Saturday, October 15, 2016

Food for thought

Having a few people around the dinner table is always a wonderful learning opportunity for me--to understand how human I am and, therefore, how much I prove that to err is human.  I never fail to err, it turns out.  I suppose that unlike that guy with a pointy cap, I am not infallible ;)

Getting together with people is about more than food, of course.  But, does the food have to be home-cooked?  Do people consider that as a waste of time?

I recall a husband teasing his wife at a party that the kitchen in their home is the most expensive room with all the fancy upgrades they had made, because now they were eating out more than before.  She immediately put him in his place with a sharp comeback.  The rest of us experienced quite an awkward moment.  We men, believing we are funny, easily connect our feet and mouths.  I suppose it is best for the males not to talk at dinners, whether or not the food is home-cooked ;)

Of course, cooking and food are not new questions.  Not new to this blog, where Soylent has been featured in more posts than I would like to.  But, seriously, how many of us would completely opt out of cooking if we could?
Take my favourite example, from a ground-breaking, obsessively detailed ethnography of the material culture of 32 middle-class Los Angeles households based on research conducted at UCLA between 2001 and 2005. In the resulting book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century (2012), the authors note that when families in the study cooked weekday dinners from fresh, rather than pre-packaged, ingredients, it took only 10 to 12 minutes longer, on average, than preparing a convenience-food meal. Nonetheless, most of the parents in the study cite time scarcity as the reason they rely on frozen pizza, boxed macaroni-and-cheese, microwave dinners and takeout for two-thirds of their family’s weeknight meals.
Interesting, right?  As I read that, I was thinking about my latest restaurant experience.  Time to drive to the restaurant and then the time driving back.  The waiting time. The time it takes for the food to arrive.  It is not as if eating out takes way less time than cooking at home with all the modern convenient gadgets.

"Why, then, is eating convenience food viewed as a timesaving strategy?"
According to the researchers, the answer has to do with a reduction of mental effort. ‘Perhaps the most important and clear-cut effect of packaged foods is that they reduce the complexity of meal planning,’ they write. ‘The family chef can invest less time thinking about the week’s meals.’
How strange, right?  It comes back to that one thing that I have always argued is what education is fundamentally all about: Thinking.  In this case, the family food preparer can't be bothered with investing the time need to think about what to cook and to, therefore, plan out the sequence of actions.

More than anything else, "food is the primary means by which we embody and enact our shifting, species-shaping relationship with natural world." We now have more than anecdotal evidence that kids do not know where the food comes from.  My favorite on this is a news report a few years ago on how a bunch of elementary school kids were "traumatized" when their teacher explained how Elsie becomes the hamburger that they like.

Oh well ... I suppose the only advantage with not cooking is this: There won't be dishes to clean.  I now head to the kitchen to wash those pots and pans.  Poor me!


Anne in Salem said...

Really?? Two-thirds of meals are that junk? How sad.

My grandmother turns 100 on Wednesday, and it's not because she ate food from a box! And we're certainly not cooking food from a box to celebrate!! Perish the thought. The menu is set and took about 2 minutes of thinking, if that. Besides the rolls I will make from scratch, meal prep will be an hour tops. And that meal prep is more connection time. It will be a wonderful dinner not because of the food but because of the connections. I hope youngsters learn that. Maybe they can teach their parents and coworkers and friends.

Ramesh said...

Really ?? Convenience food is all about reducing mental effort ?? Balderdash ! I was not aware that there was thinking behind cooking in the first place :)

As a die hard "anti cooking" guy, I can tell you that its all about wasted effort. Utter drudgery for very little value gained for me. I am very happy to do PhD in meal planning, including an hour or two thinking about it, if I can delegate all the physical work to you !!

Mike Hoth said...

Planning can be difficult, and the added bonus of frozen food is that you can throw it in the freezer and grab it whenever. My sister and her husband do most of their "cooking" using pre-packaged food and a microwave. They would prefer to sit in bed staring at their television instead of spending their time at the stove. It gives my wife and I lots of room in the fridge to store our fresh vegetables, at least!

Sriram Khé said...

Indeed, cooking and eating is more than merely about food, which apparently only Ramesh does not understand nor appreciate. I suppose he finds humanity when the basketball player shoots a three from far away ;)

The way Anne and Mike describe their thinking about food and cooking, which is consistent with mine, works for us. In the bad old days when the mother/wife/sister was no more than a glorified cook at home, I would think that women bonded and shared in the kitchen, while men sat around talking bullshit, which was my experience in the early years of my growing up--until I started helping out in the kitchen. The older me recognizes that it is all about the human connections.

A 100-year old grandma. Wow, she has seen quite some changes over the decades, eh ... Enjoy the celebrations!

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