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rooftop1000

The one commercial product that led to the demise of home cooking

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But my grandmother raised 8 kids in 12 years as well as working full time so convenience foods were a God-send and there is no convincing her that it is worth the trouble for home made.

Yes, this. My aunt raised my mom and one day a week was baking day. You didn't buy your bread, rolls, etc, at the store. You baked it all yourself from scratch. It was a lot of work for a huge family and when Biquick debuted, my aunt embraced it eagerly. Anything that coud lessen the overall time spent on the weekly baking was seen as a blessing.

So don't look down your nose at those who choose to use canned this or boxed that. It is their choice and it may be saving them precious time to spend doing something else.

That being said, I believe my mom's Bisquick-topped peach cobbler will kick your peach cobbler's butt any day of the week. :cool::laugh:


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Yup. If it weren't for the evil Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines, my mother would have never baked our birthday cakes.

Toliver, when I was ten or so we lived in Bakersfield and the dairy that delivered our milk also delivered bread and doughnuts. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the dairy. This was about 1968, I think. Any idea who it was?

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Let me offer this.

My first thought was cans of creamed whatever soup. They've been my crutch, and tho' my mother was an exceptionally good cook, they were hers, also. But then I have to add the ready-made pancake mix, the blocks of cheese process stuff. And on, and on. All of the stuff that has been the best stuff since sliced bread, including sliced bread. The process goes back at least to Napoleon, and the invention of canning.

Yet another layer. A few years ago, a young fellow hit me with this:

"Your generation was so lucky." he says

"How so?" I asked

"You had Kraft macaroni and cheese."

"What?"

"You at least had to know how to boil water. My generation just has the microwave."

My younger son was able to confirm this. Among his college house mates, one could not even make mac-n-cheese from a box.

I'll offer one more thing. Home cooking lost its prestige. Indeed, many home cooks only did the job because it was necessary. But there were some who went out of their way to do better, or at least eventually gained the skill to make something exceptional. As the saying still goes "as good as grandma made..." as if the product was as good as someone who had spent maybe 70 years on a particular dish. Why would anyone bother learning something that did not at least bring the accolade of their family? Why would anyone now want to learn how to "flip burgers?"

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There is a snobbishness about not being able to cook that I've never understood. It's almost as if the lack of a vital lifeskill and a means of economy in one's budget is something to be bragged about.

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I guess a thread like this will always end up at some point hitting on the notion that saying that people have lost some cooking skills and that facility in the kitchen, or knowledge about food, has declined has to mean at the same time that the person saying this has a low opinion of any cook who takes shortcuts and a high opinion of his/her extremely virtuous every thing from scratch point of view. I don't care to criticize what people like: it doesn't really matter. My take is that if you like it, it's good. One thing I like is cream cheese on toasted storebought mushy pumpernickel bread with generic green olives on it, or macaroni tossed with butter and cottage cheese. I ate these things as a kid and still have a soft spot for them. Judge it if you like, but it doesn't really matter. At the same time, I can say it's a shame that many people seem to think anything more than putting a bunch of stuff in a crockpot and turning it on is too much work to consider.

I don't have to judge what people make or like or how they view food, just because I do think food is important. I can also say that I think less people know how to cut up a chicken, an easy and important skill, while also not caring that my friends don't know how to do it. I don't judge them for it, though I've let them know I think it's a good thing to know and that I'd show them (some of them have taken me up on the offer too).

There may be a decline in cooking skills or not and of course nobody is in a position to know definitively. I think that for many people there has been, since simple sauces like tomato are used exclusively out of the jar by many and many cooking tasks are considered unthinkable, despite the availability of stuff like canned tomatoes, a little oil, and garlic which makes a sauce in about 15 minutes (a little longer than the pasta takes to boil). Many people don't cook as much because they don't have the skills to do it efficiently, and for other reasons which are surely very reasonable but which I'm not talking about, and this is despite the fact that kitchens are so advanced these days, with many people having access to refrigerators, microwaves, ranges and ovens, cheap and effective knives, economically priced stick blenders, etc. People will talk about making gigantic pots of very easy to make soup not because they don't have the time, but because it seems like such a monumental task to them. This is something that I and many many other people here, with our decent knife skills and solid knowledge of food which we learned from experience not mental osmosis, can make in an hour. It's too bad these skills weren't more widespread.

