact that many (urban) grocery chains have pay-by-weight hot bars that are very popular. By observation alone it seems that many single seniors absolutely rely on that particular niche.
posted by Think_Long at 6:52 AM on March 16 [20 favorites]


On judging parents for food: I have vivid memories of the point in elementary school in Toronto in 1977 where the school opened a lunch program (a place for kids to eat packed lunch, not a fancy subsidy) and there was a protest where moms picketed the school...because every child deserves to go home for a hot lunch! Mind you there was a whole underground market in moms that would provide hot lunches for other familes’ Kids, but still.

If some of the moms had an underground market selling hot lunches to kids, then I BET they protested when the school decided to wipe out their businesses without so much as an apology! Didn't there actually used to be a lot of small businesses like that -- women who made home-cooked meals for their neighbors to buy? I have heard of older women doing that in cities especially.

If that was ever a thing in the US, though, then I think women selling cooked meals out of their homes in a widespread, open way would be pretty impossible now regardless because of our current (expensive and onerous) licensing requirements and regulations for food prep/sales. So instead, there are tons of people with extensive culinary school debt and no hot meal home businesses for people to pick up dinner from on their way home. Just like how there was a huge crackdown on "unlicensed" hairdressing, so now you have tons of women that have $10K+ in beauty school debt and no home hairdressing business, rather than a bunch of women running small businesses out of their homes and a little extra money in their pockets. And at the same time, there's been a licensing crackdown on home daycare businesses, too, with similar results. I don't think licensing and regulation requirements are a bad thing, exactly. I like the peace of mind going to a licensed "provider" brings and all. But not being able to get food/daycare/grooming help from neighbors without it either being this weirdly secret and "illegal" thing OR super regulated and expensive probably does it does make it much harder for women to get by in general.

Also, just as a side-note: the great-grandma thing is dumb as hell. One of my great-grandmothers died in '80s Paris and the other died in '70s NYC, and both of them probably considered cigarettes a food group.
posted by rue72 at 7:16 AM on March 16 [30 favorites]


One of the interesting things (to me) about the planning and shopping part is the extent to which it hasn't been automated.

I've thought about this a bunch too. A Blue Apron type service can deliver me exactly measured produce to produce meals of my selection. My supermarket online delivery can offer me literally five pages of algorithmically generated "just in case you forgot!" and "deals just for you" that I have to click through every damn time before I can get to checkout... But apparently *can't* just offer me a list of meals, ideally with a number of people to serve, that I can one-click and order all the ingredients at once?

I have to think this is well within their capability, but they make better money letting people stumble around themselves.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:24 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


ominous_paws: My supermarket online delivery (...) apparently *can't* just offer me a list of meals, ideally with a number of people to serve, that I can one-click and order all the ingredients at once?

Mine can. I can search for recipes, then add or subtract people to serve as needed, and then with one click add all ingredients to my shopping list, which I can then order to be delivered. It looks like this:
https://www.ah.nl/allerhande/recept/R-R1189460/chili-sin-carne
So, yes, this is definitely feasible.

The recipe is a necessary step, because there simply isn't one standard version of any one meal. But there's just a few clicks involved from typing in the name of the dish to the order being completed.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:30 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


I think it ultimately comes down to what we place importance on and how we benefit from our choices.

I sincerely hope you recognize the privilege that allows you to hold this view.
posted by cooker girl at 7:37 AM on March 16 [20 favorites]


Yeah, a lot of the stuff that worked great when it was just my husband and I doesn't work at ALL with three kids in the mix. I'm in a rental and the (still-American-sized!) fridge is on the smaller side. It's literally not possible for me to do weekend prep because I cannot fit that much food in my damn fridge now that I have a boy starting adolescence whose stomach is a black hole, a boy with the metabolism of a squirrel who obviously has a hollow leg, and a toddler girl who eats LIKE A FUCKIN' LINEBACKER constantly and then wakes up from her nap half an inch taller. I'm at the point where I'm making recipes that serve EIGHT and rarely ending up with leftovers. (And my kids are skinny like their dad, who also appears to possess a black hole instead of a stomach.) I'm told it'll get better with the boys for a couple years and then they'll hit the teenaged years and it's like living with ravenous velociraptors. My brother can still get away with pre-prepping -- his kids are 3 and 1 -- but now that the 1-year-old wants real meals it's starting to get to be a closer thing.

And then of course the late afternoon/early evening are the witching hour with children, so even if you're at home (which a lot of people aren't until 6 or later, between work and daycare pickup and traffic!), you're trying to cook around small people who are constantly squabbling and whining and (in the case of the toddler) sobbing, just because it's 5 p.m. I hesitate to make anything that takes longer than 20 minutes, or we may end up in the ER (actually happened!), and everything has to be instantly-abandonable at any point in the recipe to go stop the toddler from climbing furniture or the boys from staging wrestlemania.

And on top of THAT I'm now catering to five people's food preferences, one of whom has some food intolerances, and two of whom are in the phase that most kids go through where they won't eat anything that's a casserole or stew, and crock-pot stews were kind-of my go-to for busy days! And I'm obviously not going to be a short-order cook (for a whole variety of reasons), but it's also super-duper discouraging to spend all the time and effort on cooking and have it met with "EW!" "I HATE THIS!" "I DON'T WANT TO EAT THIS!" (And of course it's like, "well, that's their problem" but after nearly 10 years it starts to wear on you a little.)

And, GOD, I just cannot even imagine if I were trying to do this with broken or missing appliances, or if I had to take two buses or hire a cab to go to the grocery store (I go three times a week! And that's with a minivan to haul the bags in!), or in temporary or transitional housing where I don't even have my pots and pans. Cooking for a family of five in a best-case scenario where I have a nice kitchen and adequate kitchen tools and working appliances and a car and multiple grocery options and enough money not to count pennies in my grocery budget and English-language literacy (so navigating the store is easy) and a fair amount of cooking knowledge is STILL AN ABSOLUTE FUCKING NIGHTMARE, and it's a nightmare that goes on every. single. day., and this is the best-case scenario! (Well, the best case scenario probably involves servants, but this is your non-servant best-case.) Just trying to picture the "grocery shopping without a car" piece stresses me out, let alone all the families who don't have adequate kitchens or adequate housing.

And of course at the same time I'm trying to teach my kids kitchen skills and while I know down the road it will have a payoff, right now it's just YET ANOTHER hurdle in trying to get food on the table.

"It’s fantastic to have cheap, hearty food at your disposal three times a day, but I don’t know if the economics of it actually work out without that subsidy. Will people really pay the fully loaded cost of high quality cafeteria food?"

I've idly wondered for a while if there's a market for a sort-of dining-hall restaurant in big cities, where people "subscribe" to X number of dinners a week, and you make two dishes -- one with meat, one meatless -- in bulk and have 2 or 3 seatings an evening at long wooden tables with benches and everyone gets the same thing, but it's hot and freshly-made and you don't have to cook or clean. (And then the last seating gets to take home leftovers.) It might be cost-effective if you were just making TWO meals, and not "a bunch of stuff so people can pick."

"Ok, I haven't read TFA yet, but I just wanted to say that if you spend five minutes artfully arranging these things on a nice platter and call it a cheese plate, it becomes a sort of avant garde meal, a little rebellious but definitely within the realm of "dinner". In my house we call it "stupendous dinner" and my kid requests it about twice a week."

In our house this is "light supper"!

"My supermarket online delivery (...) apparently *can't* just offer me a list of meals, ideally with a number of people to serve, that I can one-click and order all the ingredients at once?"

Mine has just started doing this too! They also sell "meal boxes" out of the deli, where you pick up a Blue Apron-type box, but a lot cheaper since they don't have to ship it and fresher since it was assembled that morning and with less packaging waste. They basically assemble it all in the deli and you get a pretty recipe card and they get to highlight their own produce/meat/whatever that they want you to buy more often. I haven't tried one yet but they look pretty cool! If I were back in grad school and just learning to cook, I would DEFINITELY pick them up on the regular. (These days when I go to the store I already have my menu sorted for the week.) They also have "meat-plus" packages in the meat department, where they have meat cut for stir fry packaged with stir fry vegetables and sauce, or meat cut for kebabs packaged with kebab vegetables or a pot roast packaged with carrots and potatoes, with instructions. I occasionally grab those (usually the stir fry one) and they're pretty okay! I like my own sauce better, but hey, way less work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:01 AM on March 16 [17 favorites]


I was a cook and kitchen manager in busy restaurants as a stripling; I know how to turn out food. I certainly know that it is labor. I shop for, prepare, cook, and clean up the meals for my family because I have the skills and crucially because I work from home and set my hours in my "real" job.
Ok, but see, that's the whole point here. Cooking is not the problem. The problem is everything else about most Americans' lives. If you work from home and set your own hours, it is probably not difficult to fit cooking into your life. Most people, however, don't have the option of working from home and setting their own hours. Many people have inflexible work schedules and long commutes, and that makes the task exponentially harder.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:02 AM on March 16 [23 favorites]


For all the talk about missing cafeterias, I think you might be overlooking the fact that many (urban) grocery chains have pay-by-weight hot bars that are very popular. By observation alone it seems that many single seniors absolutely rely on that particular niche.

I'm currently working away from home a few days a week down in Jersey City, and I have a pied-a-terre down in Greenville, adjoining Bayonne. The Shop-Rite on 26th street's hot food by the pound has been a go-to. I can grab a meal or two, and the pollo and rice had actual freaking chicken bones in it, the true mark of authenticity. Stuffed cabbage. Salsbury Steak, and of course rotisserie chickens.
posted by mikelieman at 8:02 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


There's a reason that as long as slavery existed, if you had slaves, your cook was definitely going to be one of them. And after that, if you had paid servants, your cook was definitely going to be one of them.

Feeding a family or even oneself is hard work, time intensive, brain intensive. It's very nice to sit down to a home cooked meal. It's even nicer when I didn't have to work the many hours to make that meal. But it's a privilege that relies on huge amounts of labor.

I cringe with shame when I remember how my cousins and I would descend on my grandmother's home like a flock of damned vultures, never grokking how much of her labor had gone into making all that food that we carelessly, if happily, inhaled.

I know for myself that when I was working full time, there was no way in the world I had brain space or energy left over to do the household cooking. We ate stuff like Costco meatballs with a side of cherry tomatoes. And I felt fine about it, and it was the best I could do.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:04 AM on March 16 [12 favorites]


I've found this an interesting discussion. However, I think some of the finger-pointing at Pollan isn't entirely justified. I have read his book In Defense Of Food, and found it impressive; he really doesn't comes across as moralising - instead, he gives an impressive account of how the modernisation of western society (particularly US) has led to compromised, unhealthy eating habits. His rules are written and justified as pragmatic, practical ways that people can try and improve their diet: not as a way of castigating people for eating badly.

So for example the grandmother rule is not to eat the same diet as your personal grandmother - the point is to enable you to imaginatively reach back to a time before most of the corrupting (mostly corporate) influences on the western diet had taken effect:
"So depending on your age (and your grandmother), you may need to go back to your great- or even great-great grandmother."
[...]
"What would shopping this way mean in the supermarket? Well, imagine your great grandmother at your side as you roll down the aisles. You're standing together in front of the dairy case. She picks up a package of Go-Gurt Portable Yogurt tubes - and has no idea what this could possibly be. Is it a food or a toothpaste? You could tell her it's just yogurt in a squirtable form, yet if she read the ingredients label she would have every reason to doubt that that was in fact the case."
His scope in the book is limited: while he does describe and analyse the structural problems in US society (and the west more generally, but particularly the US), he isn't proposing any structural reforms to counter that. His recommendations are limited to what individuals are capable of changing . Admittedly, he does frame his 'rules' on the assumption that you can somehow make the time (and have the facilities) to cook real food; but that's OK within the scope of his project.

He's not trying to make guidelines so rigid that they could only be of use to the time-rich and money-rich; nor is he trying to make them so watered-down that everybody, in even the worse situations, can follow. Instead, he is trying to write guidelines which most people could, in one way or another, be able to get some help from. And I think he succeeds at that.
posted by vincebowdren at 8:07 AM on March 16 [23 favorites]


I'm of the generation who started the food revival in this country, and many of my friends are cooks, or food writers or otherwise employed in the food industry. Our mothers and our older siblings rarely enjoyed cooking. I remember it as starting when we were in our teens, but it was literally fired by the introduction of a whole year of maternity leave: one of my friends wrote a cookbook while he was on his first parental leave and that book jump-started his career. Other friends have similar stories.
But before that a lot of single mothers were struggling to make ends meet. And then at the corner store where we lived, what Americans would call a bodega, the immigrant owner couldn't bear seeing those women running out of money and begging him for credit at the end of each month. So he started a supper club, where they could come to eat with their kids, but where they had to participate in the preparation and learn how to cook for themselves from the cheapest produce in his store*. Obviously, it was also a great social space for those mothers who were often isolated and lonely.
If you have the ressources and want to do something in your neighborhood, before the socialist paradise arrives in America, his is a great example.
*As a former greengrocer, I can tell you that the cheapest stuff is often the best. It's in season, regional and ripe, the store is selling it cheap because it can't keep till the next day. + legumes.
posted by mumimor at 8:07 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


If only we really COULD have taco trucks on every corner...But I think maybe there is a niche to be filled with food trucks, like the milk deliveries of old. Food trucks could deliver prepared food to people who don't have time to cook and don't want to go out for dinner. I know there is Grubhub and so on already, but I'm talking the kind of food trucks that are owned by the chefs, not a third party.

There used to be Automats where city dwellers could get reasonably priced and pre-prepared hot meals. And even now, most grocery stores have hot bars and/or prepared food to take away. There's a reason rotisserie chickens fly off the shelves at Costco - it's a great option to feed a family or single person, and then there is the option to make chicken salad or tacos or whatever with the leftovers. Depending on your family size and appetite it's possible to eke out quite a few meals with little effort from prepared rotisserie chicken.

In addition to what so many previous commenters have noted about the "myth of grandma's cooking," think about the varieties and vibrancy of what is called "street cuisine" in various cultures. Street food from market stalls exists for a reason - many people, in cultures worldwide, didn't have the time or money or well-equipped kitchens or or or to cook the mythical family meal.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:10 AM on March 16 [13 favorites]


His scope in the book is limited: while he does describe and analyse the structural problems in US society (and the west more generally, but particularly the US), he isn't proposing any structural reforms to counter that. His recommendations are limited to what individuals are capable of changing .
And this book argues that his focus on the individual is a fatal flaw, because the problems are structural. Individual solutions can't fix structural problems.
He's not trying to make guidelines so rigid that they could only be of use to the time-rich and money-rich; nor is he trying to make them so watered-down that everybody, in even the worse situations, can follow. Instead, he is trying to write guidelines which most people could, in one way or another, be able to get some help from. And I think he succeeds at that.
The authors of this book are arguing that Pollan and his ilk are disconnected by their privilege from the lives of the people whom they're addressing, and therefore they do not have a clue what most people could do to improve their food situation. That is why the authors, who are sociologists, investigate the actual lives of a broad range of people who are actually responsible for feeding their families. What they find is that Pollan's suggestions are not useful, because they do not address the realities of people's lives. And we can't change the food system until we address those realities.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:22 AM on March 16 [28 favorites]


[on preview, vincebowdren beat me to this point, but I'm going to post it anyway]

We do all kind of recognize that Pollan's thing about great-grandmas isn't meant to be about one's own, literal, great-grandma, right? That it's about getting away from heavily-processed, low-nutrient products like pop-tarts, breakfast bars, fruit roll-ups, twizzlers, cheetos, etc., which have been created fairly recently by large corporations to get people to hand over larger and larger amounts of money for flavored salt and corn syrup in novel shapes and textures?

I mean, my great-grandmother would certainly have recognized donuts and salt-water taffy as food, but I don't think it tracks that Pollan is telling anybody they should eat lots of donuts and salt-water taffy. My great-grandmother almost certainly never encountered sushi or quinoa, but she understood the general concept of, like, fish and grains.

I still agree with the main point that it's not possible for anybody to eat home-cooked meals all the time, and the reasons for that. Just getting kind of annoyed at the hyperliteral application of the great-grandmother rule to the thread topic, because Pollan is clearly not talking about anyone's specific personal great-grandmother; he's not really talking about great-grandmothers at all.

(Also I heard it originally as "grandmother" and am curious about the ancestor inflation implied by the switch to "great-grandmother." We even have a great-great grandmother here in the thread already, which I find intriguing.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:22 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]


Admittedly, he does frame his 'rules' on the assumption that you can somehow make the time (and have the facilities) to cook real food; but that's OK within the scope of his project.

But isn’t that what this discussion is all about? To define that problem as out-of-scope seems to me to be a guarantee that your suggestions will be of limited practical value.
posted by eirias at 8:22 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Reading this article makes me better about my absolute failure every week to prepare "good" meals for my family. Thanks for posting Homo neanderthalensis.
posted by johnxlibris at 8:26 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


jenquat and I are enthusiastic cooks. jenquat cooks professionally. We can throw together a quick meal including prep and cleanup in probably under 30 minutes. But we don't. Especially recently when I had a full time job too. Between medically mandated (for me) 3 times a week 2 hour workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, and some meals provided through jenquat's workplace, and having a fairly active social life, and being tired we mostly only cook on the weekends, and a couple of evenings a week. We still use GrubHub weekly.

I'm also following a low-carb intermittent fasting diet (for health/blood sugar control), so even though I often get dinner at the taqueria right next door to my gym right after my evening workout, the options are limited. There ARE options though, thankfully.

When we do cook, we cook a lot of quick meals whose recipes we've learned from or shared with close, family-like friends. Or we'll throw together quick stir-fries (from my Dad's - Chinese - cooking traditions, which I've worked hard to maintain in my own culinary life). Or we'll do a salad with jenquat's grandma's salad dressing. Or bake a tuber and top it with some interesting things. When we cook, we cook a good variety of stuff, often inspired by or straight out of ancestors' cook books. I've even contributed to a recipe anthology, and don't recipe testing, and of the meals we cook at home, many are also recipe testing for jenquat's work. But we still don't do probably more than 50% of cooking at home with fresh ingredients. Not while maintaining a life outside of the kitchen.

