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Tired of the Michelle Obama backlash?


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In this past Sunday's New York Times, Amanda Hesser took the First Lady to task for not setting a better example. Describing the fallout from two media opportunities, she says:

. . . Mrs. Obama missed a great opportunity to get people talking about a crucial yet neglected aspect of the food discussion: cooking. Because terrific local ingredients aren’t much use if people are cooking less and less; cooking is to gardening what parenting is to childbirth.

Then Hesser supplements her argument with some research:

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

She quotes another study, done at UCLA, which involved 32 families -- not what I'd call a decent sample:

The twist, of course, is that convenience foods save neither money nor time. As Marion Nestle pointed out in her 2006 book “What to Eat,” prewashed romaine hearts cost at least $1.50 a pound more than romaine heads. And the 2006 U.C.L.A. study found that families saved little or no cooking time when they built their meals around frozen entrees and jarred pasta sauce.

She follows up with a list of suggestions:

. . . . bringing America’s talented young chefs to the White House for a food summit meeting

. . . .

turn them into a national task force, asking them to reach out in their communities and give free cooking lessons

. . . .

take one of the White House chefs on the road

. . . .

And finishes the list with:
They could demonstrate that to feed a family well, all you need to know how to do is boil water, roast and season, three speedy skills that can be applied to almost any food from potatoes to salmon. Getting people to buy local ingredients is a relatively simple matter of changing purchasing behavior; getting them to cook will require a role model who really seems to mean it.

I'm all for getting people to cook, and I'm all for getting people to enjoy food, as opposed to thinking of a meal -- or the creation of one -- as an obligation. But Hesser's advice is misguided, because it's misinformed.

  • The past that Hesser (and to be fair, she's hardly alone) remembers never existed on any large scale. Cooking wasn't the glue that held families together. To the extent that food played a part in family cohesiveness, it was the dining, not preparation, that supplied the adhesive.
  • Convenience foods can save time and money, but you have to choose wisely. Pre-washed romaine hearts is a cherry-picked example. What about frozen fruits and vegetables? Bread? Have you ground your own corn lately?
  • There's a group of people -- and it's a pretty big group -- who think of cooking as a chore, and will always do so, because it's a reasonable choice. I know people who like to vacuum, like to launder, like to dust. And I know people who hate those things so much that they avoid them like the plague. But these tasks contribute to a wholesome family experience. What makes them different from cooking?

Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
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There are so many questionable statements in Hesser's op-ed it's hard to know where to start. The most obvious, perhaps is what the blog Eat Me Daily points out:

Food is on television. A lot. It may veer into the entertainment territory all too often, but last we checked, the Food Network, Fine Living, PBS, etc. all run shows about cooking healthy and simply and quickly. There are dozens of magazines and countless cookbooks that promote cooking and gardening. Why does this information need to come from Michelle Obama?

More fundamental that that, though is the question of just why Mom cooking dinner from scratch is such a necessity of life these days. Certainly there was a time when there wasn't a choice, but please: do we really want to return to those days? There was also a time when Mom sewed all the family's clothes, and no one would ever say that we should return to that model. What makes Mom cooking from scratch so different from her making our clothes?

I love to cook, so for me it's not a chore, but I hardly expect everyone else to share my passions. It's as if someone who builds furniture were to tell me that my life and my family's life isn't complete if I buy from Rooms to Go.

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And I don't want to churn my own butter either. :raz:

While Ms. Hesser's analogy that "cooking is to gardening what parenting is to childbirth" is accurate to the point that the latter action must take place prior to the former action being possible, the accuracy of that analogy ends there. And where's the leap of logic that says you have to do it yourself?? Yes, clearly someone has to cook the vegetables the gardener has grown, but I'm a big believer in leaving certain things to trained professionals. And I love to cook and am a proficient home cook. But my lifestyle lends itself to a lot more meals cooked by professional cooks/chefs because of my schedule and my profession. I'm in a restaurant every day I work. Many colleagues/friends work in restaurants too. I go to visit them at work and have a drink or a meal. They come to see me so I can return the professional courtesy. Is my life empty and hollow? :unsure:

A better suggestion might be to have Mrs. Obama encourage Cristina Comerford to host a Le Club des Chefs de Chefs summit. This gathering of the personal chefs of world wide heads of state is the highest level of "culinary diplomacy" I'm aware of. Former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib was the president of the organization at one point. I'm certain hosting such an event and having the chefs discuss and demonstrate the use of home gardened produce and how these things are done in their various home countries would be very instructive and certainly generate some positive press. Seems a much better alternative than simply throwing stones at the First Lady without taking her busy schedule or personal skill set into account.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Does Ms Hesser really imagine that Mrs. Obama personally cooks dinner every night? That busy families during a recession, some of whom are, working 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet, really need to be made to feel that they are cheating their children and that working hard to put food on the table isn't enough? Now, one must also grow food and cook it like a professional chef or risk being considered a failure as a parent. It would be lovely to see examples of menus and recipes from White House Chef Cristeta Comerford, but it would be even more lovely if children and their families were not going hungry, in this country. Perhaps, that's a subject for Ms. Hesser to cover next.

Edited by azlee (log)
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I see the point, if this is what she's trying to say: why encourage people to plant gardens and obtain fine locally sourced products if they don't know how or won't take the time to prepare them? In that sense, it's a sort of "fly into flying" issue, if it's focus is Algebra II and it's aimed at a lot of people who don't have basic Math.

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I don't know about anyone else, but I know if I couldn't cook, and didn't have a personal chef on hand, I wouldn't waste my time planting a garden. It's rather like raising rare orchids or roses if one has a serious case of hay fever. A lot of work and time for no payoff, and aggravation to boot. :rolleyes:

Seems to me only folks that were excited about having freshly grown produce would bother with a garden, right?

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I think that perhaps what we're seeing is the down side of the Obamas' up side, so to speak. His public persona -- and therefore by extension Michelle's -- centers around the concepts of change, hope, and reason. The Obamas, therefore, are the recipients of the projected hopes and dreams of those who identify with those concepts in a particular way. Ergo, because they're noted food enthusiasts, we see well meaning articles like Hesser's or ridiculous blog posts like Frank Bruni's.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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I guess I was the only one who thought Hesser's piece was pretty reasonable. There's little point to changing what goes into the ground if we don't change what goes onto the table -- Obama has painted only half the picture with her new garden. The fact is that the increase in fast food and cheap restaurant meals and the decline in home cooking correlates closely with the increase in the kind of noncommunicable diseases -- obesity, diabetes, etc -- that gardens like the one in the White House are supposed to diminish.

Hesser never suggests that Michelle get back in the kitchen. Nor does she imply that hard-working parents become gourmet chefs when they get home from work. She just suggests than an emphasis on actually preparing healthy food is as important as planting the stuff -- and she is right -- and that making cooking sound like a painful chore is a bad way to promote it and she right then, as well.

It is almost inconceivable that the archetypal three-job recession mom has the means to afford healthy restaurant food, since it barely exists, especially in poor areas. Sure, everyone takes a night off, but if you're consistently feeding your kids carryout you're irresponsible (yes, there are many worse things a parent could do, but..) and, chore or not, a little time at the stove would be a good thing.

How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

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Cooking wasn't the glue that held families together. To the extent that food played a part in family cohesiveness, it was the dining, not preparation, that supplied the adhesive.

Bingo! I, because I want to get Heidi in to dinner prep (she's severely disabled) often buy stuff like not only pre-washed, but pre-cut romaine :blink: , generally cook dinner, and from scratch, but I'm lucky as a stay-at-home mom, so I can can or freeze my own tomatoes, etc. If I don't cook it myself, I get sometime half-prepped at the supermarket, and figure that what's to come is what's important.

But, it is not the food that glues us together at dinner. It's going over everyone's days, the frustrations with school, plumbing, the great bike ride, the mean kid on the bus, the just flat getting re-acquainted.

When it comes to family time around the table, sometimes the food tabkes a back-seat.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I guess I was the only one who thought Hesser's piece was pretty reasonable.  There's little point to changing what goes into the ground if we don't change what goes onto the table -- Obama has painted only half the picture with her new garden.  The fact is that the increase in fast food and cheap restaurant meals and the decline in home cooking correlates closely with the increase in the kind of noncommunicable diseases -- obesity, diabetes, etc -- that gardens like the one in the White House are supposed to diminish.

