The Makings of a Healthful Kitchen (Part 1)

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How many of you cook? I don’t mean heating up a frozen dinner in the microwave, either. I mean taking the time to prepare a meal from start to finish, using your stove, oven, or slow cooker. I, for one, like to cook, although I admit that there are nights when I am too tired to cook, don’t really have the time, or am missing one or more ingredients needed to make a complete meal. But I figure the intention is at least there!

It does seem like life can get in the way of cooking. We’re busy with work, school, family, hobbies, volunteering, and social events. Who wants to be tied down to a kitchen? And who wants to clean up the mess? Let’s face it — it’s quicker and easier to eat out (or get take-out). The National Restaurant Association tells us that the average American household spent, on average, close to $2700 in 2008 on meals away from home. Not only that, 40% of adults surveyed agree that purchasing meals from a restaurant or getting take-out or delivery makes them more “productive in their day-to-day life.” Well, that’s not hard to understand — think of the laundry you can get done if you don’t have to make a meat loaf!

But it does seem like people have gotten away from the art of cooking. I watched the movie Julie & Julia last week and I thought, “How cool was she to go through an entire 720-page cookbook of 524 recipes — and make every last one!” Now, I’m not suggesting that we all do that, but heck, if Julie can, why can’t more of us at least have a few solid, tried-and-true recipes under our belts? And wouldn’t it be healthier for us, whether we have diabetes, heart disease, or some other condition where nutrition plays a role, to eat more meals prepared at home? How many of you actually like to cook? What inspires you to make meals at home? What gets in the way?

I was fortunate to learn a lot of my cooking techniques from my mother. I remember reading her cookbooks when I was little, too. But I admit — watching shows on the Food Network has also inspired me to try different foods and tools (it was thanks to them that I got a santoku knife!).

Speaking of the Food Network, Michael Pollan, a columnist for The New York Times and author of thought-provoking books such as In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and Food Rules seems to have pondered the same question in his July 29, 2009 column “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.”

In it, he writes that the Food Network is seen in almost 100 million homes in the US, but a majority of people seem more interested in watching folks cook on TV then actually cooking themselves. He acknowledges that one reason more of us aren’t actually in the kitchen whipping up delicacies is that Americans work more than we used to — we put in more hours. And women, the traditional cooks, are working more today than back in the 50’s and 60’s. Plus, the more money you make, the more you can spend on eating out and getting take-out (and hiring your own cook, for that matter).

Also in his column, Michael Pollan cites work done by David Cutler, PhD, a professor of economics at Harvard University. Dr. Cutler links the increase in obesity with the decrease in the number of meals prepared at home. That’s really not surprising if you think about it. He also notes the finding that women spend less time on food preparation than they used to, and women are also more obese than they used to be. And a study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association published in 1992 found that poor women who cooked were more likely to eat a healthful diet than wealthier women who didn’t cook.

There are a number of blogs that address the subject of cooking. Some of the blogs imply that people are lazy. Others say that people don’t know how to cook. And still others write that people are “too stupid.” These sentiments seem a little harsh, but yet, are some of them true in some little way? Someone must think so, otherwise, how can we explain all of the cookbooks with titles like I Don’t Know How To Cook Book, The Cookbook for Men Whose Wives Don’t Cook (well, why can’t THEY cook?), and of course, Cooking Basics for Dummies.

Next week, we’ll look at how you can get your kitchen ready (because you really are going to start cooking, right?). And if you have thoughts or comments to share about the “uncooking” of America, I’d love to hear them!

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