I feel like a lot of folks who promote the value of home cooking don't do a majority of the the home cooking at their house. I feel like a lot of that is failing to credit unpaid (household) labor. It's a feeling I get from my direct experience. And I like cooking. I even like washing dishes ffs. But I also like having a life outside of the kitchen and being able to see friends and socialize over a meal. And often that means eating out rather than eating in.

And even so, a boarding house sounds kinda nice in some ways. To not have to worry about basic meals would be a definite step up in some aspects.
posted by kalessin at 8:30 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


(Also I heard it originally as "grandmother" and am curious about the ancestor inflation implied by the switch to "great-grandmother." We even have a great-great grandmother here in the thread already, which I find intriguing.)
That's from Pollan, as quoted by vincebowdren:
"So depending on your age (and your grandmother), you may need to go back to your great- or even great-great grandmother."
I think the virtuous before-times ended with his grandmother, who was probably born around the turn of the 20th century. He's a generation older than me, so I'm supposed to go back to my great-grandmother. If you're 20 years old right now, probably your great-great-grandmother.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:30 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


All this discussion prompted me to send a Grubhub gift certificate to my daughter, because she just turned her ankle the same week as her spouse started a new job. And because when my spouse and I had the flu and he got pneumonia, my daughter and her partner made sure to come over with some canned bean soup and make us a salad.

Food is, sometimes but not always, love.
posted by Peach at 8:36 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]


Makes sense. I wasn't intending it to sound critical; apologies if it came off that way. I was more just puzzled, because I didn't think Pollan started saying this so long ago that two generations had passed already. (And I wrote the comment before vincebowdren published the quote, so.)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:39 AM on March 16


There is a service which provides recipes and shopping lists to match - it's called The Fresh 20. My colleague with a toddler likes it: cheaper than meal services (she's a grad student) but similarly simple.
posted by jb at 9:06 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Multiple people have made the suggestion that I rent a room out from a family so that I can joint them for home cooked meals without having to cook myself. I've never looked into it myself, but apparently it's quite common where I am in New York. This is all within the Indian community though, so I'm not sure what it's like outside.
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 9:09 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Selling like gangbusters in the UK charts are a couple of cookbooks based on the concept of just tossing some veggies, sometimes meat, and a couple of flavours into a roasting tin, chucking that in the oven, and that's it.

Gif! gif! gif! ...
err...
...
Do you, perhaps, have the titles at hand?
Thank you in advance.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:15 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I spent 28K on culinary school and 5+ years in high end dining. living. the. life. During that time I didn't use a microwave, I ate fast food, I biked *every* day and my knife skills and regiment of kitchen care was borderline crazy. On my day off, I generally did sit down dinner for my housemates, and I scrubbed and I made treats throughout the week.

When I left culinary. I left it hardcore. I did not cook for a year. I was depressed. I found no joy in food (not that a clinical dissection of every dish put in front of me for the prior years was 'enjoyment' to those around me). I got rid of my charcuterie and brining fridge. (hahaha - yes... you brewed beer? I braised pork bellies and made sausages, including ye olde hotdog that fooled a six year old *except* for the casing.) I was deeply depressed about food. I was done with cooking shows. I was done with fancy dinners. I was... invisible. Somewhere in here... I got divorced.

Then, I started to cook again. I brought in some quick dining options (simmer sauces). I pre-mixed spice blends to have on hand (not as 'fresh' as I was used to). I started making my dog's food. I started eating everything. I started reading about food again. I adamantly hated to be pulled into cooking contests at work (which seemed particularly popular as team building exercises).

I got remarried... which meant I catered my own wedding for the second time. I taught my mother in law how to cook for her low-salt husband, while cutting out sugar from her diabetic diet (side-effect from breast cancer a few years prior). We had a kid on the way, and I started to break down full sides of beef again and started making everything from scratch - but in bulk as pre-made meals. Saturday was grocery day. Saturday night was prep night... and I cooked from sunup to sundown on Sunday. Between my wife and I we ate 3 dozen eggs a week. My wife started to work on personal training, then sports and corrective exercise specialization. I retooled about 6000 recipes to massively increase protein, or incorporate a carb-cycle, or re-balance digestion. it was bananas.

Then my kid became old enough to eat. So we made baby food, or food we could turn into baby food. We got to the 'no' phase. And then my 3rd career shot off like a rocket, we had a second kid, and I made moves to work from home.

Food for kids becomes a nightmare for... well we're past year 10 at this point. Kids turn it into a chore. Since my wife works an opposite shift, an hour in the kitchen for either of us means an hour of unsupervised kids... which means what is currently burning / broken / or lost? But at 10, we're starting to prep for an earlier bus... starting to prep for life skills... which means my son (and his younger sister on other days) now get up at 6:00, and we make lunches together... and if there is time - we make breakfast. They get choice, they learn about food. Owen is starting to learn some knife skills...

Dinnerwise? Weekends, I cook ... During the week my wife does, or we eat fast crap, or we get those boxes from whatever company we try to out. I do prepwork at the end of the night for the next day (pre-cut onions and garlic, prep carrot sticks for the next morning's lunches)...

I think fondly of my own childhood, and remember the point at which suddenly I was responsible for making my lunch. It was about now... And I think of the cookies, and the brownies my mother baked for us during the week.
And I think of the garden my parents slaved after every summer.

And I just don't know how they had the time for it. I was/am culinary trained. I've lived the life. I can run circles around you in a kitchen. I can make every dish taste like the 'spark'. But I cannot change time. And that means: Homework or food? Commute or food? Lawn maintenance or Brownies? Laundry or cookies?

We live in a world of trade-offs... and at this point... if you cook for yourself for real, it is a hobby.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:36 AM on March 16 [26 favorites]


The mental energy and the shopping logistics (we're two working folks with no kids but I have an insane amount of after-work commitments and spouse has two standing after-work commitments each week) is why we tried the meal in a box thing. I enjoy cooking but not so much that I want to do it every day. Or plan meals every day. Or shop three times a week. So the meal in a box sounded like a great solution.

But the packaging is insane. Also, even though three of the recipes use--say--soy sauce, you don't get a bottle of soy sauce; you get six individually-wrapped packets. That's both wasteful packaging but also not how you cook--what if it needs an extra splash of soy? And there were only sometimes leftovers for lunch--usually not, and never enough for both of us. In the end, as helpful as the meal in a box was, it was also a giant pain in the ass.

It solved the problem of one single meal, in the same way that stopping at the Chipotle on the corner did (with slightly lower calorie counts and maybe not as much salt?). They did not the solve the problem of meal planning, or grocery planning, of food budgeting and food use.

So I just second the comments above:

Cooking is not the problem. The problem is everything else about most Americans' lives.

There's a reason that as long as slavery existed, if you had slaves, your cook was definitely going to be one of them. And after that, if you had paid servants, your cook was definitely going to be one of them.

posted by crush at 9:37 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


The meal boxes do solve one problem which meal planning services don't: leftover ingredients. What are you going to do when a recipe only calls for half a lemons' juice, or when you need to do something with that package of quinoa in the cupboard. I'm really careful about not wasting food and that's usually the #1 consideration when I start to plan for the next week: what needs to be used up? I still maintain that this is a hard problem not currently solvable by technology.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:45 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


am one of the people who says it’s ‘easy’ for me, much of the time but with a LOT of scaffolding to hold it all together. And sometimes, stressors make it nearly impossible for me to actually cook (anxiety! adult add! ptsd!) beyond opening jars and slicing cheese. To be clear, I don’t have a kid or a crazy long commute. With one or both it will probably fall apart. And I’m quick to point out that it’s ONLY easy now because I’ve been practicing a long long time. I had to eat a lot of terrible home cooked meals to get to the point where 98% of what I throw together in 20 minutes is good, the other 2% split between meh and whoops, I fucked that up so bad I need to eat bread and jam or take out or gnaw on my arm.

I had to get really comfortable with eyeballing cornstarch for ‘gravy’ to save the time reducing sauces. I had to get really comfortable with paring and cutting produce quickly. I had to get really comfortable with making vegetarian meals when that’s what the budget calls for and how to cook meats when it was time to impress someone and only meat would do, or the price was very very good, if I wasn’t just so sick of beans that a few dollar splurge was needed. I had to learn how to preserve portions of packaged goods like tomato paste or chipotle en adobo when I couldn’t eat the entire bag fast enough. (Freezer bag, squeeze the paste flat so all the air is out of the bag. Break a chunk off the flat next time you want to cook with it). Now i have a partner who doesn’t enjoyed cooked tomatoes. So I’ve had to learn to not lean on tomato sauces and canned tomatoes. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to preserve much of the summer CSA bounty in jars and the freezer. Buying 100+ jars is absolutely a luxury. Being able to just toss pickled beets or carrots into a salad or next to a pork chop with some no sugar added applesauce that I made in October is absolutely a decadence and I recognize that.

Learning takes incredible amounts of time and energy and patience and hope and I’m very lucky to have these. The learning curve on some things means choosing between eternity throwing away or eating a failure. Being poor means needing to use all of every ingredient and throwing away a pint of milk can feel like ruin, calorically. And of course, I don’t have (to my knowledge) any of the food sensitivities or allergies mentioned above.

The anthropology theory that I really love that addresses how this is a systemic and interconnected problem is Chronicities of Modernity. You might guess that the main focus is about time, and you’d be right. Modern life is messing up our relationship with time in deeper and more fucked up ways, and constantly. How we wrestle back our time, as a culture, is going to matter. Those of us with privilege fighting for these positive systemic changes are necessary.

At the same time, placing so much emphasis on the difficulty of the task discouraged lots and lots of folks from trying. I don’t know how to merge the two truths. It’s hard to eat well in America. And yet it’s under such scrutiny as a personal and moral failing when we don’t.

Ask me how I feel about all this when (if?) I have a baby. Maybe I’ll miss cooking. Maybe I’ll keep doing it. Maybe my partner will find room in the budget for a non stop stream of delivery.
posted by bilabial at 9:54 AM on March 16 [8 favorites]


I never realized until recently how it was pretty remarkable that my family had dinner together at the table every night, with both parents working full time. Most of the time it was some kind of meat and a microwaved veggie. Instant mashed potatoes if my dad was cooking.

I decided to be a vegetarian at 12 or 13 and I think it was pretty great that my parents were like... okay, but you have to do the research to find out what you need to eat, and we’re not making 2 dinners so you need to cook for yourself. I already had a good baking hobby so I was comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t even remember what I made most of the time but I do remember starting to sometimes cook dinner for the whole family when i had a more elaborate recipe I wanted to try.

All of that is to say that I still am a good cook but I don’t even cook for myself every day; and I do consider it a hobby and thing I enjoy doing but don’t always have time to. I live on smoothies and nuts and fruit and those bagged salads a lot lately, at home. I had a nice dinner the other night of dried figs and pistachios and some crackers and a can of sardines and some manchego and a pear and some olives. I do love a snack-meal.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:56 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


The biggest hurdle for us in the past three years has been living in the sandwich generation: taking care of kids at home (while working full time) AND taking care of aging/sick parents. Our youngest went off to college this year so we've had a bit of relief but if we want to see our kids (and we do), we have to travel long distances to do that if they're not on a break from school.

So the thing that falls by the wayside is cooking, generally. My dad has chemo once a week and I leave work early to go sit with him and then drive him home so my mom can have a bit of a break from caretaking (he's on a feeding tube thanks to throat cancer and he's not strong enough to feed himself, so...). I pick up dinner for myself before I head over to the cancer center because I never know if I'm going to be there for an hour or three hours because it all depends on when they were able to start with the pre-meds, and when I come home I just want to sit and do nothing, not even heat something up.

And the meal prep services or the meal boxes sold at the grocery store are great and all, but then I'm super conflicted about the packaging waste.

I just really don't have the emotional energy right now for meal planning. Even thinking about it makes me tired.
posted by cooker girl at 10:08 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]


Feeding myself is a very tiring and unrewarding task that I dread. I am very sensitive to food shaming and "should" comments, and then annoyed when my explanations are waved off or belittled.

I recently stopped having to rely on food pantries and charity. The shaming regarding the food I got from food pantries was absurd but prevalent, because most of what you get there is boxed or canned and has a lot of salt and preservatives. You'd think people would lay off the moralizing when all you have to eat is what you're given, but some people seem to think poor=stupid and helpless and wanted to give me lectures on nutrition and lentils. (Because obv I wouldn't need a food pantry if I'd just follow their instructions and be absolutely perfect and live off of lentils and discount produce). Incidentally, I fucking love lentils. I ate them with the salty, preservative laden chicken broth and canned vegetables and white rice I was given.* I was fine and did not starve or get rickets. But I did not become thin or god-like through perfect nutrition so obv. still a failure.

*Shockingly, some of us poors can read and eat lentils with evil grains for complete proteins.

Now I can buy my own food, and while it's not as exhausting or shameful as patronizing a food bank, it is a lot of work and planning. I don't have a car, so I have to carry my stuff home on my back. I could order my groceries online, but there's about a 30% markup and a delivery fee. My cheap apartment has about 2 square feet of counter space, a half-broken fridge, and little storage space. My produce rots quickly and my freezer can't be relied on. My frozen veggies are usually freezer burned and unpalatable within 2 weeks. I am fortunate enough to have a working oven and stovetop. However, all of this means that meals like "cut up apples, cold meat and cheese or vegetables dipped in yogurt or hummus" are not an easy thing for me. All of those items are expensive, heavy, and except for apples, perishable. If I stop at a grocery store on the way home, it takes about an hour out of my 4 hours of time I have between arriving home from work and going to sleep (then I prepare the food, do the dishes...). I do it, but I fucking hate it.

Also if one more person smugly tells me to get an Insta-pot or what the fuck ever, to cook my LeNtiLs of absolution, I am going to eat their face between two slices of Wonderbread for my dinner. Where am I gonna put that shit, in the middle of my floor?

I'm tired.

I don't even have a family to feed. I can't imagine figuring that out.
posted by Feminazgul at 10:25 AM on March 16 [35 favorites]


The meal boxes do solve one problem which meal planning services don't: leftover ingredients. What are you going to do when a recipe only calls for half a lemons' juice, or when you need to do something with that package of quinoa in the cupboard. I'm really careful about not wasting food and that's usually the #1 consideration when I start to plan for the next week: what needs to be used up? I still maintain that this is a hard problem not currently solvable by technology.

Just some practical advise: you need to let the meals grow off each other. Yesterday we had vegetarian lasagna. There were lasagna sheets left over, so today we are having cannelloni with ricotta and spinach to use up the lasagna. But there will be ricotta and spinach left over because of the package sizes at my local store, so tomorrow they will probably be some sort of hand pies for lunch. Back in those old nostalgic days or right now out in professional kitchens, people think like that. I wish household economy would be a school subject, like it was. Just for all kids, not only the girls.
posted by mumimor at 10:29 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I live in Taipei right now and almost none of my friends and family cook! This is because we live in a big metropolis with tons of very cheap food options and very good public transport. I can get to three different night markets within twenty minutes or less, convenience stores often have pretty tasty prepared food (think deli sandwiches and non-horrible microwave meals) and there's enough density in the city for a neighborhood place to focus on a few dishes prepared in large quantities and sold at $2 USD per portion.

We have cafeteria-style restaurants here! A lot of them have a set amount of prepared side dishes a day, or a very limited menu (only beef noodle soup, or only bing, or only bao) that lets them produce food in high quantities. Many of them are grouped near public transit hubs, which makes it easy for people to stop somewhere or get food to go to and from work.

Most of it's not incredibly healthy food, because one of the best ways to make something cheap taste good is to drench it in oil or soy sauce, but we can have places with readily available, cheap, convenient prepped food. It's just that those places have to be high-density and easy to navigate, so like... most Asian metropolises, but very few places in the US.

But anyway, my point being: the pressure to cook at home is absolutely a cultural thing and not an absolute value. Places like Taipei or Hong Kong or Tokyo are built for people to be able to live without cooking.
posted by storytam at 10:36 AM on March 16 [27 favorites]


Do you, perhaps, have the titles at hand?
Thank you in advance.


These two I suspect: “Pinch of Nom” and “Mary Berry’s Quick Cooking”.

Another excellent book in this genre (i.e. that of the time-poor cook) is NIgel Slater’s “The 30-minute Cook”.

If on a strict budget, Cas Clarke’s “Grub on a Grant” and “Peckish but Poor” got me through my student years in the 90s. Something similar is now in print as “Essential Student Cookbook: 400 Quick Easy and Cheap Recipes: 400 Quick and Easy Recipes”. Jack Monroe’s “Cooking on a Bootstrap: Over 100 simple, budget recipes” also comes recommended, but I don’t own that one so can’t comment personally.
posted by pharm at 11:35 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


"It’s fantastic to have cheap, hearty food at your disposal three times a day, but I don’t know if the economics of it actually work out without that subsidy. Will people really pay the fully loaded cost of high quality cafeteria food?"

When I was living on my own and dealing with health problems and a lack of transportation that made cooking for myself extra onerous, I looked into the practicality of eating at the nearby University campus cafeteria. I wouldn't describe their food as necessarily "high quality", but reasonable for cafeteria fare I suppose? Meals were all-you-can-eat, but that meant you couldn't take leftovers home. It did not turn out to be a workable option for me at the time - too expensive. Getting takeout from the neighbhourhood family-run Chinese restaurant was cheaper* than the cafeteria, especially if I got a few dishes and stretched the leftovers.

Current campus cafeteria prices (in Canadian $):
Breakfast - $8.50
Lunch - $12.00
Dinner - $14.00

For perspective on those prices:
  • minimum wage here is $14/hour, average monthly rent for a room in shared accommodation is ~$650, and a one-bedroom apartment is ~$1100
  • our local food unit expects an adult woman in a single person household to need to spend ~$260 a month on groceries to maintain a healthy diet, which works out to $8.75 a day (in contrast to the ~$12.00 per meal it would cost to eat all your meals at the cafeteria).

* which leads into a whole new conversation about the monetary value White society puts on non-White cuisine when it is sold by non-White people.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 11:38 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


On the flipside, access to a variety of restaurants is its own kind of privilege. I live and work in a rural area, and while many people can and do subsist on the local offerings of fast food, biscuits, and barbecue, it's not for me. If I get home and don't want to cook, too bad; there's only one restaurant within a 15-minute radius of my house.
posted by toastedcheese at 11:43 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


I’ve long said we need some kind of public kitchen shop/cafeteria/hot bar system that also incorporates a tiffin style delivery network - we allready have it in service of private exploitative systems. Fast food isn’t great for you cause it’s made with the cheapest possible materials , there’s no reason food can’t be cheap, fast and healthy.