Hesser never suggests that Michelle get back in the kitchen.  Nor does she imply that hard-working parents become gourmet chefs when they get home from work. She just suggests than an emphasis on actually preparing healthy food is as important as planting the stuff -- and she is right -- and that making cooking sound like a painful chore is a bad way to promote it and she right then, as well.

It is almost inconceivable that the archetypal three-job recession mom has the means to afford healthy restaurant food, since it barely exists, especially in poor areas.  Sure, everyone takes a night off, but if you're consistently feeding your kids carryout you're irresponsible (yes, there are many worse things a parent could do, but..) and, chore or not, a little time at the stove would be a good thing. 

How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

But don't you think that the achetypical 3-job recession Mom (especially if she's single) is likely to find cooking a chore?

I know I did! I wasn't single nor did I have 3 jobs but I had 3 kids born within a span of 3 years, a full time job with an added two hour commute, a husband who was of the old-school and thought that cooking was woman's work. So at 6 pm in the evening with kids and hubby asking every 5 minutes, "When's dinner?", you are damn right it was a chore.

And I don't equate love of food with love of cooking it. Many members of eG are not cooks but love to eat in world class restaurants.

What we really need to do is find a way to feed the family that does not require an exhausted parent to spend yet another hour meeting the obligations of parenthood in the kitchen. We should be pushing the food industry to improve the quality of their prepared foods, we should be showing how a salad along with eggs or cheese can meet dietary needs, we should be showing that using some pre-prepared foods in conjunction with fresh fruits and vegetables doesn't necessarily spell doom.

Now that I no longer work and the kids are grown and gone I love to cook but I will never forget those years when cooking was the last thing I wanted to do when I finally got home just as tired and just as hungry as the rest of the family. Hamburger Helper showed up far more often than it should have!

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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What we really need to do is find a way to feed the family that does not require an exhausted parent to spend yet another hour meeting the obligations of parenthood in the kitchen.  We should be pushing the food industry to improve the quality of their prepared foods, we should be showing how a salad along with eggs or cheese can meet dietary needs, we should be showing that using some pre-prepared foods in conjunction with fresh fruits and vegetables doesn't necessarily spell doom.

Agreed. I love to cook, but getting dinner on the table by 5:30 for my one year old is not fun.

It's a shame that there is hardly any decent, healthy take-out in America (perhaps NYC is different). Last time I was in Paris, I was amazed by the high-quality food that you could get at the traiteur on the way home.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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I guess I was the only one who thought Hesser's piece was pretty reasonable.  There's little point to changing what goes into the ground if we don't change what goes onto the table -- Obama has painted only half the picture with her new garden.  The fact is that the increase in fast food and cheap restaurant meals and the decline in home cooking correlates closely with the increase in the kind of noncommunicable diseases -- obesity, diabetes, etc -- that gardens like the one in the White House are supposed to diminish.

Hesser never suggests that Michelle get back in the kitchen.  Nor does she imply that hard-working parents become gourmet chefs when they get home from work. She just suggests than an emphasis on actually preparing healthy food is as important as planting the stuff -- and she is right -- and that making cooking sound like a painful chore is a bad way to promote it and she right then, as well.

It is almost inconceivable that the archetypal three-job recession mom has the means to afford healthy restaurant food, since it barely exists, especially in poor areas.  Sure, everyone takes a night off, but if you're consistently feeding your kids carryout you're irresponsible (yes, there are many worse things a parent could do, but..) and, chore or not, a little time at the stove would be a good thing. 

How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

But don't you think that the achetypical 3-job recession Mom (especially if she's single) is likely to find cooking a chore?

I know I did! I wasn't single nor did I have 3 jobs but I had 3 kids born within a span of 3 years, a full time job with an added two hour commute, a husband who was of the old-school and thought that cooking was woman's work. So at 6 pm in the evening with kids and hubby asking every 5 minutes, "When's dinner?", you are damn right it was a chore.

