Are cooks a dying breed?

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

Ever get the feeling you’re fighting a losing battle?

Here I am, standing on my wobbly, splintered soapbox, orating into the darkness in favor of more home cooking. Better recipes. Balanced dining.

And then the Washington Post comes along and hits me in the face with a wet flounder.

The newspaper reported the results of a study showing that less than 60 percent of dinners served at home in 2014 were actually cooked at home.

So if they aren’t cooked at home but they are eaten at home, what are they?

Replacements: Some, presumably, are takeout meals from other restaurants — pizza, Chinese, whatever. But much of the rest come already prepared from the store, everything from rotisserie chicken to ribs to premade vegetarian meals. These types of foods are so popular that the folks in the industry have an official term for them: the retail home-meal replacement market.

Customers demanded, so the grocery stores responded. We want food that is healthier, fresher, more like what you find at a restaurant. And that has led to the proliferation of prepared meals that you can buy at nearly every food store.

It’s easy, it’s quick, it isn’t terribly bad for you. What could be wrong with that?

Nothing, sort of. I’ve been known to take home the occasional pre-made meal myself, though I usually wear Groucho glasses and a wig when I do it.

Experience: But if we let others do the cooking for us, aren’t we missing out on something?

Everybody says we have less free time than ever. As far as I can tell, parents spend all of their time taking their children to hockey games, watching hockey games and preparing for the next hockey game. Even in the dead of summer, it’s all hockey, all the time. Or soccer. Or dance.

So I recognize the heavy constraints of time. Parents say they simply do not have the time to cook.

But it doesn’t take much time, and look at the rewards. You can make pasta with a great homemade sauce in 45 minutes — and much less time than that if it is the summer and tomatoes are fresh and ripe. You can make a hamburger in 10 minutes. Heck, you can make a steak in 10 minutes.

You can use those same 10 minutes to make sauteed shrimp (though not to make a starch to put it on). And reheating the leftovers of something delicious you made a day or two ago takes almost no time at all.

According to the Post story, women in the 1960s spent an average of 112 minutes per day cooking — that’s for all meals. The amount of time spent now has dropped to 66 minutes per day.

Obviously, one reason for the change is the massive influx of women into the workplace. Surprisingly, men are actually spending a little more time at the stove now, 44 minutes, than they used to.

What this means, according to the authors of the survey, is that when people do cook they are using more shortcuts than before, such as boxed flavored rice, jars of pasta sauce and frozen pizzas.

And I think that’s a shame. Not that long ago, people used to make a big deal out of the fact that, while some people eat to live, they live to eat. Even though more and more people claim to take an active interest in food, and cooking shows are almost unavoidable on television, people are clearly less interested in actually making their meals.

Me? I live to cook.