Food production takes to scale really well, most people in urban areas historically didn't cook for themselves, we need to liberate this basic need and make home cooking a hobby and pleasure.
posted by The Whelk at 11:59 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]




I hate cooking to feed a family, which is ironic because there was a point in my life where I loved nothing so much as to spend a day making a big pot of soup from scratch (broth and all). I think it was the grind of the days of doing full time childcare that ground me down: preparing 3 meals and 2 snacks a day and cleaning them up, a constant rotation of picking up scraps of food from the floor and emptying and loading the dishwasher, not to mention the unending relentlessness of joyless creativity. My child was picky, which made it harder, and my spouse has a ton of food allergies, which made it more joyless, still. We used to belong to a CSA, which felt like it was fulfilling some kind of moral obligation of Hudson Valley nurturing, except it really meant spending roughly $500 a season on bok choy that would inevitably rot in our vegetable drawer. So I gave up on that. I read Ellyn Satter's Child of Mine in the hopes that it would help cure my child of pickiness and--what do you know? I pretty much followed it to the letter and it worked. At five, my child is reasonably adventurous. Hallelujah, she even tried sauce on her pasta the other day and liked it.

Satter's advice is weird when contrasted against modern moralizing about food. Among other things, she tells you to give your child bland staples with meals--pasta, white bread, white rice. There was one point in her book where she extols the virtues of white bread because it has added vitamins! She doesn't even say you shouldn't have fast food, just that you should sit down together as a family to eat it. That was all the permission I needed, honestly. Those long toddler days of stay at home parenthood, during the endless winter, Kid Kenobi and I would go to the local McDonald's playspace and sit down together and eat a meal and then she'd play on the play equipment and it was . . . lovely. Such a relief not to cook and then clean and try to wrangle her. My child learned to eat in restaurants thanks to McDonalds and local diners and she is a wonderful meal companion. But gosh, you've never seen horror and judgment like the horror and judgment on the face of the parent of a 3 year old when your 3 year old invites them out to McDonalds with you.

The attitudes around food in our area, particularly around women cooking and baking things from scratch are so severe that at one point I had a meltdown over Yet Another Potluck and my Failures as a Woman that was the beginning of realizing I was genderqueer. From friends' instagram feeds to the snacks they bring to library storytime to townpoolisde posturing over how they would never give their kids a pop tart (on a lovely day that began with a pop tart for your kid, let's be real), it's clear they've largely wholly built into the belief that if you do not feed your family their way you do not love your child. Some of this is extremely weird orthorexic shit (I once watched a mom throw raisins her child was eating into the bushes because she "couldn't stand him eating anymore junk food") but some of it is more socially acceptable and folded into our daily lives, like almost every party in my circle requires a pot luck dish, ostensibly to make things easier for the host but in essence making it required that you cook all the time. I've tried bucking this trend and supplying pizza for social events, or a nice cheese plate, or whatever, but certain people will always bring along a dish no matter what, creating a culture of expectation and also one-up-manship. Of course, none of the men involved cook or bring food (the dads at the park are always the ones stealing snacks, it seems, and they were also often the only other caregivers at McDonalds) or probably even feel the miasma of pressure about it, but I sure do.

As for me, somehow having more time hasn't brought joy back to cooking, or maybe it's that I'm working more now and don't have the brain power, or maybe it's that admitting that I'm not really a woman has freed me from the guilt about it a bit even though I'm not sure anyone should feel that guilt or pressure. Sure, I have an Instant Pot, and it helps, but my cooking is squarely 70sish. Pasta, meatballs, jarred sauce*, and a steamed vegetable. Rice and BBQ drumsticks with canned peaches for dessert. The aforementioned jarred curry sauces with some frozen veggies thrown in. My child eats chicken nuggets and carrot sticks in her bagged lunch at pre-school, and they provide a snack (amazingly, unlike the more expensive schools in our area which require the parents to bring snacks that are gluten free and organic). Often the kids will cook the snack, which is great because she likes baking but sure isn't getting baking skills from me these days beyond a box mix. But then, I've heard the other parents laugh at the way the daycare director does baking. "Homemade pudding, that's so ridiculous," as if their 4 year olds should be conquering recipes and tastes that are much more sophisticated than that. Pfah.

I would totally go for a dorm-style dining hall, especially if it had a cereal bar. 100% am there.

*I can't tell you how many people have lectured me on how easy it is to make sauce from scratch as if I don't know, as if it is still not fundamentally easier to literally just open a jar and heat it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:50 PM on March 16 [22 favorites]


This is a complicated issue with no clear answers. For sure meal planning and cooking is real, time-consuming work. It's also the case that a lot of 30-50 year olds today just don't have the meal planning and cooking skills their parents had, and also that they may desire more variety in their meals.

All that said, and with the caveat that I am a pretty skilled/experienced cook, I haven't found this too terribly difficult to do. Breakfast for us is just coffee on weekday mornings, although it wouldn't be any bother to have a piece of toast and a fried egg or a small bowl of oatmeal or grits. Lunch, to be honest, we usually buy. But it's not difficult to pack up a simple sandwich (Mrs. slkinsey and I are dieting right now, which means that we are packing our lunches nowadays, and it hasn't been a hardship). Everyday dinner can be anything from spaghetti cacio e pepe and a salad, to double-cut pork chops with crushed potatoes and sautéed greens. This is fairly simple stuff that works fine, and if I'm feeling motivated might do something more involved like making a curry in the pressure cooker. None of it needs to take more than 30 minutes of active prep time.

Points made above about leftovers are certainly valid. When I was a kid we had leftovers so often we used to joke that leftovers were my mother's signature dish. Sometimes she would just microwave a dozen or so containers of leftovers from miscellaneous meals, smack those on the table and that would be our family dinner that night.

It's also worth pointing out that a lot of families in earlier times had more or less the same things every week. Monday would be chicken day, Wednesday would be meatloaf day and so on. And there would be known and understood ways for those meals to be repackaged later on. Monday's chicken would become Tuesday's chicken salad sandwich for lunch, and Wednesday's meatloaf would become Thursday's meatloaf sandwich for lunch. These things are all possible today, so long as one is willing to eat some iteration of chicken every Monday and meatloaf every Wednesday, etc. When variety starts to ramp up and preparations get more distinctive, it's more difficult to repurpose (although of course you can just have straight leftovers).

I am, of course, just as guilty as the next person when it comes to relying on restaurant visits and delivery. But it costs a lot of $ and we gain weight when we do this too often.
posted by slkinsey at 1:17 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


It's also the case that a lot of 30-50 year olds today just don't have the meal planning and cooking skills their parents had, and also that they may desire more variety in their meals.

Agree on the desired variety but I don't know that our cooking skills are all that much poorer. Have you ever looked at historical community cookbooks? Those recipes are easy compared even to internet cooking videos today. Sure, my mom took home ec--but a frequent meal in our house was canned spam. The only fresh vegetables we ever ate was iceberg lettuce in salad. Of course, this was a step up from my grandmother's cooking, which was, like, ketchup on noodles, frequently.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:22 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I mean, the whole point of the food movement is that our selfish moms and grandmas ruined everything by wanting bad and evil things like jobs and free time, rather than finding joy in spending all day cooking. They were the ones who started buying jarred pasta sauce and Hamburger Helper, which led to the downfall of civilization. 65-year-olds are not off the hook here. Their disgusting cooking habits caused all of this mess, according to the people who pontificate about food.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:58 PM on March 16 [18 favorites]


Have you ever looked at historical community cookbooks?

I have several of these from churches or civic leagues from various places for various reasons as a part of my cookbook library. Also one greek recipe book compiled by the granddaughter of some locally legendary food matriarch from my hometown. These kinds of cookbooks are so great to have because they are so unpredictable and all the meals are the kind made by people who are cooking to eat, not cooking to explore or cooking to expand or whatever.

I recommend getting some if you don't have some.
posted by hippybear at 2:00 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I buy jarred Alfredo sauce (Bertolli brand) because making your own Alfredo is ridiculously expensive, doesn’t reheat well, and in my case, didn’t even have the right flavor profile for the dish I was making. Screw that. $3 at Target, done. I also had a Holiday Cookie travesty when I was trying to make my own salted caramel for no good reason (which I’ve done successfully in the past), and I wasted like a pound of butter, half a bag of sugar, and two fucking hours because my candy thermometer wasn’t giving me reliable readings. Smucker’s all-natural salted caramel, $2.89.

I’m not foreign to the lure of the kitchen. I have a juicer, a blender, a food processor, a bread machine, an ice cream machine, and a Crock Pot. The one thing I don’t have is the primary status symbol of the home cook, the KitchenAid Stand Mixer. (I refuse to buy one.) I have parties at my house where my friends come over and we bake stuff. My homemade ice cream is a legend. But the rest of the time, I’m eating salads, cereal, cheese and crackers, sandwiches, pasta, the occasional TV dinner, and whatever else is easy to cook.

My mother is a good cook, and joined the cult of Julia Child in the ‘70s, so most of the food she made had alcohol in it, and I do the same thing in my own cooking. But she also stopped cooking and buying groceries for my sister and me when we were 14, and old enough to work part-time. I bought my own food or I didn’t eat. And since I was at school, doing after-school things, or working and therefore not predictably home at mealtimes, most of what I ate was either fast food from one of the places within lunch-break distance of my job, or a TV dinner that I could nuke in the microwave. And, frankly, the prioritization of speed and convenience over nutrition and showmanship hasn’t changed much for me over the years. Any from-scratch baking and cooking that I do is for pleasure and/or company.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:25 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


After deleting so many things that just agree with so many other things here...

Yesterday my aunt came over and we cooked together for 5 hours and had dinner and gin & tonics. It was fun and both our freezers are full of food. But the best part was it was communal.

I like to eat, I need to cook & cooking with others is less of a slog and sometimes even a joy.
posted by heidiola at 2:27 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]


By the way, the “Get together and cook things” party is a great way to socialize if your kitchen will accommodate it. It’s like a potluck except that instead of bringing a prepared meal to share, you bring ingredients and to-go containers, and then you get to bring a bunch of prepared dishes home.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:28 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I don't know that our cooking skills are all that much poorer.

Cooking shows nowadays, and certainly most internet cooking videos are more aspirational than they are practical.

A good measure of how basic cooking knowledge has declined is to look at cookbooks -- especially those that have gone through multiple editions such as the Joy of Cooking. Earlier editions might say something like, "prepare a small chicken for roasting in the usual way, then . . ." Later editions would describe this preparation method in detail, and even later editions might illustrate it with pictures. Why? Because the authors could no longer assume readers would have that basic knowledge.

My experience is that fewer people of my generation have the cooking knowledge, for example, to be able to come home from work, spend 20 minutes spatchcocking a chicken and cutting up some vegetables, and know they can bung it all in the oven and sit down to a nice hot dinner in 40 minutes. This, meanwhile, doesn't even include things such as knowing how to make a quick pan sauce afterwards, etc. Or, for that matter, knowing enough about certain foodways to be able to make simple, quick meals. Few things could be as quick, simple and easy as linguini with (canned) clams, garlic, olive oil and parsley. Total active preparation time is perhaps five minutes. But a lot of people nowadays would open a cookbook to figure out how to make linguini with clams, and would probably find themselves following a considerably more complicated and time-consuming recipe. A lot of this knowledge is only acquired through experience. For me, making a quick pasta sauce doesn't seem like enough additional work that I would switch to jarred pasta sauces. As result we haven't had a jarred pasta sauce chez slkinsey in over 35 years. But part of the reason it doesn't seem like all that much work is that I have improvisational recipe-crafting skills, knife skills and other cooking skills I've built up over 35 years of cooking most every day.

That said, I will allow that I enjoy culinary culture and cooking, even though it often has the nature of work for me, just like everyone else. The main thing that probably prevents me from relying on prepared items more often is that I simply don't like them. I can remember tasting a "higher end of the regular supermarket level" jarred tomato sauce and being shocked at how bad I thought it was. Needless to say, there are many good reasons others might rely more heavily on prepared or partly prepared foods. Cooking for one can be very tough, for example.
posted by slkinsey at 2:33 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Meal planning is the major issue for me. I can cook a quick meal, but making sure that I use up the ingredients I buy is like a puzzle. And getting to the grocery store and finding out that they're out of some central ingredient is like when the cat jumps up on the table and smashes your puzzle to the floor.

I use Blue Apron (I know, I know) and I cook a lot more, just because all of the planning and shopping is done for me. I have a repertoire of "easy" dishes with shelf-stable or frozen ingredients to fill in the gaps, or I eat out.

I don't know. Our situations and our challenges are so individual... even as someone who eats pretty well, "you just have to choose what's important" really rankles. If I had to cut back on spending, I wouldn't eat as well. If I had to work until 9:00pm more often than I do, I wouldn't eat as well. If I had to feed a whole family, making the process more involved and stressful, I probably wouldn't eat as well. There's a lot of luck involved in how well I eat.

I believe that most of us want to make good diet choices, and when we don't, there is an issue that is worth discussing - whether it's lack of education, lack of time, lack of money, lack of support from our partners, or some combination of factors. It's hard to have that discussion if we're moralizing at people, instead of trying to find solutions.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:51 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


A good measure of how basic cooking knowledge has declined is to look at cookbooks -- especially those that have gone through multiple editions such as the Joy of Cooking. Earlier editions might say something like, "prepare a small chicken for roasting in the usual way, then . . ." Later editions would describe this preparation method in detail, and even later editions might illustrate it with pictures. Why? Because the authors could no longer assume readers would have that basic knowledge.
I thought the whole point of the Joy of Cooking was that it was initially designed for Depression-era middle-class housewives who could no longer afford servants and were cooking for themselves for the first time, and it assumed literally no knowledge at all of what to do in a kitchen. There's a joint biography of the mother-daughter author team called Stand Facing the Stove, which is a direction that the first edition actually gave to clueless cooks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:55 PM on March 16 [13 favorites]


The Joy Of Cooking has a complicated history wherein it has been very detailed and complicated and then dumbed down and has bounced back again. and finally compromised with detailed recipes and also quick-prep meals using canned and frozen ingredients.

It was written as a way for the author to deal with the suicide of her husband, more of a focus for healing than intended to be designed for specific market.
posted by hippybear at 3:05 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I do ok at cooking, but a) no kids, b) I don’t mind leftovers (and in fact try to create them so I don’t have to cook from scratch every night), and c) still resent the amount of effort it takes. If I had easy access to the equivalent of a college dining hall, I’d happily eat there instead.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:08 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Regardless, similar things can be observed across cookbooks for the home cook. The need to explain basic culinary techniques grew over time.
posted by slkinsey at 3:09 PM on March 16


> I've idly wondered for a while if there's a market for a sort-of dining-hall restaurant in big cities, where people "subscribe" to X number of dinners a week, and you make two dishes -- one with meat, one meatless -- in bulk and have 2 or 3 seatings an evening at long wooden tables with benches and everyone gets the same thing, but it's hot and freshly-made and you don't have to cook or clean. (And then the last seating gets to take home leftovers.) It might be cost-effective if you were just making TWO meals, and not "a bunch of stuff so people can pick."

There's a place like that near me, one night a month; you can eat there at communal tables, or package up food to go. This month the dinner is "Red Beans and Greens in Coconut Milk, Tahini Millet Patties, Coconut Jalapeno Crusted Potatoes, Cabbage and Peanut Salad, Sweet Potato Fudge." An adult is $10, a child is $5. Unfortunately my kids don't like the food, otherwise we'd be regulars.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:37 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


So, there’s only a few places around us for takeout, most of them fast food, so I end up cooking dinner probably 6 out of 7 nights. I budget about 90 minutes for prep and cooking daily, and I budget about 2 hours for menu planning and list making, and another 3hours for shopping each week. Over 20+ years of marriage, that’s a metric fuckton of time.

And recently, I’ve started to get really annoyed because with all that I do, when I ask family what they’d like on the menu, do they ever have a suggestion? They do not. “Whatever you want is fine.” “I don’t care.” For the last few days we’ve had cold cuts, fruit and cheese, because I am fucking tired of being the only one that has to think about food all the time.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:01 PM on March 16 [18 favorites]


A platter of various hard meats and cheese with crackers and some munchable veggie sticks makes for a perfectly fine dinner if nobody is willing to express an opinion about what they truly want.
posted by hippybear at 4:05 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I would love to stop spending so much time and energy on meal prep, but the thing about all of these existing options is that they are still just way too expensive compared to cooking for yourself. Meal delivery services sometimes brag about a cost of $10 per dinner, but that's $300 a month! Even if you can get lunch and breakfast combined down to $5/day that's still $450/month/person. And while the aforementioned Harvard cafeterias are certainly decent, I looked up the price for a dinner guest and it is $18.25. Even grocery hot bars or prepared food sections are getting expensive, especially in cities, which makes sense because the cost of housing (and thus the cost of labor) and the cost of commercial space are both so high. It sucks, but there's a reason that literally the first piece of budgeting advice you'll get, if you're a normal middle-class person and not a tech-middle-class person having trouble making ends meet, is to prepare all your meals at home. It's essentially a second job, but your main employer isn't allowed to get mad about it.

That said, this thread is super validating; it's nice to hear that no, I'm probably not uniquely inefficient in the kitchen and that it's not just me who regularly feels defeated by how much time cooking and cleaning takes.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:16 PM on March 16 [20 favorites]


My experience is that fewer people of my generation have the cooking knowledge, for example, to be able to come home from work, spend 20 minutes spatchcocking a chicken and cutting up some vegetables, and know they can bung it all in the oven and sit down to a nice hot dinner in 40 minutes. This, meanwhile, doesn't even include things such as knowing how to make a quick pan sauce afterwards, etc. ... But part of the reason it doesn't seem like all that much work is that I have improvisational recipe-crafting skills, knife skills and other cooking skills I've built up over 35 years of cooking most every day.

