The reality of home-cooked meals

I don’t usually pull out my soapbox here, but last week, Slate published an article titled “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner” that addressed a study that argues “the stress that cooking puts on people, particularly women, may not be worth the trade-off.” Then I read this rebuttal and I got angry.

Look, I absolutely believe to my core that we as a society need to prioritize home cooking, growing our own when and where possible, and making good, fresh, sustainable food available geographically and financially. But the way our culture is set up, that is not always easy or even possible, and those roadblocks need to be addressed.

More than a few studies show that women (even with a partner) still do a larger percentage of housework and childcare, including cooking/grocery shopping/cleaning up, even after working a full-time job. That’s not even taking into consideration single parents, parents who work multiple jobs with odd hours for low pay, food desserts, the challenges of getting those so-much-cheaper-than-chips multi-pound bags of potatoes home on a bus. The percent of people who face any one of these challenges, let alone multiple, is far more than the 2% the author in the second article cites (a number that is so wildly out of line with reality I really couldn’t take anything else he said seriously).

And it’s patently not true that “healthful ground beef from pastured cattle versus fast-food burgers” is cheaper by the pound, especially when you take into account the time, tools, and knowledge necessary to acquire, store, and cook said beef. But that’s honestly one of the problem(s) that we should be addressing, not shaming the people who aren’t cooking (or spending their time or money) the way we think they should be.

I am so incredibly lucky and privileged; I acknowledge that. I was lucky that a home-cooked family dinner was a priority for my parents at both of their houses growing up. My dad (a former farmer who had decades of know-how) had a big garden in our yard that supplied a lot of our fresh vegetables in spring, summer, fall and (frozen) throughout the winter. My mom liked food and cooking and trying new things and encouraged my sisters and I to do the same. But my parents also had jobs where they could be home for dinner at a reasonable hour, had the tools and stability to make cooking a reliable option, and knew enough to teach me and my sisters how to start dinner or fend for ourselves if, and when, needed.

I am also lucky in that I love to cook, I reliably get home before 6 p.m. every night, I don’t have kids to care for or cart around to activities, I have the money to spend on the organic pastured local chicken (which, by the way, $26 for two 3.5 pound birds at the farmers market this weekend, four times what a regular chicken would be at the grocery store) or the produce at the farmer’s market (which is rarely less expensive than the grocery store–a whole other frustrating myth–even if it might be fresher, tastier, or more healthful). And even I sometimes find cooking an obnoxious chore.

Idealizing a home-cooked family meal is as much of a problem as idealizing the stay-at-home mom from decades past (a whole other rant for another time, because many, many women did have to work outside the home in some capacity to make ends meet). It’s not always cheap, easy, fast, or pretty, though it most certainly can be all those things. We should not give people excuses so they don’t have to try, which is a fundamental problem of the original Slate article. But we also cannot, I repeat cannot, shame them when we don’t think they’re trying hard enough.

Do I think it would be great if we could all sit down for an hour for every meal, food made from scratch, with good conversation and no electronics? Of course. But everyone has their threshold. Who am I to say that a parent is wrong if they’d rather spend time reading with their kid, taking them to a sport, or helping with homework when they get home exhausted at 8 p.m. instead of spending that time in the kitchen (and yes, kids should be helping in the kitchen too, but “I was making dinner” isn’t going to fly when homework isn’t ready for class the next day).

You know what the fastest way is to get someone to tune you out? Start telling them how wrong they’re doing things. No matter how much you have to say about building a better food culture and community, how much knowledge you might want to share about growing or cooking healthful food on a budget or with limited time or resources, none of it will be heard when it starts with “You’re doing it wrong.”

Instead of blaming, let’s encourage; instead of judging, let’s help. Let’s challenge ourselves to start changing what we can, even if it’s one thing, even if it feels small–one night without tv; trying once a week, even once a month, to switch out a boxed meal with something more healthful. Let’s share the knowledge and tools we have with our community. We all have something to contribute to make this ideal of a home-cooked meal more of a reality.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “The reality of home-cooked meals

  1. YOU GO CHRISTINA!!! That’s the whole problem with our culture, the family meal is no longer there and without the family structure, our society is going down hill. Without getting on a soap box myself, I’m in total agreement with you.

    Like

    1. I’m so grateful sharing a meal has been a priority for our family. And I don’t think it matters how family is defined–it could be parents and kids, extended family, or friends gathering for a weekly meal (this is a complete inspiration to me) or, honestly, even eating by yourself–it’s a matter of taking the time and trying to be mindful.

      Like

  2. BOY DID SOMETHING GET UP THAT CRAW, YOUR RIGHT THOUGH, IT IS HARD TO MAKE THE DINNERS BUT IT IS SOOOOO MUCH BETTER THAN MOST RESTAURANT MEALS. JUST REMEMBER AN OLD WISE MAN TOLD ME: EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION AND AN ASSHOLE AND MOST OF THE TIME THEY BOTH STINK. AND BESIDES, I TOLD YOU TO GET OUT OF YOUR KITCHEN MORE OFTEN, WORK ON IT

    LOVE YA

    Like

  3. I am privileged like you in many of the same ways, but I have to disagree with one point: where I live (small city on the East Coast), the farmers’ markets are cheaper than the grocery store. I have been shopping from both places for most of my adult life, and I like to be thrifty, so I notice prices. It’s not just the local stuff either – I can almost always get 3 or 4 lemons for a dollar at market when they are usually more like a dollar apiece at the grocery store.

    Like

    1. Thanks for mentioning that Margo, good to know there are places where people aren’t paying a premium for fresh and local. Most of the markets here don’t have stuff like citrus though, but I have found the little grocery stores are often less than the big chains. Lemons are a good example–they’re around .70 each at the regular big grocery store here, but 4/$1 at my favorite small market down the street. The store doesn’t have 80 kinds of peanut butter or bread, but they have enough of the brands I like and get a lot of the bread from local companies. I also like shopping there because produce gets turned over quickly so it tends to be fresher.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s