The idea for this post – or, rather, series of posts, as I have realised while drafting this that I cannot fit the topic into just one entry – was perhaps not given, but prompted to emergence by caz in her comment on one of my previous entries. It has occurred to me that a lot of people of my generation, and even older, regard cooking from scratch as something frightening, boring, tedious, difficult, time-consuming, unpleasant, messy and generally not worth the while.
In fact, several times in the past few years, I have come across women around my age who flaunt their inability to cook “worth [bleep]!” as if it were some sort of accomplishment of emansipation, which truly makes me shrug in lack of comprehension – though the latter, perhaps, not so much specifically about cooking, as about the fact that anyone could flaunt inability to do anything as an accomplishment or a positive thing about oneself.
To demonstrate that people (at large in the Western society) truly do think so to anyone doubting, I need not point to any statistics, but simply to the supermarket shelves veritably looming with the ready-made foods in any stage of preparedness, from dry sachets of soup mix to refrigerated and frozen offerings of whole meals, to indeed, hot meals ready for takeout (much as the takeout places have), and the shelves of food basics, shrunken in comparison and lost in-between all this convenience-food cornucopia.
It is not that we buy what the supermarkets want to sell us, you see (we do, to some degree, but that is a story for another time), but that they sell us what we, as a society, want to buy. After all, they are out to make a buck (or a euro or a krona, or a pound), and the best way to do that is to give people what they want, in quantity. And from examining the contents, it appears that for the most part, people do not want to, and do not cook from scratch if they can help it.
Amusingly, one of the supermarkets that I frequent, even has small signs hanging off the ceiling with arrows pointing down to those basics: “Found It!: Eggs“, “Found It: Sugar“, etc. The essentials are buried to the point where they need visual aids and road signs to be found in the supermarket jungle. All right, perhaps it is more sad than amusing in light of the current obesity epidemic and governmental agencies’ push to get the consumers to eat more healthy, but it made me laugh at the time.
The other cause or spot of inspiration if you will, has been contributed by Niklas, who, having patiently listened to my ranting about people not cooking at home for the Nth time, equally patiently informed me that while home cooking may seem easy to me because “you know what you are doing”, a lot of people may not know things which I take for granted as something people do or should know – such as that you preheat oil before sauteeing, or how to steam/cook different rice varieties from dry, what to do with a bag of beans, or which spices may go well with a given sort of dish.
All (or most) of that argument is right. Since cooking is not just my professional interest, but also a beloved hobby, I do know a few things about it. Although it bears noting, for example, that since I do not own an automatic rice cooker, I still tend to look at the package of rice for a guideline on how to cook any given variety, just like any other mortal. However, while the argument is mostly true, it is, in my opinion, not entirely relevant to simple day-to-day cooking as could be performed by any determined person with a drop of common sense, a stove, sink, refrigerator, and a set of basic gear. By ‘basic gear’ I mean such truly simple equipment the like which comes pre-packed in an IKEA kitchen starter box (which, sadly, I have been informed, they no longer have available, at least in the UK) – i.e. a frying pan, a cookpot, a colander, a chopping board, a few knives, some plastic utensils and the like.
The point I would like to make about cooking from scratch, is that the “difficult and takes a long time” is, as far as I can tell, a myth perpetuated historically, for example by my generation – children of people who grew up in the fifties and sixties – namely, my parents’ generation. And they, in turn, were raised by the generation which grew up before WWII, in the times of housewives and predating properly equipped kitchens or a lot of modern conveniences (the word in this case not referring to convenience foods as per contemporary definition). I think that the idea of cooking being something which housewives did as part of their full time housekeeping job, and which took lengthy hours of effort, dates back to those times, and can be attributed to several factors which will have stuck in the cultural memory and, as ideas, likely all contribute to the conclusion that home cooking is an awful duty rather than an enjoyable pastime, or at least a reasonably worthwhile one.
Do I think that the historical view is justified? Certainly, since the recent past of cooking at home as a phenomenon is very well known, as are the surrounding economic, time management, social and other circumstances and expectations. Do I think it still applies? Well, here is where things become somewhat more complicated. The simple answer is – no, I do not think so, at least not in the modernised Western societies. The elaboration, however, will have to be broken down into discrete posts, else this, in Niklas’ words, will become (if it hasn’t already) tl,dr.