So, okay. You get off work at 5:30, and if you're lucky, you're home by six. You already have every ingredient you need in your kitchen or fridge, and all your dishes are clean, somehow, thankfully. So, energized as you are from the workday and the commute, you immediately start your oven heating, immediately get out your shears and get to work, prepping this bird and laying it out in a pan, and then surrounding it with peeled and chopped vegetables. You say that's 20 minutes? Sure, okay. Let's assume 20 minutes. Would take me more than 20 minutes to do that, and I'm not an amateur at this.

So now you have this bland, unseasoned bird, since we haven't allowed time for seasoning, brining, marinating, anything to make this lump of protein taste good, but hey, it's ready to go in the oven by 6:20 on the dot. Huzzah. 40 minute cook, you say? Less time than I'm seeing elsewhere, but okay. Okay. Comes out of the oven at 7, the bottom soggy with chicken grease and the top dry as hell but hey, the skin's crispy, huzzah.

Chicken dripping pan sauce, huh? Okay, 5-10 minutes more for that, let's be generous on how quick that "quick pan sauce" can be accomplished, and we're all eating at 7:10. 7:15 if we're quick about setting a table. Hooray? Seems pretty late for a bunch of kids who last ate noonish and are going to bed between 8 and 9.

And that's if you happen to have a strict 9-5 schedule that affords you this kind of planning. I'm curious how old you think the "fewer people of my generation" you're referring to actually are, with your "over 35 years of cooking most every day"?
posted by kafziel at 4:17 PM on March 16 [30 favorites]


My dreaded chore is washing salad. If I buy Romaine hearts, wash them and wrap them, they last up to two weeks, compared to any bagged salad that seems to rot within hours of purchase. But man, it’s so goddamn tedious. There’s a reason peeling vegetables is used as a punishment in the military.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:18 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I know how to cook. I just don't give a shit about food and find domestic work to be pretty unrelenting drudgery. So I minimize it all as much as possible.

And if you do yearn for the yesteryear that never really was, when women were chained to the stove making elaborate family dinners that they then somehow sat down to eat along with the kids and husband while also looking hot/sweet, making their husband cocktails, and feeding the baby, then...I dunno, those don't seem like golden days to me and that's not how I want to run my household or my life.

I think the current obsession with home cooking and food "purity" is some archaic backlash shit about getting women out of the working world and out of social life and back in the kitchen where we "belong."

There is a reason that there is absolutely no governmental or social support for home cooking even while we're admonished to do it every fucking day and it's because home cooking is something that a lot of people think is "woman's work" and those same people are apparently afraid that letting up the pressure on women to do it (or even just giving us real opportunities to get out of it) is dangerously subversive. Like god forbid women be free. Or even supported in our apparently socially mandated work. Same thing for day care, same thing for cleaning, same thing for anything having to do with caring for women's bodies (medically or hygiene/grooming), even same thing for the ERA.
posted by rue72 at 4:20 PM on March 16 [36 favorites]


I work at a big public university with several cafeterias. Most students take their main meal at mid day and just have a sandwich for dinner, but the cafeteria puts out containers so you can bring their stuff home. It's very good, mainly vegetarian but with meat options and cooked from scratch. The thing is, they are actually public restaurants. Students and teachers get a huge discount with their Uni-IDs, but anyone can walk in from the street. Yesterday my full plate was the equivalent of 6 dollars before the discount.
This university is in a suburb and people who don't work there can't easily find the cafeteria, but before I worked at a smaller university in the city and it was very ordinary to see people from the neighborhood come in to eat lunch or buy take-out, even though the food wasn't nearly as good.
I'm wondering if this might be a possibility for some of you?
posted by mumimor at 4:22 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Omg, fuck chopping and washing vegetables.

Oh, and re: deli meats, they are certainly delicious and have protein and I love them -- but they are also one of the few foods where there is actually a pretty unambiguous link to poor health, in the form of colorectal cancer and heart disease. This isn't "clean eating" woo-woo, or something like how coffee is good for you one week and bad the next. It's actually one of the very few enduring findings in that field that nitrated meats, specifically (even if you use "natural" sources like celery extract), are bad news. I'm not saying this to make anyone feel bad for enjoying them or imply that anyone is making a bad trade-off, at all, I just want to remind people that access to healthy food is a public health issue as well and that deli plates aren't a magic solution for everyone.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:28 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]


Brb putting my irons in the fireplace to heat up, because using my Rowenta Pro model with 3 steam settings is somehow a cop-out, underlining a lost ability that remains the province of the truly invested.

I’ve been sitting here thinking about it, and I don’t think I’ve really been able to tell whether a meal’s quality was changed significantly because it was made with fresh ingredients over prepared. Sure, there are some instances where it makes a big difference (fresh spinach vs. canned) but when has, say, fresh parsley vs. dried ever changed a dish? If I’m using a can of Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes, is my dish going to be less flavorful than if I used the kind of tomatoes available in Minnesota in March? My ice cream uses only fresh ingredients, but is it better than the local creameries, which use emulsifiers and commercial bases because that’s how you mass-produce ice cream? I’d say it’s AS good, but not better. It’s better than store-bought, and costs about the same per batch as an equivalent amount of Ben & Jerry’s pints, so that makes it worthwhile.

My time and money are worth more than just cooking from scratch for the sake of it. If I have a recipe that calls for chicken stock, I’m going to go buy a quart of chicken stock, not the ingredients for chicken stock. There’s just no commensurate benefit for the additional labor.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:33 PM on March 16 [10 favorites]


One slice of day old pizza with hard cheese sitting under a heat lamp in downtown Chicago: $5
posted by xammerboy at 4:34 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I remember a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in Lancaster, PA which served the food "familiy style"-- everyone sat at long tables, and the wait staff came around with big plates of mainstream American food. You took as much as you wanted.

Has anyone seen anything like that (could be other cuisines, of course) elsewhere?

In terms of least effort food, sometimes I just have some cheese and salad.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:36 PM on March 16


I’ve got half a frozen DiGiorno that I’m about to throw in the oven for dinner.

Buca di Beppo is a chain of Italian restaurants that serves family-style. I can’t say I found their food to be particularly impressive, but maybe I got the B squad in the kitchen when I visited.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:40 PM on March 16


I have eaten at that place in Lancaster! Decades ago, but I remember liking the food and the company. I was in town for a brief contract, and the locals recommended it.

Circling back, I want to verify Eyebrows on toxic mompetition about food and playdates. That shit is insane.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 4:42 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I rarely make salad primarily because washing (and drying, because if it's soggy the dressing doesn't stick) greens is my most loathed cooking chore. I was also thinking the other day how much I could go for a really good sandwich with lettuce and tomato and ham and cheese on good bread, because I'm sure as hell not going to keep lettuce around to use 2 leaves for a salad, and the tomatoes right now are mediocre and $3 a lb. Sigh. Bring on summer.
posted by quaking fajita at 4:44 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


when has, say, fresh parsley vs. dried ever changed a dish?

If you make tabbouleh with dried parsley, you will be very sad.

I just placed a delivery order with an Italian restaurant because I don't feel like cooking, and the men in the house were not content to eat cheese and bread and fruit and raw veggies and cold cuts and hummus (which is what I would eat pretty much all the time left to myself), because they wanted something "dinner-y". Go figure.

(BTW, slkinsey, I have seen you posting on eGullet (over there I'm munchymom) and you are definitely a outlier in terms of cooking skill and enthusiasm.)
posted by Daily Alice at 4:46 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I concede the tabbouleh parsley factor. All the dishes I’ve made that required parsley basically used it for color.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:52 PM on March 16


I rarely make salad primarily because washing (and drying, because if it's soggy the dressing doesn't stick) greens is my most loathed cooking chore

For washing and drying greens, get you a salad spinner. I've resisted this for years but it is literally life transforming. Before, there were dishes I only made when I was energetic and had loads of time. Now I make them any day. Spinach, parsley, salads, kale, and much more. It's easy and fast and there are not more things to wash up than before.
posted by mumimor at 5:00 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I think perhaps the assumption that some people are making--that the people who are saying cooking for a household of $whateversize from scratch every day is hard just don't know how to cook properly--is a bad one.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:05 PM on March 16 [19 favorites]


Imam bayildi with dried parsley and/or dried mint is going to be kind of sad. Imam bayildi with fresh parsley and fresh mint is delicious.

Imam bayildi is already a fair bit of work, and chopping up fresh herbs adds a lot of time to an already labor-intensive dish.

There are choices involved in everything.
posted by kafziel at 5:07 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


the men in the house were not content to eat cheese and bread and fruit and raw veggies and cold cuts and hummus (which is what I would eat pretty much all the time left to myself), because they wanted something "dinner-y".

I would totally eat that, and thank you for laying out a lovely meal.

Also, yeah, I hear you on the difference between eating a meal like this and eating something "dinner-y," and about having to take on extra work because of someone else's idea of What Constitutes a Meal-Meal.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:13 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Speaking of culinary skills that have a limited audience, I live near a butcher that will also dress your game for you during hunting season.

The fact of the matter is that as individuals, we’ve become far more specialized, and do things as part of our daily lives that our forebears didn’t do. I don’t know how to debone a chicken without googling it, but I do know how to build a thing that lets you buy stuff online, something our forebears only dreamed of doing and read about in speculative fiction. Just the fact that we’re complaining that we can’t use an app (yet!) to order the ingredients for a meal to be delivered, as opposed to having to go out and grab a hen out of the yard or grind our own flour, shows how far we’ve advanced in the way that we meet our basic needs. And we’ve used that time to develop other skills. Is that an appropriate use of our time? Of course it is. There’s still a place in the world for people who want to specialize in the culinary arts, but it’s no more necessary for us to do it as a general skill than it is for us to know how to milk our own cows.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:19 PM on March 16 [8 favorites]


Not to mention, just imagine the unbelievable amounts of energy, water and food waste that would be generated if everyone really did do all their cooking at home, from scratch.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:31 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


someone else's idea of What Constitutes a Meal-Meal.

And you would think, maybe, that if you wanted a Meal-Meal, you might decide what you want, and buy the ingredients, and work out how long it takes to make all the components, and make them, and time the cooking so they are all ready at Mealtime... but apparently the thing to do if you want a Meal-Meal is say to your wife at 5:30 pm, "So what are you thinking about dinner?"
posted by Daily Alice at 5:33 PM on March 16 [24 favorites]


That’s a whole nother thread.

But I feel like there are two underlying issues that create this overarching condition. One, that we don’t use our technology to make higher-quality mass-produced food. And two, the peculiarly American construct that everyone has to do everything with no help, in the most labor-intensive way possible, even if it is massively inefficient and leaves people with no free time. Would it be a moral issue if we could run down to McDonald’s and get a grass-fed organic burger with all fresh ingredients? Or would that still be “cheating” because life is supposed to be hard?
posted by Autumnheart at 5:46 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]


My experience is that fewer people of my generation have the cooking knowledge, for example, to be able to come home from work, spend 20 minutes spatchcocking a chicken and cutting up some vegetables, and know they can bung it all in the oven and sit down to a nice hot dinner in 40 minutes. This, meanwhile, doesn't even include things such as knowing how to make a quick pan sauce afterwards, etc. Or, for that matter, knowing enough about certain foodways to be able to make simple, quick meals. Few things could be as quick, simple and easy as linguini with (canned) clams, garlic, olive oil and parsley. Total active preparation time is perhaps five minutes. But a lot of people nowadays would open a cookbook to figure out how to make linguini with clams, and would probably find themselves following a considerably more complicated and time-consuming recipe. A lot of this knowledge is only acquired through experience. For me, making a quick pasta sauce doesn't seem like enough additional work that I would switch to jarred pasta sauces.

Yes, I'm aware that you can saute things in olive oil and garlic to make a sauce. Cutting up some vegetables is time consuming--time I could be spent doing oh, dozens of things I find more interesting (we've started to do big jigsaw puzzles in the kitchen as a family--how joyful it is! And infinitely more engaging than chopping stuff). You realize that to prepare jarred sauce, you literally open a jar and heat it? If you're feeling really lazy you don't even really need to heat it separately, you can just toss the hot pasta in it.

I have gained this knowledge through my experience of doing it, too. Differences in one's mental calculus are not always due to ignorance.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:48 PM on March 16 [21 favorites]


I typically use jarred sauce as a base. For spaghetti, add ground beef (optional), roasted garlic, some jarred pesto (I like Classico) and a splash of Holland House cooking sherry. Tastes great and practically everything is from a jar. For my clam pasta: one jar of Bertolli’s Alfredo, half a stick of butter, two cans of clams with the clam juice, roasted garlic, herbes de Provence, sherry, onion powder, garlic powder, and top with Parmesan before serving. I think the only non-jar ingredient in there is the garlic. (I roast garlic in bulk and freeze the cloves.)

I mean it’s really about the flavor profile of the end result, not the arbitrary value of the individual ingredients. It’s not like you MUST use a jar of something as-is with no additions.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:59 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


And that's if you happen to have a strict 9-5 schedule that affords you this kind of planning. I'm curious how old you think the "fewer people of my generation" you're referring to actually are, with your "over 35 years of cooking most every day"?

When I was growing up, the schedule you describe was how we did dinner once a week, except we didn't spatchcock the chicken. A small chicken, roasted bone-in and skin-on, is not gross or unseasoned or dry or whatever. Seasoning is great, sure, I'm happy to eat seasoned chicken - but if you're not eating spongy skinless chicken breasts, chicken has a good flavor of its own. This was one of my favorite dinners growing up, and it was actually pretty easy.

The cooking skills and recipe adaptations that sikinsey describes are exactly how my parents put dinner on the table every weeknight. We had linguine with clam sauce relatively regularly, probably cooked as they describe.

If you have the right personality type, a predictable schedule and a predictable even if not large budget, plus no allergies and children who are reasonably non-picky, it's pretty doable - if that's where you want to put your effort. I'm a big proponent of "good-enough" eating, so I tend to think that it's best for people to make the trade-offs that work for them, which was after all what my parents did. I will describe how it was done below, but note that there are advantages and disadvantages to this type of planning. For instance, my family are all extremely introverted, so a predictable schedule and being home in the evenings is typical, and you absolutely must have a very rigid schedule for it to work.

Anyway, this is how you do it:

Both parents must have very predictable schedules, something more true in the past than today.

One parent does a big grocery run on Saturday and buys a repeating set of ingredients, nothing fancy. This will include sandwich fixings for lunches, apples or oranges, carrots and celery, plus basic food like potatoes, onions, pasta, canned tomatoes, etc, plus whatever meat you plan to eat that week, usually what's on sale and probably some variant on chicken, pork chops and ground beef. Also oxtails - best part of the ox! On Saturday, you have a general idea of what your weeknight dinners will be, because you're picking from smallish menu that repeats.

Every morning, you set anything frozen to thaw in the refrigerator. When you get home, you almost immediately start your chicken, meatloaf, tuna casserole, simple tomato sauce, etc. While it's cooking, you make a quick and simple salad from lettuce (iceberg when I was young, romaine and spinach later as we could afford it), a little tomato, a little cucumber, carrot and celery, which you dress with a vinegar and oil dressing. A child old enough to handle a knife can do this step. Also when it's cooking, you make a simple side - rice, baked potatoes, noodles with black pepper and parmesan, sauteed spinach, baked tomato slices with parmesan, whatever. And boom, dinner is on the table. It is doable, and I know this because my parents did it every night when I was growing up.

Now, in any given week you also usually have one night of Sunday leftovers or fast food or fish stick-type stuff (oxtail stew, cold beef sandwiches, leftover brisket etc) one night, and of course things are more relaxed on Friday night, so you're really only talking three seriously time-pressured meals.

The thing is, it's possible but you have to organize your life around it. My parents, both of them, worked very, very hard running our home and kept to very, very regimented schedules until both children were out of high school. (And maybe that's part of the secret - my father genuinely pulled his weight, so there were two adults on task at all times.) Leaving all else aside, that's not going to suit everyone - it really only suited my parents because everyone in my family is an extreme introvert.

It's like anything else - given moderately good health and modest financial stability, if you really, really want to do so, you can exercise every day or cut out sugar or cook all meals from scratch or practice an instrument every evening after supper or save some absurd percentage of your paycheck...but you can't do all those things, and each thing comes at a cost. The problem isn't so much that it's literally impossible to do any one of these things, but rather that under capitalism we're supposed to try to do all of them, to a very high standard, regardless of how we feel about the costs, what else we want to do, what constraints we experience, etc.

I promise you that if you have a predictable schedule, predictable even if modest finances and reasonable health, you can put a home-cooked meal on the table every night if that's what you really, really want to do. But unless you personally feel like it's the best use of your time and resources, there really doesn't seem to be a good reason to do so.

Also, ftr, no one in my family is thin, even though we had salad every night, little sugar and very limited portions (that's the other piece - if you're on a budget, you make one serving for each person and that's all she wrote - we didn't have leftovers except from the big Sunday meal.)
posted by Frowner at 6:12 PM on March 16 [22 favorites]


Yes, I'm aware that you can saute things in olive oil and garlic to make a sauce. Cutting up some vegetables is time consuming--time I could be spent doing oh, dozens of things I find more interesting (we've started to do big jigsaw puzzles in the kitchen as a family--how joyful it is! And infinitely more engaging than chopping stuff). You realize that to prepare jarred sauce, you literally open a jar and heat it? If you're feeling really lazy you don't even really need to heat it separately, you can just toss the hot pasta in it.

Psst. Psst. You didn't hear it from me, but undercook your pasta by two minutes, strain it out with a slotted spoon or spider strainer instead of dumping it in a colander, toss it in the hot sauce directly, and then ladle the pasta water full of that good pasta starch over it as it finishes cooking and blending together. The tomatoes get in the pasta, the starch gets in the sauce, everything actually sticks to each other instead of sliding off and ends up really silky and wonderful. It's better with a fresh sauce, but this is actually the good way to do pasta, and real chefs are gonna recommend this.
posted by kafziel at 6:22 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


What time are you "We eat dinner together every night" people getting home from work? Do you have ten-minute commutes or something? Mr Corpse is rarely home before 6:30, usually closer to 7:00, which is too late for the younger Corpses and I to wait for him.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:29 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


I remember a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant in Lancaster, PA which served the food "familiy style"-- everyone sat at long tables, and the wait staff came around with big plates of mainstream American food. You took as much as you wanted.