And I don't equate love of food with love of cooking it. Many members of eG are not cooks but love to eat in world class restaurants.

What we really need to do is find a way to feed the family that does not require an exhausted parent to spend yet another hour meeting the obligations of parenthood in the kitchen. We should be pushing the food industry to improve the quality of their prepared foods, we should be showing how a salad along with eggs or cheese can meet dietary needs, we should be showing that using some pre-prepared foods in conjunction with fresh fruits and vegetables doesn't necessarily spell doom.

Now that I no longer work and the kids are grown and gone I love to cook but I will never forget those years when cooking was the last thing I wanted to do when I finally got home just as tired and just as hungry as the rest of the family. Hamburger Helper showed up far more often than it should have!

I don't disagree with anything you've said. But there are a number of aspects of child-rearing that are chores and that, nonetheless, need to be done. If the alternative to another chore is inevitable something scopped up from the drive through on the way home, then mom (or dad) needs to cook.

The recession mom is a red herring anyway, because this is a long-term trend that precedes the current crisis and like likely continue once good times return.

Also, I'm not altogether certain that Hamburger Helper is an evil thing, particularly if theres a salad or some frozen broccoli or an apple on the side, any more that I'm suggesting that every meal must be precisely nutritionally balanced and Hesserian in its perfection.

Agreed. I love to cook, but getting dinner on the table by 5:30 for my one year old is not fun.

It's a shame that there is hardly any decent, healthy take-out in America (perhaps NYC is different). Last time I was in Paris, I was amazed by the high-quality food that you could get at the traiteur on the way home.

I can't even remember what our kids ate at one, but it surely wouldn't have counted as a meal (applesauce and pasta figured heavily) and it was force-fed in the kitchen long before the table was set. :laugh:

Traiteurs are yet anoth reason that France is better than America and Paris is a great picninc town.

I'm on the pavement

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Also, I'm not altogether certain that Hamburger Helper is an evil thing, particularly if theres a salad or some frozen broccoli or an apple on the side, any more that I'm suggesting that every meal must be precisely nutritionally balanced and Hesserian in its perfection.

And yet, Hesser seems certain that it is evil:

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

It's clear that only food prepared with raw ingredients counts as "cooking" for Ms Hesser. Picking something up on the way home, no matter how nutritious or delicious, wouldn't satisfy her.

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How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

food is for me -- and probably many of us who visit this food organization -- primarily a hobby. I cook because I enjoy it, but I make specific choices so that, at the end of the day, I still enjoy cooking. For example, we go out probably 1/3 of the time because if I cooked every day, especially all the times I didn't feel like it, I would start to hate all cooking, all the time.

of course, there are others here for whom food is a profession, not a hobby, but I suspect their goals too are different.

I don't dispute that "a little time at the stove would be a good thing", but that comparison is only relevant when that's an actual choice to be made. If higher-priority choices make cooking an impossibility (the example above was multiple jobs just to put food on the table), then it really doesn't matter whether cooking would have been better than not-cooking. I enjoy making pasta on the weekends, but I use dried during the week because I'd rather make time for going to work than fresh pasta :).

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Also, I'm not altogether certain that Hamburger Helper is an evil thing, particularly if theres a salad or some frozen broccoli or an apple on the side, any more that I'm suggesting that every meal must be precisely nutritionally balanced and Hesserian in its perfection.

And yet, Hesser seems certain that it is evil:

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

It's clear that only food prepared with raw ingredients counts as "cooking" for Ms Hesser. Picking something up on the way home, no matter how nutritious or delicious, wouldn't satisfy her.

I don't agree at all that that's the point she was making. Rather than demanding purity of ingredients, that quote was in support of this: "For most of the last century, Americans have been told repeatedly that cooking is a time-consuming drag..." Two separate, though overlapping, points are touched on but I think it's clear that she's speaking to the larger thesis that marketing cooking as something that's a pain in the ass, as the makers of Pillsbury Biscuits do in order to sell higher margin prepared foods rather than lower-margin flower, is not a good thing.

And regardless whether one cooks as a hobby, out of necessity or as a matter of preference (looks like I'll be eating carryout Ethiopian tonight. Wonder how kitfo compares nutritionally to Hamburger Helper) I do indeed expect that members of a food board would generally come down on the side of home cooking -- for any number of reasons -- over the 125 takeout meals a year plan.

