Sometime last spring over coffee, a friend of mine told me that her highly educated mother never taught her how to cook because she wanted her to be a liberated woman.
I found this fascinating, because my friend and I had been discovering that our mothers had many similar traits, the quest for a liberated life not being the least of them. And yet my mother, who did not enjoy cooking (my sister says my mother never cooked anything with more than one ingredient, which is not far from the truth), made sure I knew the basics; both how to cook and how to shop for food. And I have always considered that very liberating.
My foundational relationship with food was established through our trips to the local grocer, learning how to decipher a recipe (often from her standard-bearer 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking), scramble an egg and roast a turkey. My mother shopped daily for our evening meal, even though she worked full-time. She bough good-quality meats (there were no antibiotics and bovine growth hormone to consider then) and fresh vegetables (which were locally sourced because there was no global distribution system), but rarely anything in a can.
She didn’t allow junk food in the house (because, she said, “you never get potato chips out of the carpet”), and desserts were an infrequent treat (dessert in our house was called “the usual,” which meant “nothing”).
Of course my food journey has taken me many places, not all of them nourishing, but I’ve always circled back to what is true in food, and the knowledge and assurance that I can cook whatever I set my mind to. Eventually I surpassed my mother in the kitchen, but I could never have done that without learning what she knew.
What worries me about the several generations of women and men who never cultivated these skills – I call them the “can’t cook-don’t cook-won’t cooks” – is that they have given up the freedom that comes with this knowledge and assurance. Nineteen percent of Americans cook at home only once or twice a week. Eleven percent do so rarely or never.
Three-quarters of those who do prepare meals at home use foods that are processed or at least partially prepared. That’s great news for the restaurant and food manufacturing industries – which means it’s not good news for our health as a nation. Waistlines are growing, chronic disease is evident even in young children, and a general lack of wellness pervades our country. We’ve become disconnected with real food and have put our health in the hands of businesses that have no interest in it, unless there’s a profit to be made. Where’s the liberation in that?
I’ve spoken with many women who find cooking an insurmountable obstacle – it takes too much time, they can’t find the ingredients, it doesn’t taste good. But here’s the raw truth. Cooking only takes as much time as you decide it will take, what you make will include the ingredients you can easily find, and – trust me – everything you make at home tastes better than anything else anywhere.
You don’t have to be Julia Child to put fresh whole food on your table, but you do have to start cooking. Your health and the health of your family depend on it. Your freedom is at stake. Take back your power. Find out how liberating it can be.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org