A lot of these places are great if you do a lot of physical work during the day. Otherwise it's still a lot of calories.
posted by xammerboy at 6:30 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


That's the thing about trying to cook home-cooked meals when only one person is doing it (whether they're cooking only for themselves or for a group). If it takes 2 hours to buy ingredients, prep, cook, and clean up a meal, it makes a big different in an individual's life whether they have to do 20-30 minutes of the work, or all 2 hours. Multiply by the number of meals and uffda.

I'm single and live alone, so I'm on the hook for the entire meal process. I feel like I can reasonably devote 5 hours a week to cooking and cleanup without it being a huge drag. I'll spend that 5 hours on a weekend day, making batches of things and portioning items so that I can assemble a meal in a couple minutes. When I get home from work, I clean up my lunch containers, run the dishwasher if it's full, and arrange the next day's lunch so that I can easily grab everything and put it in my lunchbox. Dinner is almost certainly a quick commercially prepared thing (soup, sandwich, cereal, cheese and crackers).

Let's say I was married and my hypothetical spouse contributed equally to food preparation. Then I could get 10 hours' worth of benefit even though my 5 hours of contribution remained the same. More complex meals, more snacks that were ready to eat that I didn't have to make myself. Let's say I had kids who were old enough to help, I could get 11-12 hours of benefit. Or it could go the other way, I could have a spouse who expected me to do all the food prep, and put in 10 hours of labor for 5 hours of benefit. Not how I want my life to be.

So, 5 hours is roughly where I land, doing 100% of the labor for 100% of the benefit. Occasionally I'll go the extra mile and bake cookies or make an extra batch of something so that I have less to do on a daily basis...but that's generally how it goes.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:35 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I read an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow where she said that GOOP is all about believing that anything is possible with the right product and hard work. You too can be beautiful, rich, successful. Hard work is central to the pitch. The fact that you have to put in the hard work proves the product works. If it doesn't work, you probably didn't work hard enough.
posted by xammerboy at 6:43 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Another piece in this whole debate seems to me to be the move toward "you must self-actualize and pursue excellence" as yet another adult metric, so there's more social pressure and also more cultural space to maintain complex hobbies, maintain larger social circles, etc. On the one hand, that's good - most of my age peers have more friends and more hobbies and are generally more plugged in to culture than my parents were. On the other hand, my parents just basically had to deal with cultural messages of "hold down a job and run the house". Their hobby was reading, at least while the kids lived at home, and the rest of it was running the very tight ship that was our house.

For them I think it was a toss-up. As a family, we got a lot of good out of the home-cooked meals together and the tight ship, but if my parents had said, "we're going to have a messier house and more casual meals because we are going to do [these other self-actualizing things] and thereby model adult self-actualization" I think our family would have benefited in different ways. That is, my parents did a good job, but they could have done a different kind of good job instead and it would still have been fine.

My dad got home around six, my mother got home around 5:15 because she was a library assistant a couple of towns over. Our collective family understanding was that the children would have a modest but protein-dense snack upon arrival at home (or actually sometimes it was cookies) and therefore we were not unbearably hungry by the time dinner was on the table.
posted by Frowner at 6:44 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]


My family eats dinner together almost every night and I normally cook it. To make this work, I leave work at 4:30 to come home and start on dinner unless I have leftovers to serve. In normal days I get home at 5 but construction on my bus route has pushed that closer to 5:15 these days. If we are lucky I have food ready when the other two get home around 6; if I have left work late, or screwed something up, it is sometimes closer to 7. Then we shovel Little e into bed. We are not self actualized, we have no hobbies, our social lives are small but nonzero. But hey, the kid eats a vegetable willingly, so, win, I guess?

(I can’t imagine not using jarred pasta sauce though. I mean, ok, I’ll make fresh stuff once or twice in late summer, but with canned tomatoes what’s the point?)
posted by eirias at 7:12 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


What time are you "We eat dinner together every night" people getting home from work? Do you have ten-minute commutes or something? Mr Corpse is rarely home before 6:30, usually closer to 7:00, which is too late for the younger Corpses and I to wait for him.

We don’t eat dinner together right now because I work until 10 2 nights a week, my husband often works late two more, and Friday is a toss-up. Since my MIL lives with us, most nights there are 2 adults at the table though. This is why almost all of our weeknight meals are either crockpot or reheated meals. If whoever is getting dinner on the table were to cook it would be really late. As it is dinner is usually 6:30-6:45 and my youngest starts bedtime at 7:30.

I eat breakfast with my kids the days I work late though.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:31 PM on March 16


I have a pretty long commute, 45 minutes to an hour in each direction. Generally speaking, I get up at 6, leave for work shortly before 8, arrive between 8:30-9am, leave at 4:30 to 5pm. I prefer to run errands on the way home so that I'm not making special trips on the weekend. If I don't make a stop, I get home at 6pm. If I do make a stop, I get home at 7pm. Clean up the lunch things, feed the cats, prep lunch stuff for the next day, do chores around the house, scarf a bowl of cereal. By then it's about 8:30 to 9pm, so I get ready for bed, lights out ideally at 10pm if I want a full 8 hours of sleep. (Which I do!)

I didn't always have that schedule. For the first 5 years that I lived in this house, I worked from home nearly every day, and did a lot more baking and batch-cooking than I do now. Not that I was eating more heathily, oh no, I was baking cakes. *heh*

But now that I drive to work every day, I spend more time on things I can portion out and bring for lunch. I also have to work on food waste, because I run into issues where I have the same thing for lunch 4 days in a row, and then I'm sick of it by day 5. If it's an individual portion of soup that I'm defrosting every day, big deal--I can just leave it in the freezer. But if it's a perishable item like salad, that's tougher. I've gotten better at predicting the point at which I'll be tired of eating something, but I'm still not great at it.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:35 PM on March 16


As I mentioned above, my brother batch-cooks on Sunday for the week (he likes it; his wife doesn't; so he does it), but they have a nanny for their two kids, so he leaves her a sticky note in the morning and she takes the prepped food out of the fridge or freezer, turns on the oven and puts it in at the right time, or preps a fruit salad or whatever as necessary, so that he and his wife can get home around 6 p.m. and basically eat immediately with their kids.

It would not be possible for them to serve home-cooked meals on weeknights if they didn't have a nanny. The nanny also feeds the kids a healthy after-nap snack with protein to tide them over until 6 p.m. (which is a bit late for a 1 and 3 year old to eat, they get squirrelly waiting).

They have the nanny for about 18 more months before my nephew enters kindergarten and it becomes more cost-effective for my niece to be in daycare (plus she'll be in the toddler room, so hella cheaper than the baby room), and then weeknight dinners will become a much more complicated and difficult undertaking for them.

It will also be a big adjustment FOR ME because I love their nanny and I a) run into her around town all the time running errands or going to kiddie music classes and b) can drop Nano McGee off with her if I have a doctor's appointment, plus she is super-nice about letting me practice my Spanish which is Not Good but I am trying to learn for my volunteer commitment, plus she teaches me bad words.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:42 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]


I need a nanny. For myself.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:28 PM on March 16 [11 favorites]


Sorry, but no.

in many parts of the developing world I've lived cooking IS easier because 1) you cook for a big multigenerational household 2) you eat more or less the same staple with little variation every day 3) you cook lunch only, breakfast is small and dinner is a snack. I'd wager this is how it is and was in most of the world. It's consumer capitalism that's the core of the problem. You want Pad Thai tonight, but falafel tomorrow and putanesca for lunch? Yes it's going to get complicated, and no, no one ever cooked like that except the upper class. You want rice and beans everyday, it's not that complicated.

I feel like these authors kinda missed the point.
posted by iamck at 9:53 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]


Also I can watch two kids and throw some chicken legs in the oven and some rice on the stove. I make muffins with the two year old. It literally takes 5 minutes. Cooking with kids is fun!
posted by iamck at 9:58 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


> cooking IS easier because 1) you cook for a big multigenerational household

How is that easier? I've got only two generations in my household, and that already makes everything complicated.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:36 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]


"It's consumer capitalism that's the core of the problem. You want Pad Thai tonight, but falafel tomorrow and putanesca for lunch? Yes it's going to get complicated, and no, no one ever cooked like that except the upper class. You want rice and beans everyday, it's not that complicated. I feel like these authors kinda missed the point."

That actually IS the point of the authors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:49 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]


How is that easier? I've got only two generations in my household, and that already makes everything complicated.

Because, math? Cooking a big pot of rice versus a small one is a difference of rice, water, and the pot size. What's your experience?
posted by iamck at 10:55 PM on March 16


> Because, math? Cooking a big pot of rice versus a small one is a difference of rice, water, and the pot size. What's your experience?

I don't understand how math means that it's easier to cook for multiple generations than for one.

My experience is that the more generations you have, the more food preferences you have to juggle. What people like to eat and when they like to eat it, and also what people can eat and when they have to eat it (for work or medical reasons).
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:00 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]


I don't understand how math means that it's easier to cook for multiple generations than for one.

My experience is that the more generations you have, the more food preferences you have to juggle. What people like to eat and when they like to eat it, and also what people can eat and when they have to eat it (for work or medical reasons).


I think the point of his mansplaining is that if you just ignore all food preferences, what people like to eat, when they like to eat it, what they can eat, and when they have to eat it, and serve up one big pit of rice and beans every single day over and over forever, it's easy.

And those things are just consumer capitalism.
posted by kafziel at 11:07 PM on March 16 [25 favorites]


I feel like these authors kinda missed the point.

I feel like you didn't RTFA and your mansplaining misses the many many points that many many mostly women have made in this comment thread but that's none of my business...
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:10 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]


This is a fascinating thread. God, Eyebrows, reading your explanations of "toxic mompetition" filled me with a near Lovecraftian horror. I'm so sorry, that sounds so stressful and shitty!

My experience:

My mom wasn't the best cook, but she had her moments. She was 1950s/1960s Midwestern in what she made, so it was lots of cream of mushroom soup and casseroles. Her idea of making a cake was using Duncan Hines' yellow cake mix. I usually made my own lunch to take to school, which either meant a thermos of soup or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I shudder to imagine dealing with people who judged you by what kind of cake you served at your kid's birthday party.

I didn't cook for years. I didn't think I could. (Long story, but it also has to deal with toxicity and people who tell you that you can't do something.) I would only eat frozen meals and fast food. Well, one day I tired of eating frozen pot pies over and over again-- and also, I was writing a historical novel set in France, and I wanted to eat French food. It seemed the cheapest way to do that was to make it myself. So I taught myself how to make cassoulet.

With the help of a friend with huge kitchen, I worked at it, trying to perfect my cassoulet, and along the way I also taught myself how to make various main courses, like chicken and olive tagine, potée berichonne, chicken paprikash, turkey soup made from scratch, etc. It was fun! Though I could only do it a few times a month. Usually I have to plan ahead of time (it's a shared kitchen, I have housemates), pick up a friend so she can help with kitchen prep, and make enough we will both have enough for a few days. It's a bit of work, but manageable, since I have my own schedule, a clean, vermin-free kitchen, a reliable car, and steady work so I can afford the right ingredients at the many high quality (yet affordable) grocery stores in the area. Even for someone like me, there's many layers of privilege here. I'm glad I've got to the point in my life where cooking can be fun and relaxing, not something miserable to be avoided.

Also, I have no idea how to spatchcock a chicken.

Also, I recently ate cajun rice and beans for an entire week because I had made a huge batch of it. I was SO. GODDAMNED. SICK. of it at the end, I cannot tell you.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:48 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


It's also worth pointing out that food distribution has changed a lot in the past twenty or thirty years. When I was growing up in the midwestern suburbs in the eighties and early nineties, no one could make, eg, pad thai for dinner one night and chicken korma another because unless you lived near specialty stores the ingredients weren't available. Food culture was also very different.

(A telling set of anecdotes: Famous food writer MFK Fisher writes about how, in the forties, spaghetti with butter and parmesan was this very exciting dish that everyone ought to try; in the sixties, she wrote extensively about going to Japan and meeting Japanese chefs, and it was clear from her writing that basically no non-Japanese Americans had any familiarity with Japanese food. Sushi was an incredibly controversial food outside coastal cities through the eighties and early nineties, and it was incredibly common to hear people say that they'd never eat anything with raw fish. I ate my first avocado in 1992. A college friend whose mother was Italian introduced me to this exotic pasta shape that she got in the "Little Italy" part of her city - orzo. I remember when string cheese was exciting and new. )

Food culture was also different in other ways when I was growing up - food allergies, for instance, were both less common and less understood, so in general they were not considered. Food preferences were not considered the same way they are today, at least not in the midwest; part of this was cultural, part of this was just "food is more monotonous, so there's less to have preferences about and also almost every meal contains a bland side that a picky kid will eat". My parents, being good parents, certainly did try to cook meals we'd like, and they ate fish sticks, which they hated, because the kids loved them - but the whole "don't get into a power struggle with kids and give them complexes about food" thing had yet to be born.

I mean, in a way it is like the whole "cook a simple main dish and a starch for a large household and it's easier" - if you're in a part of the world where people do that every day and it's straightforward, it's probably because a wide variety of food is not available at an affordable price, not because everyone is trampling on each other. We ate very simply and repeated dishes a lot when I was growing up because the kind of variety that is affordable today really was neither affordable nor accessible then. (Like, in the early-mid-nineties, my parents' cooking changed a lot both because the kids were getting out of the house and food culture/distribution changed - fresh produce was more varied and affordable and my parents had more time, so all of the sudden my dad (who did a lot of the cooking) started to experiment more.)

Another thing to consider: certain staples have gotten a lot worse since I was a kid, even as others have gotten a lot better and more available. Meat quality, for one thing, has gone down and down and down unless you're buying fancy stuff. And per my father, that's a decline from how things were when he was a kid - he says that the closest thing to the meat he ate as a child is the fancy farm-to-table stuff, and we go to the fancy farm to table place maybe once a year because it's expensive. When I was a kid, chicken was not generally the spongy horror that it is now. And it seems in retrospect like meat scraps and off-cuts were more available and cheaper. So some of the plain cooking that people ate just tasted way better than it would now. (This does not make up for the fact that horrible wizened Red "Delicious" apples were the only apples.)

I guess what I'm saying is that the cooking habits of yesteryear took place in the world of yesteryear and were informed by the material and cultural conditions of the time in ways that don't always get brought out.
posted by Frowner at 2:11 AM on March 17 [30 favorites]


Frowner, that is such a good point. I think except for very cosmopolitan big cities, food accessibility was like you describe it across the globe, and the habits of that condition lingered on for at least a couple of decades after global food imports became available. My uncle had sushi for the first time about 2003, I'd had it for the first time a decade before. And your point about industrial food products is important as well, not only the quality, but also the availability of semi-prepared food. You couldn't get chicken breasts when I was a kid, and chicken wasn't cheap, so we rarely ate chicken. The consumption of chicken is one of the most radical changes I have experienced. We didn't eat raw fish before, but we still don't eat it a lot. Before, chicken was special food, now you can have cheap, watery industrial chicken every day, and some people do.

My parents divorced when I was an infant, so I grew up with three food cultures. My stepfather travelled extensively and enjoyed cooking, so at that home we had food from all over the world as well as traditional Danish fare. We learnt to use chopsticks before anyone else I knew, and we had a box of avocados sent from Israel a decade before they arrived in the shops. He was adamant that we had to taste everything. But when he was away, we often had take-out or some sort of porridge. My mum hates cooking and loves breakfast food. Ironically, the only times I really couldn't eat something in that home were some of my mum's breakfast food variations. Øllebrød is old rye bread soaked in beer somehow. I don't know how, it's disgusting. She also served Swedish crisp bread soaked in milk, something she'd eaten as a refugee in Sweden. Blergh. And finally sago soup: a fruit based "soup" with sago pearls. I had to run out to the bathroom to vomit after a spoonful of that.
My stepmother was a homebody and brought up in a very conventional middle class manner where a woman's place was in the home cooking bland stuff. My dad never learnt to cook. Eventually she and my dad got to travel as well and their horizon expanded, but when I was a kid their home was the home of the casserole and the meatloaf. A lot of food there was "kid-friendly", as it was the consensus in her family that children don't like complicated food. I'll admit that seemed weird to me, but each to their own... Like my mother, my stepmother wasn't very fond of the kitchen, but unlike my mother she was extremely dutiful and hospitable. Also she was a good baker, and for that I am very thankful. We never had fresh bread or cakes in my other two homes. I still have a theory that people either do a savory or a sweet kitchen. It's two completely different attitudes to cooking, and while I'm certainly mostly a savory cook, my stepmother taught me how discipline and exactitude is necessary for baking.
My childhood was in the 60's and 70's, but I see the feelings of those two mothers echoed in a lot of the posts here, and I find it sad that women are still struggling with the unpaid labor of housekeeping in 2019.

A lot of time, I was at my grandparents' house while the two other families consolidated. My gran had grown up as the youngest daughter in a big family on a tiny homestead just outside the city. When she was 14, she got a job as a live-in maid in a bohemian upperclass family in the city. So her food was a mix of very rooted, farm to table stuff, and very sophisticated grand cuisine knowledge. We would go to buy chickens from an old man who had them running free in his backyard. She told me about riding in a horse-carriage with her dad to swap vegetables from their garden with freshly caught tuna in the fishing harbor during the 30's, and she kept that attitude with her, avoiding supermarkets and always looking out for a good deal. When I was at her house, I had no symptoms of allergy. I suppose she is the "grandmother" Bittmann was imagining. But she wasn't "normal", even among her peers. She saw cooking as a real job and she was good at her job. She could easily spend six hours preparing dinner every day. (She also saw to it that she was paid! Not in the beginning, but some time during the 50's she abolished the idea that she should have a "household allowance" and demanded her own account with a decent pay every month. And she invested the money she could save and became quite wealthy in her own right. The farm I own now was hers, not theirs).
posted by mumimor at 3:42 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]


One aspect that bubbles to the surface about this whole thing and the publishing industry and cookbooks is that the vast majority of people are not "just one cookbook away" from figuring out how to feed themselves and/or their family. That seems to be a myth that may serve some people well but not many.

It's enough to make a person not want to write about food.

I've written cookbooks and write a food newsletter and they all mostly start from the supposition that the people reading want to be making their own food and have the time and resources to do it. That's not the case for everyone; that much I already knew. (That said, I don't think it's an unreasonable jumping-off point because part of being a writer is choosing and knowing your audience and it is the case for some people, at least some of the time.)

