While I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, this study, called The Joy of Cooking?, came out and caused a little stir in the home cooking world. In it, three sociologists argue that encouraging home cooking should not be a part of fixing our food system.
As you know, I am all about home cooking, so this got my attention. I've read the study and many responses to it now, and I am not persuaded at all. While they raise some legitimate concerns about poverty, none of their arguments change my feeling that more home cooking is a worthwhile goal.
My main problem with the study is the straw man they set up. They argue that people are frustrated by feeling the need to cook some "ideal foodie" three hour extravaganza and give examples of families attempting that. They suggest that because Michael Pollan can seem a little elitist, that all proponents of home cooking (and presumably this would include Michelle Obama's Let's Move which has identified home cooking as a piece of the fix, and ME!) are pushing "ideal" as the standard.
This is not only ridiculous, but really wrongheaded, perpetuating the myth that unless we create a dinner party worthy masterpiece we’re not really cooking, that unless we have the time to achieve this "foodie ideal" (and they use the words "foodie" and "ideal" repeatedly) that we might as well throw in the dishtowel. "Ideal"is dangerous thinking and should not be a standard in the food world any more than it should be in the body image arena. As Megan McArdle says in her response to the study, "don't make the perfect the enemy of the adequate."
Using reasonable shortcuts and some packaged items that are thoughtfully chosen we can make home cooking possible for many of us, even on those busy weekdays. We need to approach cooking from a place without guilt or judgment. We are all doing the best we can with what we have - time, money, space, interest - and should feel good about whatever steps we can take to make our food just a little bit healthier. This is not an all or nothing venture.
The home cooking movement is just one strand of many needed to repair our food system and turn back the obesity epidemic and its resulting health ramifications. The authors describe some families living in severe poverty and their particular challenges to home cooking. There is no dispute that there is much work to be done to help such families with food access and poverty relief in general, as well as continued and increased access to healthier foods and teaching about them in schools. But, as government and community groups attempt to assuage these problems (and we should all be activists fighting for changes that help all families eat more healthfully) we should not discount the value of home cooking in the mix, when it is at all possible.
Baby steps are still steps in the right direction.