I'm on the pavement

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How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

Just to be clear, a few members of a food organization taking a position on a subject does not constitute the organization as a whole doing the same. Parts, wholes, all that.

Can anyone parse Hesser's "cook" in scare quotes?

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

I'm having a hard time reading that as anything but snarky....

Chris Amirault

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How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

Just to be clear, a few members of a food organization taking a position on a subject does not constitute the organization as a whole doing the same. Parts, wholes, all that.

Can anyone parse Hesser's "cook" in scare quotes?

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

I'm having a hard time reading that as anything but snarky....

Snark has its place. And she's saying nothing that Michael Pollin doesn't say every chance he gets. And what, all the sudden we've got to put on the kid gloves to talk about Kraft ("The Cheesiest")?

The point of the piece -- and let's just leave the recession moms out for a moment -- is that cooking has been relentlessly marketed as a chore for 50 years, in order to encourage consumption of high-sodium, high corn syrup, high fat convenience food that has a damaging affect on our health and our environment (and possibly our larger karmic relationship with the earth and those with whom we would talk over dinner if they weren't eating McNuggts in front of the TV). Making a big freakin' deal about planting a garden is a little pointless unless you get people to accept that the food in that garden needs to be cooked -- not processed (you know what General Mills calls "recipes?" "formulas.") and for the vast majority of people who can't afford to take their family of four to Chez Panisse every night, that means cooking. Therefore it's time for Michelle to GET ON MESSAGE with this. Cause regular folks aren't going to Blue Hill tonight.

Edited by Busboy (log)

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How odd that a food organization would be so hostile to the idea that people cook dinner?

Just to be clear, a few members of a food organization taking a position on a subject does not constitute the organization as a whole doing the same. Parts, wholes, all that.

Can anyone parse Hesser's "cook" in scare quotes?

Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

I'm having a hard time reading that as anything but snarky....

Snark has its place. And she's saying nothing that Michael Pollin doesn't say every chance he gets. And what, all the sudden we've got to put on the kid gloves to talk about Kraft ("The Cheesiest")?

The point of the piece -- and let's just leave the recession moms out for a moment -- is that cooking has been relentlessly marketed as a chore for 50 years, in order to encourage consumption of high-sodium, high corn syrup, high fat convenience food that has a damaging affect on our health and our environment (and possibly our larger karmic relationship with the earth and those with whom we would talk over dinner if they weren't eating McNuggts in front of the TV). Making a big freakin' deal about planting a garden is a little pointless unless you get people to accept that the food in that garden needs to be cooked -- not processed (you know what General Mills calls "recipes?" "formulas.") and for the vast majority of people who can't afford to take their family of four to Chez Panisse every night, that means cooking. Therefore it's time for Michelle to GET ON MESSAGE with this. Cause regular folks aren't going to Blue Hill tonight.

FWIW Charles, I agree with everything you have written and have a hard time believing that the bulk of the comments on this post are so anti-home cooking. Nobody, including Hesser said that all meals must be home cooked. her argument is simply that the image of home cooking from scratch needs to be revamped and shown that it can not only be better nutritionally, but also fun and economical. I love cooking at home, but also enjoy eating out. They are not mutually exclusive concepts. In addition, no all home cooking needs to be very complicated and time consuming, even when cooking from scratch.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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Charles and John, I tend to agree with most of what you've written as well. Still and all, Hesser doesn't do her position favors by setting up the piece with this paragraph:

However, when The Washington Post asked Mrs. Obama for her favorite recipe, she replied, “You know, cooking isn’t one of my huge things.” And last month, when a boy who was visiting the White House asked her if she liked to cook, she replied: “I don’t miss cooking. I’m just fine with other people cooking.” Though delivered lightheartedly, and by someone with a very busy schedule, the message was unmistakable: everyday cooking is a chore.

Of course everyday cooking is a chore. Anyone tasked with the responsibility of preparing food for a family (I raise my hand) knows that and would be insulted by the implication that it's not true. It was a chore before Clarence Birdseye and Colonel Sanders, and it still is today.