But the shame and finger-wagging is garbage.
posted by veggieboy at 4:57 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


iamck: You want Pad Thai tonight, but falafel tomorrow and putanesca for lunch? Yes it's going to get complicated, and no, no one ever cooked like that except the upper class

... who had people to do it for them.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:12 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Also, I recently ate cajun rice and beans for an entire week because I had made a huge batch of it. I was SO. GODDAMNED. SICK. of it at the end, I cannot tell you.

Heh; ironically I ate exactly this way myself as well last week for exactly the same reason, and I was perfectly happy with it, mainly because I love me some red beans and rice. (Sneer at Emeril all you want, the recipe in one of his cookbooks is my go-to.)

in many parts of the developing world I've lived cooking IS easier because 1) you cook for a big multigenerational household 2) you eat more or less the same staple with little variation every day 3) you cook lunch only, breakfast is small and dinner is a snack. I'd wager this is how it is and was in most of the world.

But woe betide the child in that multigenerational household if they had a food allergy of some kind that was triggered by one of those staples. "Consumer capitalism" isn't the only issue complicating our menu planning.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:27 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


But woe betide the child in that multigenerational household if they had a food allergy of some kind that was triggered by one of those staples.

My mother was not allowed to leave the house until she gagged down a glass of whole milk. So she threw up on or near the school bus every day. My youngest is fairly dramatically lactose intolerant - his last mistake, he had a bowl of ice cream at a restaurant and threw up in the parking lot.

I am up this morning doing the following:
- pressure cooking chickpeas for my lunch salads
- putting banana bread and oatmeal muffins for lunchboxes in the oven
- cleaning out the fridge
- checking the state of the vegetables and seeing what I need to do for tonight’s pork roast + roasted vegetables + cauliflower which will eventually be also a pork stir fry w/leftovers on Monday night
- using up wrinkly fruit in a crisp
- I have a pot of chicken stock on the stove which will become the base for a turkey meatball soup on Tuesday, using frozen turkey meatballs + a bags of the frozen vegetable mix that’s for soup + Lima beans + barley
- I’m about to hard boil eggs for lunches, and I also have some beets to prepare that will be either for lunches or we’ll eat em today. I’ll probably make a pasta to pop into the boys’ thermoses for lunch too but I want to plan that with them. Other possibilities for their later lunches will be (cold) grilled cheese, French toast”soldiers”, stir fried rice with veggies and egg or leftover pork. They get snow peas/carrot sticks/cucumbers/cherry tomatoes for vegetables and a fruit, right now usually apple, orange, or banana.
- Wednesday will be quiche day; I will bake the quiche Wednesday morning at6:45 am- 7:30am, plus bagged salad
- Thursday will be leftovers or, failing that, pea soup and salad for lowcarbers and fresh bread maker bread for the kids and me
- Friday will be crock pot Chicken Adobo with a quinoa-rice mixture we make in our rice cooker, and either another bagged salad or the green bean carrot frozen vegetable mix
- Saturday is homemade pizza for carbers and a massive salad with leftover chicken adobo on the top for lowcarbers
posted by warriorqueen at 6:00 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


> In many parts of the developing world I've lived cooking IS easier because 1) you cook for a big multigenerational household 2) you eat more or less the same staple with little variation every day 3) you cook lunch only, breakfast is small and dinner is a snack. I'd wager this is how it is and was in most of the world.

As somebody from a country that was part of the developing world even a generation ago, the above characterization makes me deeply uncomfortable, as if "the developing world" is one undifferentiated mass.

As for point 1, in my country / culture the cooking for a multigenerational household was handled by the unpaid labor of the wife / mother / daughter-in-law, who was essentially treated as an indentured servant by her husband's family. I doubt cooking was easier for these women. Even while we've made into the list of OECD countries, the cultural expectation for women of a life of indentured servitude to the husband's family still lingers.
posted by needled at 8:17 AM on March 17 [22 favorites]


Can I get a show of hands from anyone who has been a prep cook? *stands and bows down to those with one arm up*

Prep cooks turn commodities into ingredients. Prep cooks are the people who make cooking shows and professional chefs able to do what they do. They often are stuck in a secondary kitchen, maybe even on third shift, and they spend hours on end rinsing and chopping and grinding and trimming and the ennnnndlessly wrapping things in plastic wrap.

Thanks to the work of prep cooks to set up chefs with ready-to-use pieces of meat or dough or diced veggies, those "prep time" estimates on so many recipes are reasonable planning tools instead of a bitter joke.

I was raised by a lover of food, who went to Simone Beck's cooking school in like 1980 or '82 (from Minnesota, not New York City). But even in those years when Mom was home all day, some nights we ate amazing delicacies, and sometimes we had a frozen pizza. *shrug* I work full time and my wife works part time; we have three kids still at home (and one at college). We try to eat a fresh-cooked meal for dinner seven days a week, and it's damn hard. I make a menu, my wife reviews it, one of us grocery shops (with trips to both the local store and Trader Joe's), I cook the night before when I can, and..... It just doesn't work really well. :7(

You know, I want a prep cook.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Both things can be true -- cooking consistently for a family is still a crushing amount of work even if the simplicity of the menu is a saving grace.

That's how it was in my grandmother's household. I'm horrified when I think of her in her 60s and 70s and 80s walking and taking public busses to the shuk to get the cucumbers and tomatoes because my cousins and I ate so goddamn much that the difference of a few pennies made it necessary. It was a titanic amount of work, the shopping and cooking she did for us. But she was able to apply some economy of planning effort, at least, because we did eat the same thing every day pretty much, so she was able to batch prepare some things, and there wasn't any expectation that she provide variety of meals. No allergies, preferences etc. And of course she didn't work outside the home. That WAS her job.

I can't imagine how anyone could do both scratch cooking for a family AND provide variety while working standard office hours at a demanding job. I tried, and I'm a competent cook and an organized housekeeper, and it was no go.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:49 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine how anyone could do both scratch cooking for a family AND provide variety while working standard office hours at a demanding job. I tried, and I'm a competent cook and an organized housekeeper, and it was no go.
Out of necessity I have cooked from scratch, had a full-time job and be very economic when my girls were small. It's possible, but what gives is variety. And I'd like to say to all the young families out there: the kids don't care. Actually, they love the repetition. You are not cooking the exact same dish every day, but a rotation of stuff where the leftovers and unused stuff from one day leads to the next days menu.
If the spouse who doesn't cook wants more variety you can tell them to shut up up or get cooking. The more mature version is to remind them that life is long, and you won't have small children forever.
One staple when my kids were growing up was a weekend couscous dinner. We very often had many people coming over for dinner during the weekends, and a couscous meal can feed multitudes on a low budget and it's relatively easy to make veggie versions alongside the meat stew (and no-carb people could stick with the stew). We had the couscous as the main, but it was supplemented by several vegan appetizers and bread. When they were young teens, my girls refused to eat couscous ever again. But now, just a few years later, they are nostalgic for it.
On weekdays we'd often have wok dishes. Or pasta and a quick sauce. The same five recipes in constant rotation. We couldn't afford waste, so we couldn't have Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish etc. ingredients lying about wilting or drying out.
If we could afford it, we'd have a Sunday roast and the leftovers would become hash. That happened once a month, at most.
My grandmother loved egg-dishes, and they are economical, but something like a Spanish tortilla is not easy to make. I made them for her, and I love a home made tortilla, but it's definitely a weekend project for a modern family.
posted by mumimor at 9:51 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


Cooking and meal-planning is work. Work that gets easier with knowledge and skill acquired through experience, but work nonetheless. Some people enjoy this kind of work, some people are okay with it, some people hate it. And everyone makes whatever tradeoffs seem reasonable to them based on their circumstances, priorities and preferences. There are economic and health benefits to regular scratch and "near scratch" cooking, and there can be culinary benefits as well. But these do come at a cost in time and effort. For some people it will be worth the cost, and for others it won't.

The choices I make are in the direction of scratch cooking, because to me the tradeoffs are worthwhile. Rather than using a jarred tomato sauce I would rather open a can of plum tomatoes, smush it up with a potato masher and dump it into a pot with a knob of butter and a halved onion to come up to temperature while the pasta water comes to a boil and the spaghetti is cooked. This is more work than opening a jar, and of course it is a very simple sauce compared to the variety available in jarred sauces. But jarred sauces are more expensive, I can't control the salt and sugar content, and I just don't like them. So if I'm pressed for time, I'm happy with the simple "Hazan tomato-butter sauce" (it helps that it's delicious and I love it). Other people prefer the convenience of simply boiling the spaghetti and opening a jar. There's no doubt that it's less work, maybe they want greater variety even on busy nights, and maybe they like jarred sauces. I don't necessarily see that one is inherently "better" than the other. Either way you're getting freshly-cooked spaghetti on the table. It's just different priorities and preferences. For me spending a little time sipping a cocktail and preparing a quick meal is relaxing after a busy day in the office, but I respect the fact that for others it's drudgery.
posted by slkinsey at 12:36 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I’m slightly boggled at the idea that a tortilla is a weekend production & not easy to make. But I guess that just shows how different experience & expectations around cooking (or cooking particular individual dishes) can have a drastic impact on the how difficult a given dish is for a particular person. I’m sure there are dishes which we’d find a massive pain to produce that for someone else here would be their easy week-day meal.
posted by pharm at 12:53 PM on March 17


To be fair, a Spanish tortilla is more like an omelette than a piece of corn or flour flatbread. But yes, they don't look like they're that much work, either.
posted by hippybear at 1:12 PM on March 17


Love Spanish tortilla. I'd have it more often but it's such a calorie bomb with all that extra virgin olive oil.
posted by slkinsey at 1:21 PM on March 17


Every winter and spring I fantasize about what types of tomatoes I’ll grow the next summer, and what sort of meals I’ll make with them. Then the the tomatoes ripen, and I eat caprese salad daily for two months. It’s pretty great, to be honest, but the cost-benefit analysis of spending time preparing the tomatoes vs. cutting them and shoving them immediately into my mouth never makes cooking seem worthwhile. Good thing my kid prefers his vegetables raw and straight out of the garden (though that means that his vegetable intake completely nosedives during the winter because Minnesota).

Maybe if I didn’t spend my evenings and weekends gardening I’d have the time and energy to do more cooking. My husband’s non-winter hobby is running, which does not result in delicious food to eat. There’s just not enough time to do all the things, especially the things we actually want to do.
posted by Maarika at 1:38 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


Maarika, I'm surprised you have the discipline to eat your homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes with mozzarella. I don't know if I could wait that long before just sprinkling them with salt and eating them while leaning over the sink.
posted by slkinsey at 1:49 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


Some people want meal kits, but have issues with the waste. 2 options for you.

Sunbasket, last I knew, sends everything in recyclable or compostable packaging. Even the ice packs are compostable. (We can have a whole different discussion about recycling program efficacy issues, later.)

Good Eggs, if you are in the Bay Area, circumvents this issue by not doing the crazy packaging at all. Need 4 slices of bread for a recipe? They’re gonna give you the loaf. Need 2 eggs? You’re getting a 6-pack in the carton. Now, this brings us back to the problem of having leftovers, but I do prefer it, generally, to the other. The other thing I like about Good Eggs is that they have a whole grocery store in the app - it’s not just meal kits. (It’s not cheap, tho. Think Whole Foods, pre-Amazon.)

I did meal kits for about 2 years, got my cooking chops good enough for my own daily use, and now I don’t bother with them much. But I really want Good Eggs to stay in business so I try to patronize them when I can.

But you’ll have to excuse me. I need to go prep my breakfasts and lunches for the week. And then finish writing a paper that’s due Tuesday and I’ve barely started *sob*
posted by greermahoney at 2:26 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Just popping back in to report that my roast is almost done and I timed all my prep, baking, cooking, and dishes time so far and I’m just over 4 hours. That includes peanut butter and veggies on the side for lunch. I did get my hair cut and dyed and took my crew to Oomomo for a short expedition but I did not get to my yoga class or organize the cupboard as I’d hoped. I have about an hour of laundry folding ahead (my family will do the dishes.) I actually resent the dying of my grey hair the most.

So yeah, it’s not just the cooking, it’s the context. Also, I shopped yesterday.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:41 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Also, my arms just reminded me that it’s a privilege to be able to lift a pot of water on to the stove. I remember when I couldn’t. What (mostly) solved my tendinitis? Swimming 5X a week. A privilege to be able to take over an hour out of each day, and $$ each month, for an exercise that allows me to do almost everything else in my life, relatively pain-free, including cook.

I’m not trying to make this the pity olympics, but if your response to someone saying , “I can’t do this” is “If I can, you can too”, maybe don’t. We’re all doing the best we can.
posted by greermahoney at 3:58 PM on March 17 [16 favorites]


If we're comparing meal prep:

I have two big horkin' chicken breasts cooling on the counter, each of which was marinated in something simple: One in a mix of lemon, lime, and orange juices and a fuckton of rosemary, and the other in some lemon juice, garlic, and a fuckton of paprika. Those will be sliced up and tucked into containers because they will be part of my weekly bag lunches for the week, thrown into a twee little bento-type of container with a big handful of salad greens and a roll and some grapes.

Also cooling on the counter is an Irish tea brack - a sort of quick bread that has a pound of dried fruit in it. That was more fiddly than I liked - I had to soak the fruit in a cup of tea for 3 hours first, and stirring in the flour and sugar into that mess made for a really goopy batter. But I'm telling myself that all that fruit makes it suitable for breakfasts for the week (whack off a slice in the morning, done). There was some leftover dried apricots that will be added to the lunch stash. That took another hour to bake. Ultimately it took a while, but most of that time was waiting time (waiting the 3 hours for the fruit to finish soaking and then waiting an hour for the brack to be done).

And dinner tonight was Irish stew; I had enough to have leftovers, which I usually do when cooking (single diner here). So at least one dinner is sorted.

And at some point I'm probably going to fall back on a couple of frozen things in the fridge or make an omlette or something. But at least the first part of the week is in pretty decent shape.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:00 PM on March 17


greermahoney: We’re all doing the best we can.

Nah, we're not. Some of us are, some are not. I know because I'm not.
I could spend more time cooking, and use less jarred sauces; I choose not to, and to add fresh veg.

I never spend more than 30 minutes on dinner. Today it was a mushroom omelette, fried potato wedges (from fresh potatoes, unpeeled), and a leafy vegetable that I'm not sure there's an English word for. For dessert, we had oatmeal (from a pack) with blueberries.
Pretty decent meal, but not the best I could do. Still, good enough.

I'm not doing the best I can and I'm fine with that. I have other priorities and I'm doing okay. That's good enough.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:05 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Just about to make dinner for my son and me, as I'm single parenting for the last few days.

Tater tots going in the oven, some frozen green beans or peas going in the microwave. Really just have to make a good omlette or two. Which isn't my forte. But. OMLETTE AND TOTS NIGHT!

All organic, well rounded more or less, not too expensive or time consuming. Going to be 30 mins tops.
posted by Windopaene at 4:10 PM on March 17


Just making scrambled eggs with things added to them is fine too.
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


(as in, you don't have to try for an actual omelette)
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on March 17


When they work though...

I just screw up the half-flip, leaving a leaky mess

And then you have to scrub off the melted cheese on the cast iron, or the next omlette is going to be screwed by THAT CHEESE BLOB!
posted by Windopaene at 4:14 PM on March 17


Grumble. Mrs. slkinsey and I are dieting at the moment. I would LOVE omelettes and tater tots for dinner.
posted by slkinsey at 5:08 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


’m slightly boggled at the idea that a tortilla is a weekend production & not easy to make.
What? A tortilla is easy to make, and delicious, but it needs time. Or what? Is there a special trick I don't know?
posted by mumimor at 5:09 PM on March 17


I've heard you can make a pretty good Spanish tortilla using frozen french fries, believe it or not. Frozen fries are already cooked, so you can just skip that step. Otherwise, yeah, cooking the potato and onion in the big bath of olive oil takes time.
posted by slkinsey at 5:13 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Just to see what I would find out, I put on a stopwatch as I got dinner ready this evening. This is somewhat unusual due to the fact that we're dieting, but not necessarily all that different from something I might do of an evening.

So, here's what happened: Put two saucepans on the stove. Each got two cups of water and a tablespoon of hon dashi. Stove turned on. Measured two 12 ounce piles of baby bok choy. Julienned the bok choy and threw that into the saucepans. Then I pulled out a sous vide flank steak I had cooked/chilled the other night and measured out two 3.5 ounce piles of thinly sliced beef which I set aside. Stirred up the bok choy. Cleaned and stowed the chef's knife, rinsed off the cutting board, vacuum sealed the remaining flank steak and stuck that back in the refrigerator. Stirred up the bok choy. Pulled out a package of shirataki noodles, dumped it into a colander, rinsed it off and dumped it into my saucepan with a few hefty squirts of sriracha. Dumped the beef into each saucepan and stirred that through. Emptied each saucepan into a large bowl, filled the saucepans with water and left them in the sink, then brought the bowls to the table with chopsticks and spoons. Start to finish was 25 minutes.
posted by slkinsey at 6:14 PM on March 17


Micro McGee, 7, made dinner tonight. It was family feast night, so he made pork tenderloin, apples & onions, and green beans (and storebought pretzel rolls). Prep took about an hour because he's learning and he did all the tasks himself with me just supervising -- chopping the apples and onions, preparing the brown sugar/paprika rub, putting the rub on the tenderloins and the apples & onions, showing him how to place the probe thermometer and what temperature to set the alarm at. (Owning a probe thermometer = privilege.) I put it in and took it out of the oven because his arms are too short, but he did everything else. Cooking took about 40 minutes; then there was about 7 minutes more of work (putting everything in serving dishes, microwaving the steam-in-bag greenbeans).

So around an hour and 45 minutes, of which 1:05 was active work for me. Probably could have done the prep in 20-30 minutes myself. Now I have a bunch of dishes to do, since cooking for five makes a ton of dishes regardless of how simple you make it. Uncounted in this time is coaching him through reading the recipe, checking the cabinets for ingredients, making a grocery list, and then taking him to the grocery store so he could do the shopping for his dinner. I know all of this will pay off one day! But right now it is basically doubling or tripling my already-excessive cooking time.

