Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The role of Cooking in Motherhood

I read a book about the rise of convenience foods in the 1950's. It was a slow process and it took a few generations, but I would say the convenience food industry has won. Not many people cook anymore. Or should I say, not enough people.

To view this book at amazon click on:

The book was interesting. The convenience food industry was borne out of necessity as World War II came to an end and the factories had to find a new outlet for their packaged foods (since the soldiers didn't need them). They had to do a lot of advertising and media shaping to convince women that they were too busy to cook. But since women have to prepare the food and they derive some satisfaction from it the convenience food industry convinced them that it was more important that they were creative in the kitchen then actually slaving in the kitchen. They also sponsered these successful bake-off contests using their brand name ingredients. This led to scores of disgusting recipes combining canned and frozen goods in strange ways.

The recipe my mom made this past Thanksgiving (which I loved; make it again, Mom), was this silly recipe that mixes jelllo with mashed, sweetened pretzels. That is a perfect example of a recipe that came out of this era. (Maybe you can email it to me, Mom and I'll add it to this blog).

When I met my husband I saw how his family cooks - with very little processed foods. They are immigrants from Cambodia and like most immigrants they still cook like they did in their home country. Back in Cambodia all their ingredients came from the market or the farm. I learned a lot from them. The first thing I learned was that I was a sugar addict. When I would open their fridge looking for a snack I was always frustrated (even angry) because usually the only thing in there is a hunk of meat and some herbs for cooking. It took a long time, but I eventually figured out that they weren't the ones with the problem. It was my problem that I needed to find a source of sugar every few hours just to feel normal.

The next thing I learned was how to cut meat. The only time I ever saw this, growing up, was on Thanksgiving and then the turkey was already cooked. At my in-laws there was always a slab of raw meat being sliced and diced. Sometimes a huge hunk of beef, sometimes a whole chicken. I learned to wield an intimidating butcher knife and only cut off the tip of my finger twice (only once requiring stitches!) I learned to cut chicken legs up into bite sized peices -bone and all. This is the best way to eat it in a stir-fry.

Since I was handling all this raw meat I had to deal with my American phobia of germs. I am, of course, careful about cross-contamination and all the other things we are taught to do, so as not to get sick. But I noticed that my in-laws never got food poisoning, even though they broke all the sanitaion rules. Note: I did accidentally undercook food twice causing food poisoning , once nearly killing my husband, but both times were with ground beef which Cambodians don't cook with.

Next I learned to cook on a regular basis. This was new to me, because as a good old fashioned American I was used to relying on convenience foods. You know: cereal for breakfast, a sandwhich for lunch, something fast for dinner. But my husband expected food like his mother cooked it...always. Meaning that I have to actually cook a homecooked meal every single night and if he's home (like weekends) then lunch too. But I got used to that and now that I do it, I know what I was missing out on before (lots of good food). The way I was eating before just wasn't that healthy. And now that I cook big meals every night I look forward to having a bunch of teenage boys to feed. Of course it isn't cheap, but there's a price to pay for everything good in life.

My friends and I noticed how open and welcoming some families can be and one thing they seem to have in common is a woman of the house who is constantly cooking. After all, if you're going to have a lot of people around, eventually they have to eat.

I read about a famous Italian cook in Newsweek. She said she didn't own a microwave. Although I couldn't live without one myself, I can sympathize with her sentiment that true cooking doesn't involve short cuts. When I hear about short-cuts for the house-wife I think to myself that it's just one more step to push her out the door into the working world. But you cannot provide the same home-cooked meals if you're gone all day. Not to mention the same boo-boo kisses but that's a blog for another day.

It is so sad how obesity rates have risen in the past decades. Particularly when you're talking about children. The rates continue to rise and really it's a problem that children have little control over. Their parents are responsible for the food they eat and the lifestyle they lead. I am convinced that a big part of the problem is the lack of home cooking. It leads to the junk food used as a replacement.

If you want a copy of my family's cookbook email me for my address. I can copy and bind it for you for only$10. It's loaded with pictures! (Though the copies will be black and white).



  • At 10:25 AM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    Processed food companies don't have a hidden adjenda to get women into the workforce. They are about money, pure and simple. If women will buy processed foods by the truckload (at a much higher margin then produce I might add) then the companies will be more then happy to sell them.

    ...short-cuts for the house-wife I think to myself that it's just one more step to push her out the door into the working world

    How about rather then being oppressive it is liberating in the fact that it gives women choice? They aren't forced into doing something. They might want to do something by their own choice, but they aren't forced. Yes you can make a whole dinner from scratch every day, but maybe some day you are sick and making mac & cheese just makes your life easier.

