On food and cooking

The local fast food joints are busy, lots of vehicles of the folks who don’t cook, won’t cook, never cooked for themselves, refuse to learn. Cooking does take both skill and know-how, energy, utensils, desire, time,and primary ingredients, a long list of impossibilities for many people. Those who cook for themselves don’t go to all-you-can-eat buffets. Perhaps the biggest challenge for most people who cook is the planning of distinct menus, followed quickly by the acquisition of ingredients, shopping. Those who don’t cook, don’t know their way around their own kitchens, have made a decision about not participating anymore in the age-old tradition of food preparation. Almost every society that has ever developed has/had traditions and dietary rules about what foods are viable, how they should be acquired and prepared, how they should be served and eaten. The fast food crowd cares about these things, but they are not interested in anything but consumption. To say that fast food restaurants cater to the lowest common denominator in food marketing and consumption is to grossly misunderstand the situation: pizza, burgers, fries, chicken, and sodas make up 90% of fast food menus. The traditions and conventions of food preparation that are lost due to the success of fast food are myriad and diverse: bread making, soups, baking (all kinds), roasted meats, pickling, sauces, gravies, vegetables. Perhaps it was the introduction of the tv dinner back in the fifties that heralded the arrival of the fast food generation, taking out the hassle of food preparation from the daily routine of millions of families. Today, where both spouses, indeed, if there are two spouses, work, food preparation is difficult because time is at a premium. No one has time to go to the store to buy food. Time poverty, perhaps more than any other factor, kills our cooking traditions. When people had all day to cook a stew or a soup, bake bread, or make cookies and doughnuts, the younger people also learned to cook and bake. The art of cooking is a skill that must taught by those with experience and learned by the youngsters. Cooking even a simple dish such as steak has its details that must be observed in order to avoid producing unchewable shoe leather. You have to know how to choose your meat, know if it needs any preparation before cooking, know what the appropriate cooking method might be. Effort must be expended in order to produce edible food. What makes endless all-you-can-eat buffets so attractive is the unlimited supply of already produced, cooked, prepared food, and all you have to do to consume it is pay for it. No effort. People now pay a premium for traditionally prepared and baked breads, shunning the popular industrially produced supermarket breads, looking for flavors and textures that remind them of home-baked breads of their youth. Home-cooked food probably has less weird fat, less salt, and less sugar. Fast food seems to have rewritten the four major food groups: fat, sugar, salt, and caffeine. Yes, a few of the larger chains now offer a salad or two, but buying milk is infinitely more expensive than sodas, burgers are cheaper than salads, and fries come in ever larger bulk sizes, taking the place of real nutrition and sensible portion sizes. Original recipes with variations have been substituted by the massification of an industry with one set of flavor profiles, and no one dares to vary from that list. And besides, if you decide to graze at the alter of fast food and unlimited buffets, you don’t have to do any dishes or clean the kitchen.