Now please don't suggest that I'm "down on home cooking" or whatever, a polarizing characterization that makes no sense for people who devote time to this little enterprise called the eGullet Society. I love home cooking just as much as the next guy, and my shopping cart is full of raw, fresh things. But that doesn't mean I heart everyday cooking; that cart has Annie's shells and Cheerios in it too. Curing ten pounds of sausages or making hot sauces by the gallon on the weekend? Nothing better. Getting three squares on the table for a family of four 7/365 while working 50-60 hour weeks? Sorry, but it's often a real drag.

Hesser should feel free to champion cooking all she wants, and to help the First Lady craft a well-rounded message about the food we eat (not that she asked for the help :wink:). But Hesser shouldn't ruin her own argument out of the box by suggesting that the daily household maintenance of everyday cooking is not, among other things, a chore.

et clarify -- ca

Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

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Michelle Obama loves good food, but doesn't like to cook --heck she had a PC when she was a private citizen in Chicago.(I like clean clothes, but hate doing laundry.)She's enthusiastic about fresh food, and the produce in the White House Garden will get served at family dinners and at White House receptions. Along the way, she's educated some city kids about where food comes from, and invited culinary students to chat with her chefs. Name another recent First Lady who's accomplished anything even close.

I love to cook, but in her position I'd be thrilled to be fed by the White House kitchen staff. Reviewing the day's menus would be a blast.

Margaret McArthur

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1912-2008

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. . .

The point of the piece -- and let's just leave the recession moms out for a moment -- is that cooking has been relentlessly marketed as a chore for 50 years, in order to encourage consumption of high-sodium, high corn syrup, high fat convenience food that has a damaging affect on our health and our environment (and possibly our larger karmic relationship with the earth and those with whom we would talk over dinner if they weren't eating McNuggts in front of the TV).  Making a big freakin' deal about planting a garden is a little pointless unless you get people to accept that the food in that garden needs to be cooked -- not processed (you know what General Mills calls "recipes?"  "formulas.") and for the vast majority of people who can't afford to take their family of four to Chez Panisse every night, that means cooking.  Therefore it's time for Michelle to GET ON MESSAGE with this.  Cause regular folks aren't going to Blue Hill tonight.

As powerful as I know marketing can be, I doubt that it is powerful enough to turn a pleasurable activity into a chore unless it was already beginning to be perceived as such.

50 years ago (actually a bit more) was when women first entered the work force in large numbers. So now women (always at that time the main home cooks) were working outside the home but the conveniences we now take for granted were in short supply. Dishwashers, microwave ovens, slow cookers, were not in many homes at that time. So now women were working a full day, often at very physically demanding jobs and still had to put a meal on the table. And a meal in those days was pretty much meat, potatoes, vegetable. Very little was done to any of the food to make it nearly table-ready as we see today. Women, I believe, began to see cooking as a chore which it mostly surely must have seemed. That marketing jumped onto that bandwagon is not at all surprising. I just doubt very much that we can lay ALL the blame on the marketers. I think technology was out of synch with the way the family was changing.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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One thing in Hesser's piece that I object to is her assertion that she knows what counts as "real" cooking (hence her derision of "mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding").

What makes her the arbiter of what counts as "cooking"? Suppose I told her that she doesn't really "cook" because she doesn't grind her own flour or cure her own sausage, or because she buys bread baked by someone else or beer that she didn't brew herself? I assume she'd object -- just like I object to her telling me I shouldn't buy pre-washed romaine hearts.

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Michelle Obama loves good food, but doesn't like to cook --heck she had a PC when she was a private citizen in Chicago.(I like clean clothes, but hate doing laundry.)She's enthusiastic about fresh food, and the produce in the White House Garden will get served at family dinners and at White House receptions. Along the way, she's educated some city kids about where food comes from, and invited culinary students to chat with her chefs. Name another recent First Lady who's accomplished anything even close.

Hell, who doesn't love Michelle. That school is in my neighborhood andyou know, hey, serving the First Tomato at a state dinner likely has some symbolic importance. Nut, more than nothing is not necessarily something. She can do this well or she can do this poorly. If she follows Hesser's lead, she will do it better.

