We Can't Give Up on Home Cooking!

CC BY 2.0. Leo Hidalgo

Cooking is the closest thing we've got to a silver bullet solution to countless health problems. Shrugging it off as "elitist" is foolish, since home-prepped meals are only as complicated as you want to make them.

A few weeks back, I wrote about a new study that assessed the state of home cooking in America. The researchers pointed out that there are a lot of assumptions surrounding what a home-cooked meal should look like, and that many families fall short of those expectations for a variety of reasons – lack of money, lack of transportation to and from grocery stores, picky eaters, insufficient utensils and/or furniture, busy schedules, etc.

While I don’t deny that the researchers reveal an important side to the home-cooking debate that is raging in North America right now, fueled by passionately idealistic food writers and locavores on one side and pushed back by low-income families, Big Ag, and the processed food industry on the other side, the basic argument that “home cooking isn’t for everyone” just doesn’t sit well with me.

Home cooking must find a way to work, because within the current broken food system that we’ve got, it’s the most sensible, economical, and easiest way to provide people, particularly children, with optimal nourishment – which should be a basic human right. Feeding our kids cheap, flimsy burgers from McDonalds on white buns that never go bad is an unacceptable solution, even if it seems faster and cheaper than making supper at home.

The fabulous thing about home cooking is that it only has to be as complicated as you want it to be. Unfortunately I think that many people don’t grasp that concept, especially those who adhere to the above-mentioned “assumptions” that surround home cooking. Those assumptions are often over-inflated, thanks to the complicated dishes portrayed on popular TV cooking shows, or the elegantly set tables pictured in magazines, or the “food porn” photos that adorn countless websites and Instagram feeds.

Of course it’s nearly impossible to make food on a daily basis that looks like that, as any experienced home cook knows! Ordinary, real-life meals, on the other hand, are one- or two-pot affairs, simple yet tasty fare that packs a nutritional punch and takes relatively little time to prepare.

Nobody expects the average home cook to whip up a Bolognese pasta sauce or a boeuf bourguignon on a Wednesday night. But there’s really no excuse for not chopping an onion, tossing in a can of tomatoes, adding a can or two of beans and a dash of chili powder, simmering it for 10 minutes. Add a loaf of bread on the side and some cooked frozen veggies, and you’ve got a solid meal for the whole family. Total cooking time: 20 minutes. Total cost: less than $10. (That’s less time and money than it takes to drag the whole family out to McDonalds.)

It’s absolutely crucial that people realize how little work home cooking actually requires. That education could begin in schools, where kids could be taught to make basic, cheap, healthy food such as omelets, soups, and pastas, and then pass that knowledge on to their parents. If it doesn’t take, then at least they’re equipped for their own futures. Or parents could make a trip to the library to check out some cookbooks with rudimentary recipes. (See Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything)

Call me idealistic, but I still believe that home cooking is the closest thing we’ve got to a silver bullet solution to countless health problems -- even social ones, too. We can’t give up on it yet just because it’s hard and a shift away from the easy default state of grabbing food on the go. Instead, we need to do away with these notions of cooking being elaborate and complex, and reveal how fast and easy it can be. You don’t need skill or time to cook – just willingness and a few free minutes.