This article was recently published on the struggles of cooking at home, mainly for low-income people but also a bit for middle class families. It’s an interesting article and one I appreciated reading. However I think some points were missed and they reflect how our view has changed over time.
In case you don’t hop over to the site and read the article, it basically talks about a study where the sociologist go and stay with a family and observe how they prepare food for the family. It deals with the struggles the mothers have in getting a meal on the table each day. With the complaints of the children and husbands who won’t eat the food they don’t recognize, with budget pressures, the high cost of healthy food, the time it takes to actually cook, etc. Basically it says that cooking, as prescribed by foodies like Michael Pollan, is fine if your one of the elite but for real people it doesn’t really work.
I think the research was well done. However I think their premise behind it, and the conclusions taken from it, are wrong. The take away is that cooking takes too much time and isn’t well received by the family. That mothers are expected to do too much and it’s not worth it in the end. That we need to focus on making healthier foods that can be purchased the way we purchase unhealthy food now. As if magically healthy food can be produced that is convenient and mass produced like food in a box is today.
Most of the people in the study who get the focus in the write up are at the poverty level. Someone at the poverty level is in a unique circumstance and has to be dealt with with unique solutions. Interestingly enough, one of the poverty level participants cooks at home because it saves money, which is the point of cooking at home. To paint cooking at home as unrealistic as a whole because someone has holes in the floor of their trailer and rats in the house is painting with a very broad brush. That’s akin to saying cooking at home is unrealistic because amputees can’t hold the pan and the spatula at the same time. If you’re in that dire of straights then we have bigger issues to tackle first.
I’ve mentioned before that my wife cooks nearly every meal we eat, pretty much every day. She is a stay at home mother because we are blessed to be able to afford it. However she is also a stay at home mother because we decided to live this way before we were even married. When we got married and she still worked, we put her sizable paycheck in a separate bank account from day one and never spent any of the money until we paid for a remodel of our house with it, in cash. We never adjusted our lifestyle to having two incomes because we knew it was a lot harder to come down than to stay down. We’ve lived on one income for the entire 13 years of our marriage. One basic premise of this article, not challenged at all, is that all these mothers are struggling because they have to work, even the middle-income mothers they studied. Folks, my wife made more money that I did for most of the time she worked. We have a wonderful life and are blessed, but we could easily ship our kids off to school and put the Mrs. back to work and have a lot more money. If you’re at the subsistence level, then I understand trying to make every dollar you can. But many people are not at the subsistence level and still both work. And have a nice house, and new cars, and go on vacations every year, etc. They also have debt up to their eyeballs and are on a path they can’t get off. It’s why Dave Ramsey is so popular because he helps people get out of debt. You can’t have the idyllic 50’s lifestyle but live the modern consumer debt lifestyle. Our parents and grandparents didn’t spend money the way we do.
So we’ve chosen to live like people before the 50s. So how does it work for us? We have our own beef, pork, and chicken that we raise ourselves readily in the freezer. We have a stay at home mother who has time to cook a meal and enjoys cooking. We have a budget that affords quality ingredients. So dinner time is blissful, right? Nope, not at all. Every single issue described in this writeup happens at our house every week. “I don’t like it! I won’t eat it!” is heard just about every meal. Mom is frazzled trying to get dinner done is probably 2/3rds of the time. “Food costs are hurting our budget” or “we can’t have that because it costs too much” is probably a few times per month. “I can’t make what I want because one of the ingrates (including me) won’t like it” happens routinely. Btw, I just get told to shut up and eat it. The shorter ingrates get worked around a bit more, but not much. We have the same EXACT issues as the people in this article and we have everything going for us. Your grandmother in the 50s had the same issues as well, you just can’t see it in the Norman Rockwell painting of your memory. Saying cooking isn’t realistic or is only for the elites because the kids don’t like new foods is just short-sighted and defeatist. No kid likes new food. Tough, get over it and eat the food or don’t. In my house, you don’t clear your plate, you don’t get dessert. That’s it, end of story. If you waffle and don’t eat it, dad will reach over and eat yours and now you don’t get a choice. Next time you’ll know better. Food doesn’t go to waste and nobody is going to listen to whining.
So we struggle through the exact same issues. Dinner is late, somebody is whining they don’t want to eat, we spend more money than we save I’m sure. What is the result? We eat together as a family every day. We laugh at the dinner table. I read the bible to my family every night which helps me even if nobody else is listening. I have complete control over what is going into my body. My kids know the difference between good food and bad. My middle daughter, and now my younger daughter are learning to cook. My son, who has no interest in cooking, sees that his dad does cook and that it’s normal. When he discovers girls, and that girls like to eat too, he’ll maybe take an interest in the business side of the kitchen. Is it worth all the trouble? Absolutely.