Anyway here's his final result. It was all delicious!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 PM on March 17 [10 favorites]


At that age I was finally being allowed to use a can opener on the tuna or a knife on the hot dogs to cut up to mix into the macaroni and cheese box mix.

I was encouraged to cook a lot as a kid, but not that young. That's amazing.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Nicely done by Micro!
posted by slkinsey at 7:00 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


any time estimate for meal-work that doesn't take into account the time involved in shopping and in washing the dishes (or prepping/loading/unloading dishwasher or whatever your workflow is) and cleaning everything up, is necessarily inaccurate.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:01 PM on March 17 [12 favorites]


FWIW I asked my mother what she grew up eating in my grandmother's house.

My grandmother grew up in a very small village in remote northern Arizona (on the northern edge of the Arizona Strip--the little bit of Arizona north of the Grand Canyon) in the 1900s and 1910s. They farmed, ranched, grew and preserved fruit and vegetables, made their own molasses etc etc etc.

My mother grew up in a small remote town in southern Utah in the 1930s and 40s. They had chickens, a milk cow, a hog or two, a vegetable garden. My grandfather was a shepherd before dying prematurely in the late 1940s.

So a typical day's menu for my mother in, say, junior high or high school, mid to late 1940s:

- Breakfast: Some form of "mush" (cooked cracked grain cereal - cracked wheat or corn or mayve rice or oats

- Lunch: Hot lunch at school

- Dinner: Bread and milk with maybe some canned peaches

They had meat maybe once a week--on a Sunday--or occasionally when they slaughtered an animal. They had eggs from the chickens, but rarely to never ate them (see breakfast above--invariably mush. I remember by Grandmother preferring to eat mush every morning for breakfast even into the 70s). She thinks they probably sold most of the eggs for cash.

With their large vegetable garden, they bottle many quarts of vegetables annually--typically green beans and corn. They bought fruit every year from a nearby region with a better climate a put of bushels of peaches, pears, apricots, etc.

My mother remembers being slightly hungry most of the time but never really starving. She remembers eating a lot of bread--which would have been whole wheat bread made with locally grown & milled wheat.

FWIW.
posted by flug at 8:35 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


To be fair it is my easiest pork tenderloin recipe, based off this -- I do it in a 9x13 glass casserole and put the tenderloin on TOP of the apples & onions, which gives them lovely fat to cook in while they go. Also I made him double the recipe for a) the math skills and b) the leftovers. Usually takes me a bit longer than 30 minutes in the oven, but my oven is shit and doesn't hold a temperature -- God bless my probe thermometer. Making apples and onions stovetop is HELLA more work than throwing them in a casserole dish and letting the tenderloin baste them! So he just did a lot of cutting and prep, and then it was one dish in the oven (and one in the microwave). Stovetop stuff is much scarier with small children!

(Also like pasta seems like a normal place to start small people learning to cook, but pots are FUCKING HEAVY and FUCKING DANGEROUS when they're full of boiling water so they can't really drain the pasta on their own.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:09 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Using a brown-in bag for most roasts you would otherwise cook uncovered will be a game changer. Especially, pork roasts. Truly a simple technology that can help your life in a small but important way -- moist roasts.
posted by hippybear at 9:22 PM on March 17


any time estimate for meal-work that doesn't take into account the time involved in shopping and in washing the dishes (or prepping/loading/unloading dishwasher or whatever your workflow is) and cleaning everything up, is necessarily inaccurate.

Let alone when it involves a sous-vide steak that takes 90+ minutes to cook, jesus.
posted by kafziel at 10:58 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


What? A tortilla is easy to make, and delicious, but it needs time. Or what? Is there a special trick I don't know?

Oh sure, but the majority of that time you can be doing something else at the same time as the potatoes are quietly glooping away in the olive oil. It’s something we have fairly regularly & whoever is cooking will get on with something else whilst it’s cooking.

There’s a reason the French traditionally eat late! The kids get a snack early on to keep them going until dinner time.
posted by pharm at 12:30 AM on March 18


French, and Spanish children have a long break in the middle of the day, and have a made from scratch real food hot lunch during that break. When they come home, they get a snack, yes. I mentioned above that European countries, each in their own way, try to make life easier and better for families. I don't think it's perfect in Spain since a lot of the structural burden is still on the women alone, but it is very different from in the USA.
People in Spain very often live in more urban areas, so the kids can walk home alone, and the shopping can be done on foot.
Where I live, in Scandinavia, the midday meal is optional, and schooldays are shorter and start earlier, which leads to a different set of challenges, one of them being children that need to go to bed at 8 PM, at the latest. Again, mostly the children even from the first grade can walk home alone, and the shopping infrastructure is good most places, though we have more suburban areas. But we have cheaper childcare and generally a better household economy even in the poorest families because of higher wages and "child pay", a sum of money paid out per child from they are born till they are 18. After that, studying kids get a stipend.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


> I’m slightly boggled at the idea that a tortilla is a weekend production & not easy to make.

What? A tortilla is easy to make, and delicious, but it needs time. Or what? Is there a special trick I don't know?


I think maybe there is an in-group disconnect when it comes to the definition of "tortilla". Because I think some people are using one definition, which is "the thing made of eggs and vegetables, usually potatoes, that you cook like an open-faced omelette that you don't fold over" and others are using the other definition, which is "the flatbread often used as a wrap in Mexican cuisine, which is made from a dough of cornmeal or flour and water and is pressed or rolled super-flat".

The egg kind is easy, the dough kind can be dang hard if you don't have a dedicated implement for pressing them flat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:10 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


OMG Eyebrows you are a parenting hero. 😻

I have not yet put enough effort into teaching Little eirias (just a bit younger than Micro) about cooking in a way that makes it fun for her — normally I’ll try to engage her but she’ll wander off mid-prep. I do think it would behoove me to try harder because — structural barriers aside, which I am in no way denying — I agree with some comments
upthread that cooking is hard for me and takes extra time for me because many of the little skills are not overlearned. Nobody in my family liked cooking and nobody made me learn it and so here I am as an adult having to look up how to broil salmon every stupid time. Meanwhile my husband loves it because he learned lots of stuff as a kid that makes it easier. Our own structural barriers just mean that it has to be me for these years, and that’s okay.
posted by eirias at 5:06 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I don't know about anyone else, but I'm certainly writing about the Spanish tortilla, the egg dish. Which I've never managed to make in less than an hour. So not Tuesday night with small kids stuff. It isn't difficult to cook, it's time consuming. I wasn't making this distinction clear in my original comment, sorry.
(And since it's excellent cold, it's definitely a good thing to prep ahead).
posted by mumimor at 5:08 AM on March 18


I feel so bizarrely connected to this thread and like I want to keep reporting on the time I am spending in thinking about food, getting people to eat food, trying to source, cook, serve, and not waste the right food, while minimizing packaging...and holding down a job, parenting two kids, dealing with a health issue, training physically, and trying to write a book. And oh yeah, have a social life and not die of filth.

Anyone who is feeding two sensible adults also has no idea how soul-crushing it is to feed kids. Not just because they sometimes turn their noses up at things (my own kids are actually really, really good about this...even when they don't eat they just ask if they can make their own toast and peanut butter, thank you Ellyn Satter) and also not just because of the judgment but because the stakes are high.

Also, I'm dealing with a mild, treatable cancer, and honest to god a few weeks ago I was wandering the grocery store after an appointment just wondering if there was anything in the building that would not kill me or my kids.

Food preparation is the modern purgatory. You start to feel like if you get it wrong, you are condemning yourself and your family to hell, by which we as a society mean obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (Please understand that I feel this pressure, I am absolutely resolute, working in fitness, that I will work hard not to pass this on to other people.)

My older son (who is 13 and very active by the way, you have no idea what it takes to keep him fed right now, a steak and bok choy would result in him coming back for a second meal in 10 minutes) had a kidney issue and one of the first checklists the pediatrician went through with me was had I been feeding him incessant deli meat and bacon and salt. Actually, no, I had not, but like many parents I had sometimes sent him with a ham sandwich or salami. I vaguely knew that nitrites/nitrates are bad, just like the occasional lunch of Kraft Dinner, but the first conversation I had about why my son's pee looked like coffee centred on his diet.

In my kids lunch, 5x2 of them a week, I cannot send anything with nuts. Or deli meat. Or bacon. Or anything but tofu dogs where I cannot identify a nitrite but I'm still not actually sure they're all that okay.

I cannot send anything that requires more refrigeration than an ice pack, an ice pack that must make it into the freezer in order to function the next day, or anything that requires more heat than a thermos, a thermos that must make it into the dishwasher in order to function the next day. If I send something in a plastic bag or wrap, they have a "zero waste" school (awesome) so it comes back home, which is fine, but before we banned them, I used to occasionally get notes about how I should have containers. So, I have containers, which also need to be monitored and washed, their lids warp, they leak, I cannot send glass with a 8 year old, the expensive ones get lost at the same rate as the cheap ones, my husband and I also take our lunches so we have a section of cupboard devoted to this which continually needs things to be stacked in it.

My kids don't like hummus, so I don't know what I did wrong in my previous incarnations, and so with no deli meat and no nut butter and "sunbutter" and "wow butter" are FULL of sugar and crap oils, we basically have either meat that I have to cook up, or we do cheese or eggs for proteins. We can do tuna once per week (mercury!) and of course there are a zillion other choices - I sometimes make curry buns or baked samosas, we do pastas and rices and everything else, but none of this is as low-effort as a sandwich. Thank god for lactose-free cheese.

They do pack their own lunches, if I have planned them, and my oldest cooks on Saturdays and it's a group effort but...oh my god.

I can't believe I just spent time in my life typing that all out before I get to my martial arts class, but the thing is...after decades of it it really is tiring. And I'm pro-cooking and pro-health and my spouse helps although he does not take the lead in this area. But if I had all the hours back in my life, I'd be in a different place. I might be really sick, so I keep going. And once you have kids and if you have a two-income household, it gets exponentially harder.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:41 AM on March 18 [19 favorites]


* by not passing "it" I mean the pressure. Anyone who gets people fed by any means necessary gets no flack from me.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:45 AM on March 18


Goodness, you really are a true warrior queen!
Even as someone who has cooked all the meals always, I was impressed by the meal plan you posted above. For me, that would be overwhelming.
posted by mumimor at 7:05 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


>>any time estimate for meal-work that doesn't take into account the time involved in shopping and in washing the dishes (or prepping/loading/unloading dishwasher or whatever your workflow is) and cleaning everything up, is necessarily inaccurate.

Let alone when it involves a sous-vide steak that takes 90+ minutes to cook, jesus.


I'm guessing this references my dinner-prep post above. The sous vide steak was cooked together with several other proteins on a night when we had steak for dinner. This was done deliberately to have handy ingredients for later use and to reduce future prep time (prepping three steaks, four chicken breasts and two pork tenderloins for sous vide cooking hardly takes more time than it does for just one steak, and the cooking time is 100% unattended). One of the nice things about sous vide techniques is that you can pasteurize the protein and dramatically extend refrigerated shelf life. In that sense it was like making more meatloaf than you plan to eat for dinner, with the intention of using the leftovers to make sandwiches or a cottage pie later. Or, yanno, if I were cooking with traditional methods I could have broiled two steaks on the original night and saved one for later use. This is the advance planning aspect of meal planning that helps to reduce prep time later on in the week. In any event, even if I hadn't had the precooked steak handy, for that particular dish I could have shaved slices of raw beef and cooked it in the residual heat of the broth and it wouldn't have made any difference in the time it took me to get dinner on the table (dishes were all bunged into the dishwasher afterwards).

Obviously what I made wouldn't work for most kids and many kinds of eaters, although some (leftover?) rice, a heated-up can of beans and a salad might round it out pretty well without adding to prep/cleanup time very much. For people like warriorqueen and many others, these things become very much more complicated and difficult than they are for me.


It is interesting to observe how much philosophies and practices with respect to feeding kids has changed since I was a kid. Back in the 70s I don't think many parents were worried about catering to their kids' palates to the extent they are today. My mother's philosophy was always that, since she was doing the work she was going to make things she was willing to cook and wanted to eat. If we didn't want that, too bad. Her stock answer was that she was happy to take us shopping with her and for us to take over the work of cooking for the whole family, although there was no guarantee everyone wouldn't turn up their noses at whatever we made. This isn't to say that she never had any consideration for what we did or didn't like, but there were plenty of foods in very frequent rotation I was known to loathe (I still hate any form of squash, which appeared regularly on the dinner table because both my parents were from the South and considered it a staple). This isn't a criticism of current practices, because times change. Just an observation of how certain aspects of home cooking have become more difficult over the last 40-50 years. Stack some of the school lunch restrictions warriorqueen has to deal with, and I can see how it becomes extremely difficult to navigate.
posted by slkinsey at 7:33 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


> At that age I was finally being allowed to use a can opener on the tuna

That's age seven, for context. I think I've said this before here but these threads are comforting in their routines, so here I go again. My Girl Scouts take part in an outdoor skills competition every year, which includes Challenge Dinner: they're given a box of food and have two and a half hours to plan, cook, serve, eat, and clean up a meal for two judges. (Before you tell me that that sounds just like some TV show, let me point out that the competition started in the 1980s.) No adult help, and the troop leaders aren't allowed to be anywhere nearby. Oh, and this is all at a campsite with no running water. My girls LOVE it.

When we started training for it they were 10 and 11 years old. It was interesting how few of them knew how to use a can opener. It's just not something they use. Vegetables are frozen, tomato sauce cans have pull tabs. But the competition is run on a very tight budget and canned foods are a given, so we had to stop and have an intense "this is how you use a can opener safely" session. Even one of the adults knew how to use just one kind of can opener; she'd never seen the fat OXO style that makes smoother cuts.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:37 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I think the 50s loom large because of the Baby Boom—it's the environment a very large generation of people grew up with, and have fond memories of, and those pleasant memories somehow got encoded into our culture as "traditional".

There was no somehow about it. What is now considered traditional was invented and implemented through pervasive propaganda and economic measures by our political leaders to accomplish the specific goal of retaining power.

We forget that for much of the 20th century there was a very real fear among the capitalists that the entire world was going to become Communist and all their shit was about to be taken from them through nonviolent nationalization if they were lucky or they were going to end up against the wall if they weren't. That's what got us the New Deal pre-WWII. The literally revolutionary fervor was bought off through policies that shared the wealth. Labor shortages and the cost of funding WWII at a time when we were still on the gold standard necessitating punitive tax rates further enriched workers relative to owners, setting the stage for the theatrics of the Cold War.

If you go on YouTube and watch the catalog of old marketing and informational films, you'll note a marked shift between the immediate postwar stuff and what was made once the Cold War was on after the USSR detonated their first nuke. The powers that be used propaganda to paint a picture of abundance and leisure to the rest of the world and set about making that propaganda a reality because their underwear was becoming increasingly caked in shit as the world resoundingly rejected the old order. Better to be diminished but still in charge than to be out on their ear.

As time passed, their fear diminished for various reasons, including the empowerment of the CIA under Eisenhower along with plain old reversion to the mean, and responsibility passed to new generations who did not know the fear and had not been taught it, the greed reasserted itself, and the deal was abandoned in favor of "intelligence" operations to keep people in line. All we are left with now is the propaganda from that era, filtered through the wistful dreams of conservatives everywhere. It was precisely the capitalist's capitulation to those advocating a socialist response to the very real threat of economic, if not political, revolution that produced the conditions that allowed the propaganda to become reality for a large part of US society after WWII. Not everyone, and not entirely, of course. The food on the plate never looks as good as it does in the ad copy, after all. But it was close enough to say that while the image was invented, it was not entirely unreal. Easy credit (if you were white), full employment, new technology, and a unique position in the world order allowed prosperity and economic security on a scale rarely seen in history. People really did have more time in the day then than they had before and than we have now. Fewer work hours, shorter commutes, cheap labor saving devices, the availability of affordable domestic help, and single (regular) income households being practical for many allowed for the time and money to maintain a standard of living that at least resembled the propaganda. That underlying reality is why the image has endured so long and why it has had so much power for so long.
posted by wierdo at 7:47 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


> People really did have more time in the day then than they had before and than we have now. Fewer work hours, shorter commutes, cheap labor saving devices, the availability of affordable domestic help, and single (regular) income households being practical for many allowed for the time and money to maintain a standard of living that at least resembled the propaganda.

Well, for some people. I doubt the women providing the affordable domestic help had short commutes, etc.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


Thank you, warriorqueen, for all your stories.

I just want to pause and say this:

If I send something in a plastic bag or wrap, they have a "zero waste" school (awesome) so it comes back home

made me laugh out loud — the school appears to be offloading its waste removal costs onto families and calling it environmentalism...
posted by eirias at 8:10 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


In my mind, a "zero waste" school doesn't even have trash cans anywhere. No disposal service. Zero waste.

Zero.

No trash generated by the school at all.

I bet that's not what this policy means. I'd like to read the policy.

I bet the principal is carting home bags from the front office and putting them in her personal municipal garbage.
posted by hippybear at 8:16 AM on March 18


> the school appears to be offloading its waste removal costs onto families and calling it environmentalism...

It is, though. It's saying "we're not going to deal with your garbage; you deal with it."
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:16 AM on March 18


"You empty those shavings from sharpening your pencil into your "take your waste home" bag, young man."
posted by hippybear at 8:17 AM on March 18


What does the front office staff do with the paper that's wrapped around the reams of paper they put in the printers and copiers? Do they have to burn it on-site?
posted by hippybear at 8:18 AM on March 18


I'm guessing this references my dinner-prep post above. The sous vide steak was cooked together with several other proteins on a night when we had steak for dinner. This was done deliberately to have handy ingredients for later use and to reduce future prep time (prepping three steaks, four chicken breasts and two pork tenderloins for sous vide cooking hardly takes more time than it does for just one steak, and the cooking time is 100% unattended).

Many working parents don't have time to do this sort of meal prep, much less the desire to do it, which is what many of us have been trying to articulate here.

It's very frustrating to have this sort of thing over-explained by someone who admits that they only prepare one meal a day, and only for adults.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:23 AM on March 18 [16 favorites]


hippybear: What does the front office staff do with the paper that's wrapped around the reams of paper they put in the printers and copiers?