  • At 10:46 AM, Blogger Deena said…

    I never said that processed food companies were trying to get women into the workforce. I'm just saying that the culmination of all the modern ways of life is pushing us towards an unhealthy family life. This is why the birth rate in Western nations has declined to zero population growth and in many others(France, Germany, Sweden and more) are actually in population decline.

  • At 8:24 PM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    "I never said that processed food companies were trying to get women into the workforce."

    I do believe you did:

    "...short-cuts for the house-wife I think to myself that it's just one more step to push her out the door into the working world"

    As for population growth/decline in western countries I think it has little do birth control of the role of women in the family. Numbers wise, it is fairly simple: The Baby Boom generation is dieing. The current generation is simply much smaller and even if they were having two kids for every parent wouldn't be able to replace the Baby Boom generation. America is in fact the only western country to not have a decline in population due to Baby Boomers because of its immigration policies. An interesting case study would be Japan for those who are interested where families typically only have one child and thus they now have a very large older population, but a very small population of children. A very serious economical problem is looming in the next twenty years there. Just recently several toy companies merged in Japan, the reason not being out money, but simply the lack of kids.

  • At 8:28 PM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    Oh you make a really good point deena :)

  • At 9:00 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 9:02 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    My one-time pastor's wife, Lucinda Jackson, would not have a microwave, because then everyone would want to eat on the run, by themselves. There are enough things making us spin apart without adding to it.

  • At 10:39 AM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    Thinking about when I use the microwave I often use it to heat up side dishes for meals or to re-heat left overs without turning on the oven. A microwave is just another tool. Tools can't do things, only you can. Yes you could buy a microwave and then never have dinner again, but that would be your choice, not the microwave. I think the choice of many to not get a microwave had little to do with what they said was there reason, but was much simpler: people hate to change no matter how much better it might be (this is much more true as you get older). By getting a microwave you have to in a small way admit that you have been doing it suboptimally all these years.

  • At 6:55 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    All technologies (or techniques) privilege some options and make other options invisible. Writing makes memorizing unnecessary, microwaves plus processed foods make community time with family unnecessary, and contraception plus relativism (a system) makes family itself unnecessary. What is unnecessary is diminished, forgotten over time, lost over time--even to where we lose the language to speak of it. For example, ask your friends to define "fornication" or "honor." (For more on this topic, see Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff, and the very readable Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman.)

  • At 7:00 PM, Blogger Bruce said…

    One more point. Ben Meyer is right in part, but also consider this. Luddites, those who don't want to adopt the new thing, are not just having to admit they are not as up to speed as the new guys, they are aware of what you give up by embracing the new. Having a filing system means you don't have to actually know what you've got--and that's a big loss. Not having to cook much means you can't lavish love on the kids and the sweaty menfolk coming in from the fields. Why do you think the cooking women keep serving up more food as long as you're there? Let's see--efficiency? or lavishing love? Gosh, I can't decide.

  • At 10:19 PM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    "All technologies (or techniques) privilege some options and make other options invisible. Writing makes memorizing unnecessary, microwaves plus processed foods make community time with family unnecessary"
    Just wanted to note that this isn't limited to technology, but to any change, be it technology, social, envioremental or anything else. Because change is inevitable we can not blame the entity that caused the change for forseen problems. Such as with the microwave. It has been very obvious for a long time that if you let the microwave prepare all foods that dinner can become not important. With this knowledge one should be able to get a microwave and reap the benefits of its rewards while not permitting its problems. To believe that getting a microwave will somehow force your family to have TV dinners every night is silly. Now if you find that you just don't have the willpower to resist making quick microwave foods over a full dinner then the microwave wouldn't be good for you.

  • At 10:31 PM, Blogger Ben Meyer said…

    "Luddites, those who don't want to adopt the new thing, are not just having to admit they are not as up to speed as the new guys, they are aware of what you give up by embracing the new."

    I think that is much smaller then the simple fact that most people are resistant to change unless there is an almost overwhelming advantage. There are hundreds of smaller arguments that make it up, but at the end of the day be it new technology, religion, music, the way you walk to work it doesn't matter, once you find out how to do something one way you will probably stick to doing it that way. Some excellent examples:

    -People that crash diet which everyone knows (even them) is bad, but because it works they do it over and over again rather then changing their diet.

    -Windows users that get spyware, virus's and generally get bogged down. I have seen more then once users just go out and buy a new computer rather then having to learn how to keep their computer clean or change to a more stable secure system such as Apple (or linux if you are technical).

    -People who don't wear seatbelts and rather then trying to change come up with all sorts of excuses

    -Smokers, granted it is an chemical addiction so this is harder to change, but the downsides are much worse.


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