Don’t call me Martha Stewart.
Yes, I like to cook.
I try to grow or personally prepare as much of my own food as I can. I make yogurt and granola. I bake bread from wheat that I grind. I grow tomatoes, herbs and lettuce in the garden.
I’ve also enjoyed cooking for my family.
I often baked muffins for my boys so they’d have something to eat when they stormed in, ravenous, after sports practice. Most evenings I prepared simple yet nourishing dinners that we ate together at the table.
That’s where I diverge from the culinary and décor guru. My cooking goal has always been to nurture those I love most. I never strive for perfection (whatever that is) nor do I want to impress with a “look-what-I-can-do” air. Instead, I hope the eaters of my food feel cherished and healthy, as if they’re being served a nutritious, steaming platter of “You’re the greatest!”
(To be fair, I’ve never met Ms. Stewart. I’m sure she adores her loved ones as much as I do. Still, her recipes for such things as toadstool cupcakes or grilled marinated strip steaks smack of a complexity that removes any semblance of enjoyment or relaxation.)
I’m aware that my culinary behavior isn’t normal by today’s standards. Sadly, cooking may well be a vanishing art. Studies show that the amount of time Americans spend preparing food has fallen 40 percent since 1965. According to author Michael Pollan in his recent New York Times article “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch,” the average American spends 27 minutes a day cooking and another four minutes a day cleaning up.
The reasons for this decline are complex. It obviously coincides with the increase of women in the work place. In 1950, 30 percent of all women worked outside the home. By 2007, more than 60 percent did.
But that only explains part of the story. As Pollan so aptly points out, women without jobs aren’t cooking either.
The advent of prepackaged food plays an equally significant role. In her book “Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America,” Laura Shapiro explains that prepackaged food, leftover from both recent world wars, was marketed heavily to modern homemakers. Packaged food industrialists began an ad campaign to convince would-be chefs they were too busy to cook their own food.
This tactic is still used today. A quick survey of cooking magazines in the grocery store showed that nearly every one enticed readers with such headlines as “Grab-and-go recipes,” “Quick and easy desserts” and “Meals in less than 30 minutes.”
Whatever the cause of our nation’s reluctance to cook, it has had disastrous consequences for our physical and emotional health. Studies show that as Americans have eaten more high-calorie, premade foods, they have become increasingly fat. Fully 64.5 percent of all U.S. adults are now overweight, one third of them are obese.
Relationships and family life have also suffered as our nation’s households have fled their kitchens. Data from a 2003 Gallup poll report that 28 percent of American families with children under 18 eat dinner together seven nights a week, down from 37 percent in 1997. Less than half of parents surveyed said they ate dinner as a family between four and six times per week. Of those who did, 66 percent admitted to watching television during the meal.
Gone also is the emotional connectedness associated with food. When friends and families break bread around a table they talk, make eye contact, share experiences and create strong bonds. As the value of home cooked meals declines, this human contact withers.
Individuals feel more isolated. They definitely feel less loved.
That’s why I’ll continue cooking. I want those who dine at my table or receive goodies from my kitchen to know they’re special. I hope they’ll feel nourished in both their tummies and their souls. I’ll keep sending out love by the loaf or by the basketful. But please don’t call me Martha Stewart.
Tips for making the most of your meals
Want to make food more emotionally fulfilling in your home? Try these tips.
• Reassess your schedule. If you tell yourself you’re too busy to cook, perhaps you need to examine your planner. Determining what’s important, such as eating nourishing meals as a family, helps you let go of unnecessary activities and focus energies where they’re needed most.
• Select simple, wholesome meals. Good food doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, the very best recipes need only a few ingredients that are usually available in your pantry or are easy to get at the store.
• Cook together as a family. Allow preschoolers to crack eggs into a bowl or help you measure. Grade-school kids can make sandwiches and salads. Let teens prepare whole meals for the household. Kids will learn invaluable skills and view themselves as integral members of the family.
• Sit down to dinner in the evening. Start with one evening a week, then add more as time permits. Remember to turn off all media, electronics and cell phones during the meal. Make it a time to talk and keep in touch.
• Cook in bulk. Prepare more than you need at one setting so you have leftovers for later in the week. Store some items in small containers for tomorrow’s lunches. You’ll save amazing amounts of time and energy. And you’ll have home-cooked meals at your fingertips.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com