Because I work at home, I see a lot of TV with the sound off — Oprah had a family on a week ago or so who had a big pile of kids — sextuplets and twins? something like that. The mom was talking about her schedule and how she copes and she mentioned something about what my friend Nina calls “the witching hour” — that hour before dinner where all the kids seem to lose their minds at once. It took a while this mom-on-Oprah was saying, because she cooks “from scratch.” “You cook from scratch!?” Oprah said, as though this was some arcane and exotic practice. “Well yeah,” this mom said. “We do the organic thing, and well … it’s a lot cheaper.” “From scratch?” Oprah said again.
This has been stuck in the back of my head ever since. When did cooking dinner become “cooking from scratch”? I did a little googling, and found these disturbing statistics:
The other 42% use restaurant take-out. I don’t know if drive-thru windows count in this category—the article didn’t distinguish the difference. Is this where we get down on our knees and hail Appleby’s for car-side service? I think not, judging by their totally uninspiring menu.
Looking at these stats, I’d be curious to know how many of the 33% who are not eating restaurant takeout are actually cooking, and how many of them are eating out of boxes — but at least it appears they’re cooking something at home.
The eating takeout thing I find really wild — how do people afford it? Fast food I understand — its prime virtues are sameness and cheapness — but I remember when a Boston Market opened in Salt Lake when I was in grad school. I thought about buying dinner there one night when I was fried and it was late — but it was so expensive — much more expensive than buying a pre-roasted chicken at the store, for example.
My friend Nina has four kids, and sure, there were a bunch of nights this summer we ordered pizza, and she’s always got some shortcuts around like pre-grated cheese, but for the most part, she or her husband cook them dinner every night. Nothing elaborate, just dinner. And I know any number of people like myself who live alone who claim it’s “too much trouble” to cook a real meal for themselves — but what are they eating? Are people living on bowls of cereal?
When I first moved in with my brother, he did have a freezer full of Lean Cuisines — and those disgusting Hot Pocket things — and I remember about a year after we’d moved in together as he was making tomato sauce one night (chop and saute an onion and some garlic, add a can of tomatoes and a splash of wine) when he looked at me and said: “If I’d known how easy this was I wouldn’t have been buying jars of sauce all those years.” I guess making sauce in a skillet while the noodles cook does take longer than opening a jar and dumping some on — but it doesn’t take that much longer.
So why the hysterical tone about cooking “from scratch”? Why has this become so out of the mainstream that it’s seen as odd? Am I so old that having had parents who cooked dinner every night for us, just dinner — spaghetti or pork chops or pot roast or our stepmother’s non-gourmet but delicious Chicken Divan — puts me in the “when I was a kid we walked ten miles to school” category?
I find this bewildering. I know I’m a weirdo who takes on food projects like making my own pancetta, or baking bread, or making yogurt — but I’m not talking about that kind of cooking. I’m just talking about regular, every day, feed ourselves and our kids kind of cooking.