May 31, 2013

in defense of dinner

I cook dinner for my family probably five nights a week.  I don't talk about this much on the blog because I didn't think I had anything new or unique to say about it; I just cook dinner.  I am interested in recipes and organics and whole foods, and I spend a fair amount of time on the weekends meal planning and grocery shopping.  Lately, I have been devoting Sunday afternoons to babysitting a big pot of stew or soup.  I guess it's no surprise that I downloaded Michael Pollan's new book Cooked on the day it was released, especially considering the impact The Omnivore's Dilemma had on how I feed my family.  It took me a little while to get started on it, and I am still slowly working my way through it, but Pollan's thoughts on home-cooking have left me feeling like a rebel.

" there are more and more people, men and women both, who view home cooking--and even raising and killing chickens!--as a means of liberation from the influence, on our lives and culture, of corporations like KFC.  Which raises an interesting question: As a political matter, is home cooking today a reactionary or progressive way to spend one's time?"  --Michael Pollan in Cooked

Liberating?  Progressive?

Cooking and sewing go hand-in-hand for me.  They are both activities that I really enjoy, mainly because they are solitary and they are productive.  I am quite the introvert, which is a little odd considering my job, but because I spend so much of my day acting as an extrovert, I crave alone time.  I joke sometimes about how badly I want time just to stare at a wall, but that's not really it; I want to retreat into an activity that I can do with my hands and my thoughts.  Bonus points if I can hold up a finished product at the end to combat the mom guilt.

"It is true that this cooking was purely elective.  But nowadays, what cooking isn't?  With fast- and convenience food so cheap and ubiquitous, cooking is hardly ever obligatory anymore, even among the poor.  We all get to decide whether to cook, and increasingly, we decide not to.  Why?  Some people will tell you they find it boring or daunting.  But the most common reason people offer is, they don't have the time."

To be honest, I have often viewed cooking as an indulgence or an escape from the pressures of the day, even if I do it with a toddler clinging to my leg.  It's creative in a sense, and it allows me to work with my hands and actually make something (as opposed to the intangible services and products I provide in my job).  And because I viewed cooking as an indulgence, there has been a certain amount of guilt associated with it.  Why do I spend thirty minutes to an hour every evening preparing dinner when I could pop a frozen something into the oven and go play with my kids?  In a home with two working parents and two children under four, time is a valuable commodity, so why am I spending it cooking from scratch?

"Time is the missing ingredient in our recipes--and in our lives."

I think the answer is that cooking, like sewing, isn't liberating or progressive; it's what moms do, based on my experience.  It's what I saw my mom do, and I'm sure what she grew up seeing her mom do, and (since I have my great-grandmother's sewing machine) what she saw her mom do.  It's a tradition not to be lost.  And it's good for everyone involved, physically, politically, spiritually. 

"A hundred years ago, chicken for dinner meant going out and catching, killing, plucking, and gutting a chicken.  Do you know anybody who still does that?  It would be considered crazy!  Well, that's exactly how cooking will seem to your grandchildren.  Like sewing, or darning socks--something people used to do when they had no other choice."  --food industry market researcher Harry Balzer, as quoted in Cooked


  1. I am so with you about needing alone time or down time. I always laughing tell my husband that we can do only one social event a weekend because the rest of the time I need to decompress! And just like you, even though I'm a complete introvert I've chosen a career where I'm surrounded by people all day (I'm a social worker). It's no wonder I need quiet time on my days off :-)

  2. Thank you for the book recommendation!

    Good for you for cooking dinner for your family so often. I try to make a 'real meal' once a week, and the rest of the week, I try to make something that is at least not processed and from fresh, local, organic ingredients. But it can be a challenged. Honestly, I wasn't ever taught how to cook, and was raised on boxed foods, so changing my mindset about food has been an interesting evolution.


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