First, a hit of backstory – A few months back, at the IACP conference in Portland, Michael Ruhlman called “Bullshit” on the claim made by Karen Page and others that we’re getting too busy to cook.
Afterwards, a mini-storm brewed on twitter, one which annoyed me to no end. A fair amount of the food fans out there became exceedingly self-congratulatory on how they home cooked six or seven nights out of the week, and implied that those who did not were not only missing out, but were somehow missing the point of being a “real foodie”, or some-other similar nonsense that sought to demonstrate how seriously awesome they were at being a honest-to-goodness home cook, and that others should aspire to be more like them.
It’s attitudes such as these that make me crazy. For one, it missed the basic premise of Mr. Ruhlman’s point. Secondly, such claims as those made by these self-professed keepers-of-home-cooking cause do more to segregate members of the food culture away from one another, rather than encouraging people to eat well. Let me address both points below.
First, to Mr. Ruhlman’s point – as I read it, there was no claim that we should be cooking at home every day of the week. His call of “bullshit” was to the idea that we are too busy to cook. Inside any given day, our lives are filled with choices that affect and draw upon that limited and valuable resource known as “time”. Those choices affect what you can and cannot do during a given twenty-four hour day. If you choose to sit and watch television for three hours, or choose to go to the gym for forty-five minutes and then recuperate for ninety minutes afterwards, instead of cooking, then it’s not that you’re too busy to cook. It’s that you put a higher priority on watching television or going to the gym than cooking. This doesn’t make you a bad person, it simply means that you’ve made a choice.
The second part of Ruhlman’s point is that because we have a limited resource known as time, we feel as if we need to gain some of it back, and we do so by purchasing foods made by corporations and sold to us under the heading of “convenient”. These conveniences, sadly, are lacking in quality, and don’t actually serve to make our lives better. In fact, they have a long term effect of us accepting mediocre products into our lives under the impression that it brings valuable time back into our day. Additionally, a basic understanding of a few recipes can help people realize that home cooking isn’t that inconvenient, and has the added benefit of being a social experience. As an example, a simple puttanesca can be made in less that twenty minutes.
Michael further clarified his point in a Huffington Post piece, where he faulted food editors for giving the impression that cooking was an inconvenience. I’m paraphrasing in the interest of space, and suggest you read his thought-provoking piece here.
What happened in the twitterverse, and on more than a few blogs, was that the first part of his point was completely lost. Many people interpreted his point as some variation of “home cooks are da bomb, and everyone else just doesn’t get it”. Then the food universe divided into two distinct camps. One group became self-congratulatory (those who cooked at home on a regular basis). Others became pissed as many people have quite busy lives, and some took offense at the fact suddenly they were deemed as unworthy and as being outside of the foodie universe.
My own take? I fell somewhere in the second camp. I’m comfortable in making choices, and have never felt the need to defend them to anyone but my loved ones, but let me fill you in on my current situation. I cook less, now that I’m writing and researching, all the while keeping a full time job. I’m eating less, because I’m living a somewhat sedentary lifestyle, and don’t need to have home cooked meals when I get home, choosing instead to pick up some hummus and raw veggies from the local grocery store. And I live with a picky eater, so there’s little social value in cooking for myself. My home cooking of late has been almost nil. As I followed Ruhlman’s argument, I mostly agreed, and shrugged off the rest.
However, on twitter, I did go off once or twice when a few folks felt the need continually tell the rest of us how much more awesome their lives were by cooking at home.
So what’s my point? All of this is my way of getting to a recent post at Cook Local, who said simply:
…while I don’t believe that everyone can cook every night, I do believe that anyone can cook any night.
The point made was spot on. There’s no value judgements based off of life’s many choices, there’s no segregation between those who supposedly get it versus those who supposedly don’t. It’s a simple option – when you choose to cook, let’s figure out how to do it well. If you choose not to cook, that’s okay too, and let’s find a way to make sure you eat well with that option.