Cooked: A Book About Why You Should… Cook

Consider the following questions that you may have asked yourself recently:

  • What can you do to consume fewer calories while eating healthier food?
  • How do you get your family to spend more time together, talk, and connect?
  • How do you get the public to care more about what they are eating, which in turns forces the food corporations to improve their standards?
  • What can modern super-specialized citizens do to feel more in touch with nature and self-sufficient?
  • How can you save some money?

I’m sure the title has given it away by now, but the answer is to cook! Specifically, cook at home for yourself and your family, as close to from scratch as possible. At least, that’s the lesson from the book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. A previous post expanded on the health benefits of cooking at home, and the book examines cooking as broken down into the four elements: Fire (BBQ), Water (Braises), Air (Bread), and Earth (Brewing).

Indeed, why is it that we seem more obsessed by food than ever (Food Network, Cooking Channel, Yelp, Food Bloggers Everywhere) at the exact same time that fewer and fewer people actually know how to cook? The food industry is betting that the current generation of kids will have hardly any idea of how to cook even basic dishes, as it means even more $$$ for them! A quote from consumer researcher Harry Balzer:

We’ve had a hundred years of packaged foods, and we’re going to have a hundred years of packaged meals. [...] We’re basically cheap and lazy.

I think most people would agree that basic cooking skills really aren’t that hard to learn. It will save you money, keep you healthier, and even aide you in romantic relationships.

But what about time? It’s so convenient to just buy something ready-made. I was intrigued by an experiment in the book comparing a home-cooked meal versus a frozen heat-and-eat meal from the supermarket. I called it “Man vs. Microwave”. From the freezer aisle, they picked out the following items for their family:

Stouffer’s Lasagna
Amy’s Organic Vegetable Curry
P.F. Chang’s Shanghai Style Beef Stir-Fry
Safeway Brand French Onion Soup

The total cost was $27 and it took about 40 minutes to nuke them all one-by-one. Now, $27 would also buy a big but cheaper cut of grass-fed beef (say a chuck roast, not filet mignon) and lots of vegetables for a slow-cooker braise with a shorter prep time (not cooking time) and would cover more than one meal. Unsurprisingly (but probably true), the author judged that the microwave food was crap and his braise was delicious.

The experiment was too vague and subjective for my tastes. However, it did give me the idea to do my own experiments called “The Cost of Convenience” where I try to replicate either a frozen or restaurant meal by cooking it myself and then compare them in terms of total time commitment and money spent. I’d like to incorporate other factors like taste, difficulty, and nutritional value as well. I’ll try to be objective, and my guess is that both sides will have their wins. I may try and get some ideas with some old episodes of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown. Let’s see if I’m properly motivated by this book to actually cook them.

Comments

  1. That’s a great idea to compare head-to-head the relative merits. Will be interesting to see the results.

    Thanks and Keep up the good work.
    PS- if I click your affiliate link for the book, and save it to wishlist, do you still get the credit if I buy the book (much) later?

  2. This is not the answer.

    Healthy foods super convenient is the answer.

    I find it unhelpful to beat up the common man for not cooking more.

    The fact is modern life demands more of people than ever before. People are exhausted.

    All this finger waging at the average person doesn’t get us anywhere.

    The system we live in wants us to be super productive. So we need to be supported by having a setup whereby we have very healthy foods quick and easy within reach.

  3. What does your family eat for dinner if you don’t cook that night? (I am genuinely curious, not snarking!)

    Marie, I agree there is an initial learning curve that makes cooking tough for exhausted people. But, if it’s possible to get past the learning curve, healthy cooking can be faster than buying an equivalent meal. Last night I prepared vegetables for the week ahead and blanched 2 bunches of spinach, 2 bunches of chard, and 2 bunches of broccoli in about 15 minutes.

  4. Shannon says:

    Interesting. I bet I would be able to work less if I started making time and cooking at home.

  5. I love Good Eats and several of my favorite recipes that we prepare at home are directly from that show. However, they are anything but low calorie health foods!

  6. @Eamon – Thanks. Hmm… no I don’t think so about the referral credit. I got mine from the library. :)

    @Marie – Healthy, super-convenient, plus cheap AND tasty is what we need for people to buy it. Is it possible?

    @Lynn – My family? Let’s see, recently… Costco chicken, Costco pizza, Costco spinach salad… :) Gnochi and pasta from supermarket, either with olive oil or pesto (okay we made that with basil from garden but it’s quick with a food processor) and shaved parmesan from Costco. Frozen naan and Tasty Bite Indian food pouches (many are vegan/vegetarian). We made a large pot of soup that will last for days, but still that cuts down on cooking. We had some homemade rolls that were frozen months ago that made sandwiches with some ham, I don’t really consider that cooking.

    @Andy – The newer Alton Brown stuff is much more healthified, but I don’t think I watched many of those episodes.

    I tweeted this out, but here’s another good link of 25 top “minimalist” recipes from the Minimalist from New York Times:

    http://dinersjournal.blogs.nyt.....ites/?_r=0

  7. Michelle says:

    I love when you write lifestyle posts like this- so helpful in making changes that really add-up! Cooking simple things at home is such a great way to save money and be healthier (which saves money long-term).

    There are so many short-cuts available that don’t involve a frozen meal. For many years I’d buy a Costco chicken and immediately remove (and discard) the skin, shred the meat and transfer it to a plastic container in the fridge. That was used in a number of meals for the week: soft tacos, stir fry, entree salads (think southwest, asian-style or caesar), topping for a BBQ chicken pizza, etc. WIth a few supplements, I had a good variety of meals.

  8. Personally I think if you try you can find the time to cook.

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