“So, why does it matter that recipes marketed as easy often aren’t? A few years ago, I would have interpreted it as a harmless pretense—maybe even a good deed—to nudge people with the lure of simplicity toward cooking for themselves. Now, pulled in a million directions by the demands of a young family, I’m not so sure. Despite the much-ballyhooed increase in men cooking, women still do the lion’s share of the food preparation in this country. And the weight of expectation imposed by our cooking culture, which offers unrealistically complex recipes while at the same time dismissing them as simple, can be crushing.”
Three, no a dozen, cheers for Elizabeth G. Dunn for publishing “‘Easy’ Cooking Isn’t Easy” in the Atlantic . It’s not fast either, as she points out.
And to her excellent article, I’d like to add six reasons why home cooking is a hard, time-consuming, painfully-acquired set of skills.
- You have to negotiate the modern supermarket. The average supermarket carries nearly 39,000 different items. What other task is so likely to create decision fatigue? The only way to survive is to block out most of the information screaming at you? And the average time in a supermarket is 43 minutes, the average number of visits per week 1.5. Add in travel time and you are talking well over an hour a week hunting and gathering for your basic supplies. Oh, yes, now you can have grocery delivery, true, but have you tried negotiating the grocery delivery web sites? Sloooow, until they have your history stored. When they arrive, you may find that they have substituted decaf tea for caffeinated that keeps you going through the late afternoon slump, that vacuum packed lamb has gone bad, and that the endives are past their best.
- When you get home and unpack all that stuff from your shopping bags, you have to store it safely and accessibly. It’s not obvious that potatoes and onions don’t store well together or that potatoes don’t do well in the fridge. These things have to be learned. Storage accounts for another half hour a week, plus more time to get out the ingredients when you start on a meal.
- Then you need an extensive range of skills for even the simplest meal. I’ve been cooking for years so I just throw salt into boiling water by the pinch or the handful. Same for pasta and rice. I know how to peel and chop. All skills. Half an hour a day if you are lucky. Just for the main meal.
- You also need to know the properties of your oven, microwave, and other kitchen apparatus. I remember when microwaves first came in. No one had a clue how long it took to heat a cup of water, or that you could melt chocolate but not cook a steak, or what to do about metal utensils. All that took time to learn. So does knowing how long the oven takes to warm and what flame is good for sauteeing onions, and even whether you have to remove the plastic wrap before putting leftovers to warm up (no for the microwave, yes for the oven. Don’t laugh. I’ve had family members ask this is in all innocence). All this assumes you have an oven and microwave in working condition.
- A mental inventory of recipes so that you can use all your ingredients effectively, substitute for ingredients you have forgotten, adjust to the needs and preferences of those you are cooking for. In the past, it was roast on Sunday, cold meat on Monday, ground up roast on Tuesday, chops on Wednesday, fish on Friday and sausages on Saturday but standards have risen. I am aghast at the hours I have spent accumulating this repertoire.
- And to wrap it all up, you need to know what is worth saving, what should be thrown out, and how to clean up the kitchen. Another twenty or thirty minutes. Even if someone loads the dishwasher, there’s usually another someone (the woman) who has, shall we say, to curate the murky contents of the fridge.
Only a fool thinks cooking is either quick or easy. Only the most dedicated finds it a rewarding challenge day after day.
I reckon that after many decades cooking, it still takes me a minimum of eight hours a week, probably more like twelve to twenty. That’s one and a half to two days of work.
My first thought on waking each morning is what do I have to do to get dinner started. So add in more time for planning.
OK, so circumstances mean I cook at home a lot.
Please, though, let’s give home cooks (usually women) the honor they deserve.
And, give serious thought to the consequences.