While thinking about the subject of people (not) preparing food at home, and in order to figure out what it is that they are (or are not) cooking, I have, of necessity, had to consider what it is that people view as home cooking. In order to understand why the people in a majority reject the idea, it is important to understand what it is they think they are rejecting – and that, in turn, brings me to the next reason why they do (and why they realistically need not).
So what is it that people regard as home cooking? In my experience, at least in the Northern Europe and to a slightly lesser degree the States (why the difference is a matter for another discussion), people tend to regard home cooking as the meat-and-potato heavy dinners that are the historically idealised version of home-cooked meals and evoke memories of Sunday, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners with family. This is food which is is often psychologically tied to memories of happier (or if not happier, then at least less stressful than the grown-up life tends to be) times which (the memories), as mentioned previously, are difficult to replicate in themselves.
To avoid a misunderstanding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either this kind of cooking, or the happy memories associated with it. In fact, it is a wonderful phenomenon and a food tradition which is certainly worth both remembering and perpetuating. I doubt anyone would argue that holiday and weekend feasts which bring friends and families together aren’t positive thing. It very certainly is.
What does, sadly, create the problem with actual day to day cooking attitudes, is that these memories are often the brightest among food memories, and, combining with nostalgic movies and TV shows and books (which romanticise such things), have a large impact on society’s ideas of what home cooking is and therefore about how it should be performed “when done right”.
Looking at it this way, it is absurd – no one cooks like that every day! Well, of course not, but it is what people end up thinking about when they think of starting to cook at home and going beyond turning on the oven and popping a ready meal into it from fridge or freezer, and perhaps brewing some coffee to go with it. And when you compare the process with the ready meal with the grand preparations and day-long kitchen activity (often on behalf of more than one person!) involved in preparing aforementioned holiay feasts, the contrast is staggering – and certainly enough to discourage a novice cook to try it.
It is a little like going from being carted around in a pram to scaling Mt. Everest. There are stages in between them (like learning to walk, for example), and if you do not mention those, the feat seems insurmountable. Moreover, and this is even more important – no one actually scales Mt. Everest on their way to work every morning, but for most people it does involve getting up and walking, and they do manage it fairly well. To translate that back to cooking terms: I think people would be far more willing to try (and continue) cooking at home if the comparison to the memories of a feast did not loom so large in their mind. Well, that, and if they actually owned some shoes and knew where those shoes were stored – or, in kitchen terms, knew what basic equipment is, and owned it (something I should discuss in some detail another day).
Setting goals so far ahead that they seem insurmountable is not a good beginning to any undertaking, cooking at home with reasonable frequency and success being no different. The advice here is simple, folks – don’t imagine a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, and how you aren’t even sure where to begin to prepare such (and how many days in advance), when what you really want is something warm and filling for your supper. Go for something like a dish of pasta with a bit of fresh vegetables and good cheese, a green salad with some meat in it (hot or cold), or some beans baked with herbs and bacon bits in the oven – foods that take minimal number of ingredients, time and effort, and are reasonably foolproof. It is a good way to get your metaphorical legs under you and walking. Advance mountain climbing (or line dancing, if you will) can wait.
And hmm. Thinking about what would constitute an easy beginners’ food that would also be healthy, I realise that it is easier to show and tell, than to refer to a number of cookbooks. Perhaps I should post some recipes while at it. But, should take photographs for that, and perhaps explain about basic tools and pantry-stocking first. I imagine I will get to it all, eventually.