Luckily, Sodexho will take it off their hands for "re-use" in the cafeteria just up the hall...
posted by wenestvedt at 8:41 AM on March 18


PhoBWanKenobi, if you're interpreting what I've posted as a criticism of anyone's choices or practices rather than simply setting forth my own choices and practices, you're getting me wrong. I had thought this was clear when I wrote:
Cooking and meal-planning is work. Work that gets easier with knowledge and skill acquired through experience, but work nonetheless. Some people enjoy this kind of work, some people are okay with it, some people hate it. And everyone makes whatever tradeoffs seem reasonable to them based on their circumstances, priorities and preferences.
For the record, I'm not suggesting that everyone can or should do as I do, or that others don't have constraints and considerations I don't have. And I certainly don't think there is any kind of moral imperative to do scratch cooking at home. If I hated cooking and/or had very limited time for meal planning and food preparation and/or less cooking experience, I might make very different choices than I make today. Everyone has to make the decisions that seem right to them. Some people with kids and a tight schedule still decide to do mostly-from-scratch cooking and others make different choices. My observation is that most in the former group, which includes many of my close friends with kids, are people who enjoy cooking and culinary culture on some level and that is why they are inclined in that direction rather than those in the latter group. But it's not like one group is better than the other. If a working family with kids doesn't have the time to cook an/or just loathes cooking, I'm the last person who would suggest they shouldn't take advantage of the many ways they can feed themselves without needing to do very much cooking and meal planning. If I've explained how I make different choices from you, it was never intended to say that "my way is better than your way" and I'm sorry if it seemed that way. You have different constraints and preferences from me, and you made your own decisions. Neither one is better or worse. As I said in my very first post, "meal planning and cooking is real, time-consuming work."
posted by slkinsey at 8:54 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


It is a zero-waste lunch, sorry! But the school does do a lot of waste minimization. Long best practices here, zero-waste lunch language is very similar to this (not my child's exact school): [School] has a zero food waste policy. As a result of our commitment to sustainability, we have been awarded Platinum Status by the TDSB EcoSchools Program this past year. Please help us to continue along the path to a more sustainable future by packing your child’s lunch and snack in reusable containers. We suggest you purchase a canteen for water or juice rather than purchase wasteful drink boxes, cans, and bottles. For food transport, reusable food containers are widely available as are specially designed lunch bags with individual food compartments. Reduce waste by refraining from purchasing individually wrapped treats.

There are NO garbage bins in the lunchroom so please refrain from sending garbage to school. It will be returned to you at the end of the day. The EcoSchool committee is also tracking student progress. We hope that you will assist us in reducing our school’s environmental footprint and embrace this opportunity to bring environmental education into your home.

Actually here's another school's that will give you an idea of the food culture pressure:

Dear Parents- Consider these facts: Every year, an elementary student in Ontario
sends to landfills their own body weight in waste from conventionally packed
school lunches. By taking a litterless lunch, you produce 89 % less waste when
you avoid single-use, disposable containers, wrapping and bags. Litterless lunches
save money; one Ontario school board calculated that a litterless lunch reduces
lunch costs by $2.75 per day, or $550/year. As pre-packaged convenience foods often contain higher levels of sodium, sugar and fat, a homemade lunch is a
healthier option.

Four Things Every Parent Should Look For:
1. A lunch box / bag that is big enough to accommodate sandwiches, and snacks as well as a thermos, cutlery and a napkin, and yet small enough to fit in a
backpack. Both the lunch box/bag, as well as the containers that go in them, need to be easy to open for small hands but not allow foods to leak out or spill.
2. For the sandwich, salad and snack containers, look for materials like bisphenol-A-free plastic, stainless steel or reusable organic cotton sandwich bags.
3. Buy in bulk and put individual granola bars, cookies, chips etc., in the reusable containers. In fact, reconsider sending the pre-packaged processed foods
at all. A sandwich, chopped veggies and dip, a serving of fruit and a homemade muffin or cookie are all healthier options.
4. A good water bottle (no juice boxes) and a thermos (for pasta/soups etc) are also indispensable.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:05 AM on March 18


If I've explained how I make different choices from you, it was never intended to say that "my way is better than your way" and I'm sorry if it seemed that way.

I mean, timing your meal prep in a series of comments that begin with a statement about how people age 30-50 don't have the cooking skills that their parents had does seem that way, yes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:40 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


people age 30-50 don't have the cooking skills that their parents had does seem that way, yes.
In a reversal, I have cooking skills my parents don't have! My mom (in her 60s) didn't really learn to cook until she had kids - her mom barely cooks - there were a few years where she made terrible Thanksgiving dinners, but after a few years the charade was dropped and we ordered pizza. As a consequence, the food my mom learned to cook was mostly 'kid appropriate' mush - like way overcooked meat and all food has only 2 seasonings - salt and pepper.

My dad says his bachelor meals was a really big bag of beans - and cooked as much on the nights he handled cooking. My mom says hers was peanut butter and cafeteria-type and some take-out. I on the other hand am a pretty decent cook and googling is way better than the terrible directions in most cookbooks, which do assume you already know how to do so many things. I eat out too, but get pretty tired of restaurant food, so I cook.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:13 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Mom-shaming about dietary choices (I'm a dad so I don't cotton) is totally real too, but it's also mostly a charade - I've been to your house and talked to your kids, I know what you eat and I've been to your birthday parties- I know you serve a cheap store-bought cake that nobody likes. It's fine! Everybody else does too.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:18 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I really enjoy cooking, but boy do I hate prep work. I can't cut for shit and I have mini-panic attacks when attempting to put ingredients together for a meal in any meaningful timeframe.

The Mrs. and I developed a system where she preps the food before she goes to work and I cook it when I get home. It works out shockingly well, and I think it's been a huge improvement in the domestic work balance. She gets to come home and play with the dogs and watch TV and I bang out whatever she has prepped. I'm able to do about 4 "unsupervised" meals which are fallbacks if she's too busy to prep or we don't have time to shop.

However, we are incredibly lucky with our schedules and lack of kids. I can't even begin to imagine how parents get a meal on the table any work night.

I will also shoutout BudgetBites as being the best food site around! This is their Pork and Peanut Dragon Noodles recipe and it will change your life. Costs about $4 a meal, takes 25 minutes TOTAL time to cook and prep, feeds 2-3 people, and is legit one of my favorite foods even after having it 30 times. I will note you can skip the green onions and you need to reserve about 1.5oz of the pasta water to make it truly come together.
posted by lattiboy at 10:20 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Also, I've seen the "food shaming" thing happen IRL so many times with a certain type of bougie striver in Seattle.

The passive aggressive "these are from the garden" salads that taste like absolute shit served in that same tire-sized wooden bowl they all own, the "I got this from the butcher shop for $20 a pound" beef that is overcooked and under seasoned, the "organic" ice cream place where it's $12 a pint and has the texture of windshield ice because gum will stop Jasper from getting into a good preschool. Uggggghhhhh....
posted by lattiboy at 10:29 AM on March 18 [7 favorites]


I wish it were socially acceptable to eat all my meals at Chipotle. I’d probably lose weight.
I’m in that stretch of parenting where I’m teaching my kids how to do shit. This past weekend it was changing their sheets - a process that takes 5 minutes on my own, 40 unpleasant minutes of supervision and instruction. This week my older kid is going to be cooking dinner on one night. He has chosen a menu of hotdogs, spaghetti, and steamed carrots. I’m actually looking forward to this as an improvement over last week when scheduling difficulties led to us eating out for literally every weeknight dinner. I don’t know that I have a point here. Just gripes. Shit is hard, yo.
posted by bq at 11:28 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]


>>If I've explained how I make different choices from you, it was never intended to say that "my way is better than your way" and I'm sorry if it seemed that way.

I mean, timing your meal prep in a series of comments that begin with a statement about how people age 30-50 don't have the cooking skills that their parents had does seem that way, yes.


I'm sorry I made you feel that way & I should have used more felicitous wording that made my thinking more clear. I'm in that age demographic myself, FWIW. I think there are many reasons meal planning and cooking skills for scratch home cooking may not be acquired through experience by as many people today as in past generations, including a lack of interest, a lack of need and/or a lack of available time (along other factors). All these are 100% legitimate reasons, of course! People who were in my parents' generation acquired these skills for the most part because they had to, not because it was some great utopia of home scratch cooking. For very many it was drudgery for which there was no real alternative. If anything, I think the food served in most homes nowadays -- regardless of whether and to what extent it was prepared in the home -- is better and has more variety compared to what we were eating at home back in the 70s and 80s. This is due to a number of reasons, including the fact that American cooking styles have changed since then and the fact that a regular rotation of the same simple dishes helped facilitate efficient meal planning and cooking at the expense of monotony. In any event, saying that this knowledge and skill is no longer as ubiquitous as it once was simply reflects the fact that everyday scratch home cooking is far less common than it used to be. I could also write that a lot of 30-50 year olds today just don't have the poultry slaughtering skills their grandparents and great-grandparents had. Both statements flow directly from the fact that you can't acquire those skills if you don't do that work.

As I wrote earlier, "everyone makes whatever tradeoffs seem reasonable to them based on their circumstances, priorities and preferences. There are economic and health benefits to regular scratch and 'near scratch' cooking, and there can be culinary benefits as well. But these do come at a cost in time and effort. For some people it will be worth the cost, and for others it won't." I don't think it's inherently judgmental to suggest that regular scratch home cooks have better scratch home cooking and meal planning skills than those who rarely do scratch home cooking and meal planning. I mean, sure it is if you hold up scratch home cooking as some kind of holy grail of domestic life, but I've tried to be clear that this is not my perspective and I think the shaming over food and other parenting choices is horrible and toxic. If cooking were nothing more than drudgery to me, or if I was continually run ragged by work and parenting demands, you'd better believe I'd do whatever I could to minimize how much cooking I had to do.
posted by slkinsey at 11:37 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


For some people it will be worth the cost, and for others it won't.

Some people can't afford the cost, in money and time.
posted by agregoli at 11:58 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


And yes, cooking from fresh ingredients can be cheaper than eating ready made food, but
1. there is an initial investment involved (kitchen gear and so on... let's not forget the kitchen itself)
2. the extra time one needs to spend can simply be out of reach. Only so many hours in the day
3. there are places where fresh ingredients aren't locally available, and transportation costs money too

And there are other reasons, I'm sure, that this is just not always an option one can freely choose.

Can it still be called a tradeoff if it's forced?
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:13 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


That's definitely an issue, agregoli. It's hard to argue, as some do, that a family in straitened circumstances should do laborious comparison shopping and scratch home cooking when the obvious best solution for economics and time is, e.g., the local "dollar value" fast food menu.
posted by slkinsey at 12:15 PM on March 18


I was trying to point out that the way you wrote that was a value judgment. Whether someone thinks it's worth it to try harder with food for their family.
posted by agregoli at 1:06 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I think it's funny all the talk about home-grown tomatoes, btw. I am tending my own tomato sprouts right now for this season's harvest (this year I'll have brandywine, beefsteak, and my own variety of indigo rose that I've been experimentally breeding for 3 seasons in a row). Gardening time absolutely cuts into cooking time. And cleaning time. And working time. I mean, I love it, but it's the most time consuming hobby I've ever had, and I don't even do any real canning, just tend to chop up and freeze my tomatoes at the end of the season.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:40 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Took my 2-year-old to her first dentist appointment today, where I got to fill out a questionnaire asking me to detail her dietary habits and how much exercise she gets. So, yay, food judging is creeping out of pediatrician appointments and into dentist appointments!

(My kids' elementary school is not waste-free, but boy howdy do kids radicalize about environmentalism early, which is mostly to the good, but when we moved three days before school started and I had to start sending my kids to school with lunches for the first time ever, I sent them with brown bags for a week while waiting for the reusable lunch bags from Lands End to arrive, and on Wednesday my first-grader comes home and goes, "MOM, everyone is MAKING FUN OF ME because I bring my lunch in a BROWN BAG and it makes GARBAGE and is BAD FOR THE PLANET!" We've always been big on reusable packaging for lunch so it's a relief that that's normal now and not weird-kid stuff, but yay! now kids can make fun of each other for not being reusable enough!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:42 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


My kids get tons of sleep and have interesting hobbies but I nooooooo it's just food that everybody grills me on. It's no fair.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:58 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


My wife and I do a lot of home cooking with fresh ingredients because it's just the two of us and meal planning and cooking are practically hobbies for her (and I small-l like cooking, most of the time), but it still takes a shit-ton of time and money, and if we had kids and/or less money our current regular dietary habits would be impossible to sustain.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:58 PM on March 18


We've always been big on reusable packaging for lunch so it's a relief that that's normal now and not weird-kid stuff, but yay! now kids can make fun of each other for not being reusable enough!

I wonder if it’s possible for a culture to value a thing highly without making a social pecking order out of it? That’s what this conversation is about, isn’t it? - the stress of people seeing the output of what you have the time/skills/money to do, making an inference about your values, and further turning that into a judgment call about your worth?
posted by eirias at 2:35 PM on March 18 [7 favorites]


The problem with the store bought pasta sauce, isn't that you didn't make it, its that most of them are abusing the salt & sugar to make you believe they taste something. If you can find a good one, hurray! If not, just mindful of what's in it.

I like cooking, I like cooking EVERYTHING from scratch, I'm notorious for this. My rosée sauve is amazing, but it takes > 2 hours to make, sometimes we just want/need pasta ready in 20min, so here comes the store bought sauce. The frequency of those "sometimes" has greatly increased since we had our daughter.

If i was a better planner I'd batch cook and freeze sauce, patés, soups like my parent did so I'd have more food available for quick home-cooked meals. But I suck at that, and even that requires freezer space which isn't available for everybody.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 2:56 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


For those who self-disclosed that they do not have good knife skills, please think about investing in a cut-glove if you can. I used to have massive anxiety about cutting myself, especially because I live alone, and these have been game-changers. They’re cheaper than an ER visit!

Also, use claw-hand, keep your knives sharp, yada yada yada
posted by greermahoney at 5:38 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


I was a happy cook-all-your-meals kind of person back when I was a bachelor eating the same stir-fry for years on end. Well, not technically the same: the exact veggies and meats would vary depending on what I found in the bargain bin that week.

Now I'm trying to feed a picky eater from a completely different food tradition who wants variety but only within a narrow range of dishes I've never cooked before and for which she can't provide recipes because they're unknown knowns. E.g., it doesn't occur to her to specify that the peas have to be green peas because it's never occurred to her that anyone would try to use yellow peas. (It would not be inconsistent with her reaction the first time for her not to have known that peas were sometimes yellow: she thought I had substituted lentils.)

So, yes, things would be easier if we ate the same people chow day in and day out, as many of our ancestors admittedly did. But sometimes you have people who are net positive in your life who do expect a different meal for every meal, and will spend an order of magnitude more money to buy it prepared if you don't cook it for them. :-(
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:21 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


French, and Spanish children have a long break in the middle of the day, and have a made from scratch real food hot lunch during that break. When they come home, they get a snack, yes.

Ah, yes. I ran into this at my kid's school this year (in Spain). He goes to a very small forest school and last year the kids ate lunch in the head teacher's basement. Everyone sent lunch in glass jars and the teacher heated them up in her kitchen in a bain-marie. This year they moved to a proper class space, and one of the conditions for granting the operating license was that they couldn't serve food, meaning that the kids all bring their leftovers like usual, but now the teachers aren't even allowed to have a microwave.

There was a TON of pushback from the other parents about how it was terrible that their kids couldn't eat a hot lunch, and we went through several rounds of drama about which was the best thermos to buy to keep the food hot until 2 pm. I, the only American, was like, what's wrong with sandwiches????

(Anyway, I cracked the code, the trick is a Thermos brand thermos and to fill it up with boiling water while I'm preparing the rest of the lunch. Dump out the water, fill with reheated soup or whatever, and it stays hot all day long.)
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:05 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


I remember Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas very fondly! Good food, lots of choice and very comfortable and air conditioned! We need more cafeterias like that!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:58 AM on March 19


"...a lot of 30-50 year olds today just don't have the meal planning and cooking skills their parents had..."

Nah, we just don't have the social pressure to pretend like we don't have better shit to do anymore. I can make pavlova, profiteroles, beef wellington and puff pastry from scratch. But I would much rather make my baby laugh maniacally with my salsa dancing or literally just sit with my husband in the living room than stand in front of the stove for the gazillionth time in my life to get started with dinner yet again. And meal planning isn't hard, it's T.E.D.I.O.U.S.

I stunt-cook a couple of times a year for birthdays or when I get a craving (baklava was the latest), but I refuse to participate in the unappreciated and mind-numbing drudgery that is chopping garlic or whatever, day after day for the rest of my life until I die.

I plan to avoid mom judgement by deep freezing industrial amounts of traditional food from my home country when baby grows up and starts school. I hope the exoticism confuses any judgy mom. Quinoa galore.
posted by Tarumba at 1:09 PM on March 19 [6 favorites]


The article is burying the lede. What remedy is this advocating for? The article provides no solutions. The book's title ends with "And What To Do About It". It might be just "Nothing. Just relax. Lower your standards." I'd like to know that up front, rather than giving the book's authors $13 just to be told that.
posted by matt_arnold at 1:33 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


I sent them with brown bags for a week while waiting for the reusable lunch bags from Lands End to arrive, and on Wednesday my first-grader comes home and goes, "MOM, everyone is MAKING FUN OF ME because I bring my lunch in a BROWN BAG and it makes GARBAGE and is BAD FOR THE PLANET!"

When I was brown-bagging lunches in high school in the mid-80s, I always reused my brown lunch sack because a group of us had an on-going game of Spades and we each kept our own scores on our own brown paper bags. Generally everyone filled up their bags with scores (after many days of play) around the same time, so it was THEN that the bags were discarded and scores were reset to zero for the next round.

Ah, good times. And remember, Spades is really just Diet Bridge.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Sometimes I love living in a city where people put stuff they don't want out on their stoops with a sign saying "free, please take". One of my on-the-block neighbors was trying to offload a couple movies (I snapped them up because of reasons), and a brown-bagging-lunch guide that turned out to be really, really decent; I tend to do well with cookbooks that give you one recipe, and then go on to suggest ideas for the leftovers, and this absolutely does that. It also has a whole section of "lunches you can prepare in less than a minute". Sold!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


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