As powerful as I know marketing can be, I doubt that it is powerful enough to turn a pleasurable activity into a chore unless it was already beginning to be perceived as such.

50 years ago (actually a bit more) was when women first entered the work force in large numbers.  So now women (always at that time the main home cooks) were working outside the home but the conveniences we now take for granted were in short supply.  Dishwashers, microwave ovens, slow cookers, were not in many homes at that time.  So now women were working a full day, often at very physically demanding jobs and still had to put a meal on the table.  And a meal in those days was pretty much meat, potatoes, vegetable.  Very little was done to any of the food to make it nearly table-ready as we see today.  Women, I believe, began to see cooking as a chore which it mostly surely must have seemed.  That marketing jumped onto that bandwagon is not at all surprising.  I just doubt very much that we can lay ALL the blame on the marketers.  I think technology was out of synch with the way the family was changing.

Yes, chores suck and some people see cooking as a chore. But 1) chores are part of life; 2) perceptions are important and marketing does change perceptions and 3) I'm not sure what you're arguing in relation to the article: that consistently serving crappy fast food is acceptable if you find cooking a chore? Or that we shouldn't demand Household Goddess (or God)-like perfection from people who are tired after a long day. Because if it's the latter, I'm sure we all -- including Mandy -- agree. And if it's the former, we have a beef.
One thing in Hesser's piece that I object to is her assertion that she knows what counts as "real" cooking (hence her derision of "mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding").

What makes her the arbiter of what counts as "cooking"? Suppose I told her that she doesn't really "cook" because she doesn't grind her own flour or cure her own sausage, or because she buys bread baked by someone else or beer that she didn't brew herself? I assume she'd object -- just like I object to her telling me I shouldn't buy pre-washed romaine hearts.

I think this is, again, nitpicky. We all have a pretty good idea what real cooking is and none of us (to agree with the good doctor above) minds a little prepared food as long as the general thrust is more or less away from microwaved TV dinners or whatever KFC is trying to force on us these days.

And, as someone who has served their kids macaroni and cheese many times, I can assure that it is indeed not real cooking.

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I doubt the perception of cooking as a chore is new. Its just that now we've got ways to escape that chore if we choose.

Very little that comes out of our garden gets cooked. Its not grown for that. Its grown for little hands to harvest and eat as snacks. The thrill factor of 'pick your own' greatly improves the flavor. Even when we have enough to serve at table, its generally raw (BLTs, ensalate caprese, carrot sticks etc).

I'd be pretty annoyed if someone came down on me for not cooking the stuff we grow.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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One thing in Hesser's piece that I object to is her assertion that she knows what counts as "real" cooking (hence her derision of "mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding").

What makes her the arbiter of what counts as "cooking"? Suppose I told her that she doesn't really "cook" because she doesn't grind her own flour or cure her own sausage, or because she buys bread baked by someone else or beer that she didn't brew herself? I assume she'd object -- just like I object to her telling me I shouldn't buy pre-washed romaine hearts.

I think this is, again, nitpicky. We all have a pretty good idea what real cooking is and none of us (to agree with the good doctor above) minds a little prepared food as long as the general thrust is more or less away from microwaved TV dinners or whatever KFC is trying to force on us these days.

And, as someone who has served their kids macaroni and cheese many times, I can assure that it is indeed not real cooking.

I don't agree that this is nitpicky. Since "we all have a pretty good idea what real cooking is," maybe you can give me some guidance on the following examples:

  • Cake from a cake mix
  • Tuna casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup
  • Tacos made with ground beef and Lawry's Taco Seasoning, chopped fresh onions, tomatoes and lettuce, and bottled taco sauce
  • Betty Crocker boxed "Au Gratin" potatoes
  • Green salad with bottled salad dressing
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches with Campbell's tomato soup

These are all things my mother made for us while I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, along with pot roast, fried chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, and all kinds of other dishes "from scratch." She was a great cook, but I don't doubt for a second that she was very happy to be able to use those and other shortcuts.

So, tell me: what counts as "real cooking"? From Hesser's comments, I can't see that any of those dishes would make her cut.

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