The New York Times had an excellent article entitled Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch about the effects of convenience or processed foods, feminism and marketing on our country’s culinary habits. It turns out that these days even homemakers don’t spend much time in the kitchen.
My theory for the decline of cooking is that the influx of processed and fast foods hit the U.S. before any real culinary habits had been ingrained in our culture. Let’s face it. Our pioneering ancestors did not place much value on cooking and eating, unlike say, the Italians, Chinese or French. By the time Julia Child’s cooking show hit the airwaves and supposedly transformed our relationship with cooking, it was too little too late.
Feminism hit Italy, too, and scores of women gleefully threw off their apron. My mother-in-law is an able cook but willingly lets my father-in-law take the lead role in cooking. (He’s one of the best cooks I know and deserves a post!) Feminism allowed women who didn’t enjoy cooking to get out of the kitchen and enabled men to embrace it more openingly. In fact, I know many Italian men who enjoy cooking and are the main cook or share duties with their working spouse. Despite the advent of fast food and convenience food in Italy, people were not willing to give up their cuisine. The time spent cooking has likely declined in Italy also but not to the same extent. In other words, Italians knew that they had great food traditions were worth holding onto.
In American kitchens, most men didn’t enter the kitchens because frankly, there wasn’t any great cuisine to save. Restaurant foods were tastier and take-out was faster.
You can argue that we now have a greater knowledge of food due to increased travel and exposure to cooking shows, but that knowledge doesn’t translate to the actual act of cooking. We don’t have grandparents or parents to teach us those skills and I would argue that this country never really had those skills in the first place.