Cooking More or Less?


"From Scratch?" BBQ Beef Ribs ready to go into the oven.

Michael Pollan’s recent article, Out of the Kitchen and onto the Couch has got me in a lather.  It is a long article, worth reading, especially if you work in the food biz.  Its basic premise is that true cooking is archaic and that Americans prefer to be entertained by cooking, instead of simply enjoying cooking.

According Harry Balzer, who was interviewed for the article, Americans are no longer cooking, we are simply assembling and re-heating.  Hmmmm.  This is not good.  According to Balzer, even if Americans wanted to start cooking from scratch again, they can’t because "the skills are lost."  WHAT?!

If this is true, why do sites like Taste Spotting exist?  There are more than 10,000 food blogs online, with more being created everyday.  Even Amanda Hesser has embarked on a new venture that will rely on homecooks to produce a cookbook.  It is tough to find a parking spot at Saturday’s Portland’s Farmer’s Market.  I am assuming that people are actually cooking the products that they purchase at the market.  Right?

My kitchen is atypical.  Depending on my workload, I could be cooking from scratch or whipping up quick and easy meals that depend on convenience foods.

When I cook soley for the purpose of feeding my family, it is a mixed bag.  I make homemade coleslaw dressing but I use pre-shredded cabbage.  The ribs, pictured above, were rubbed with a purchased BBQ spice rub and finished with homemade BBQ sauce.  Spaghetti with store-bought meatballs and jarred sauce appears on my table weekly, usually on the busiest night of the week.

I do make homemade meatballs, just not all the time.  I am also a big fan of takeout pizza and takeout Thai food, especially when it is just too hot to cook or when I would like to have a night off.  Just for the record, my yoga night is "hotdogs and baked beans night" here at Casa Mayone.  We also eat alot of eggs.  Canned beans are one of my best friends in the pantry.

In the midst of my dismay, I did an informal survey of family and friends.  I needed to know who was buying all of the pot roasts, chicken leg quarters, potatoes and onions?  I am happy to report that in my middle of the road America, we are cooking, maybe not from scratch all of the time, but my friends and family are cooking and cooking consistently.

Flavorista Dave makes homemade yeast bread and from scratch chocolate cake for his children’s birthdays.  Flavorista Kitty is making sure that her children are learning to cook.  Flavorista Kevin makes pies, beautiful, outstanding, gorgeous pies.  Flavorista Monica cooks like crazy; she is a vegetarian; her husband and daughter are carnivores and her son is allergic to eggs and dairy.  I have witnessed my food loving, teenage nieces prepare restaurant-worthy Greek salad wraps, at home.  Flavorista Rose has taught them well!

When one cooks at home, there are big budget gains.  It costs roughly twice as much to eat out instead of eating at home.  There are also nutritional benefits to cooking and eating at home; you can watch calories and salt; you can notch up the veggies; you can use healthy fats like olive oil in place of butter.

What is the biggest benefit to eating at home?  Hands down, it is the family table.  Sitting together, saying grace and breaking bread is the highlight of my day, even if frozen corn steamed in the microwave is on the table, alongside homemade mashed potatoes (or biscuits) and meatloaf.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about cooking.  I want to believe that home cooking is not a lost art form.  As much as I enjoy watching the queen of butter, Paula Deen; I am not ready to accept that dinners based on condensed soups, cream cheese and mayonnaise are the future of American cooking.

Call me a culinary Pollyanna.  I am off to the kitchen.  First, I am going to put on my rose-colored glasses, then I am going to get out my whisk so I can make some salad dressing from scratch.

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