Here's another thing: putting food in your body is a pretty crucial thing you do several times a day: as far as interactions with your environment go, eating is pretty invasive and we do it every day. That's why people get up in arms about a food culture that legislates that pizza is a vegetable in school lunches because of the tomato paste. There's something wrong when we've gotten to the point when the absurdity of that even needs to be pointed out, let alone become part of a program for feeding kids every day they are in school (a lot of the time of their lives). Canned soups or whatever else didn't singlehandedly take us here, but they didn't help (even if they did help people in other areas of their lives).

I just don't think people who want to point out that something went wrong with our food culture are blaming and criticizing people, which seems to be an inevitable subtext whenever anybody starts a thread like this.

edited for clarity


Edited by Alcuin (log)

nunc est bibendum...

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Why not put the onus on quick-drying concrete/cement?

Concrete used to create the highways/freeways that allowed for the transportation of goods from one area of the country to another. I grew having known shopping in supermarkets all of my life. Oranges and apples were never out of season. Today I can get aspargaus year-round at my local supermarket. I may not buy it out of season and will stay away from it until the price is more reasonable, but it's there if I want it, 365 days a year.

This is the same concrete poured into every foundation of fast food restaurants which seemed to have multiplied like rabbits since I was a child. My mom says fast food was never an option when we were kids. Going out to eat at a restaurant was only for a special ocassion. Today?...not so much. Today there are so many more choices that can be made when it comes to sourcing our meals.

The OP is looking to throw a black hat onto the one thing that has caused the demise of home cooking but it's not that easy. I think he or she will have to buy quite a number of black hats because there isn't just one answer to the question.

Regarding this previously quoted quote:

But my grandmother raised 8 kids in 12 years as well as working full time so convenience foods were a God-send and there is no convincing her that it is worth the trouble for home made.

When my mom retired after 25 years of working for a local hospital, she told me if she never cooked another meal it would be fine with her. She was expected to hold down a fulltime job and then come home and cook dinner for the family (as an aside, that's how my oldest brother and I became interested in cooking. For example, my mom would leave notes instructing us on how to put a roast in the oven when we got home from school so she'd have a head start on making our dinner).

My dad certainly wasn't going to do what she did and there was no expectation, societal or otherwise, for him to do it, either. Making dinner was put on her shoulders. Hopefully, today it's a different story in a lot of households.

So I don't blame my mother for using condensed canned this and frozen boxed that. If it helped her get the dinner on the table sooner and with less effort, the more power to her.


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I'd like to see actual proof that people don't cook at home anymore.

Just because you may be cooking with convenience foods occasionally, doesn't mean you aren't cooking.

Sweeping indictments of "the way most people cook" are not necessarily factual.

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I can't choose any one item that led to the demise but I have watched it happen. I grew up in a family that cooked everything from scratch at first. My grandmother finally succumbed to a cake mix once and that was enough. My mom on, the other hand really, needed the cake mix. :rolleyes: She loved to try new recipes but wasn't very good at it.

Married in 1953, I started cooking from scratch and have continued to do so. Can anyone explain why my daughter, who is a great grandmother, prefers to eat Jiffy cornbread, Bisquick or canned biscuits, cake mix cakes, jarred spaghetti sauce, etc.

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I really think people's use of convenience foods is in the 'If you build it, he will come' category.

After all, once, everyone cooked from scratch because they had to; some hated it, some loved it, some were brilliant at it, some sucked, and most people probably didn't give it much thought, and were okay at it. As soon as various convenience foods came into existence, those who hated cooking/knew what they made was appalling/just had no time, joyously embraced them: they were lifesavers. Those who loved cooking used them far less... same as today.

I don't think any one product, or even general category of products changed things in itself; the people who wanted or needed them met them halfway.

It isn't even a matter of upbringing/exposure, since my sister and I, who both grew up in the same food environment (virtually no convenience foods) stand at the opposite ends of the spectrum, cookingwise: I enjoy cooking, started voluntarily when I was about eight, enjoy fiddly, time-consuming technical aspects and lots of science, am demanding to the point of psychosis about what the quality of the content of any cookbook I buy, and become depressed and miserable if things go pear-shaped; my sister never cooked until she was an au pair and in her twenties, began inauspiciously by burning some rice, hates fiddly, detailed recipes, buys cookbooks for their attractive titles or pictures, and is almost pleased when yet another culinary effort tanks. I tend to be dissatisfied with what convenience foods bring to the table, while my sister is quite likely to use them.

I'm fairly certain that if convenience foods had emerged in, say, the renaissance, just as large of a percentage of people would have embraced them then, but by now we'd regard them as culinary classics.


Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I'd like to see actual proof that people don't cook at home anymore.

Just because you may be cooking with convenience foods occasionally, doesn't mean you aren't cooking.

Sweeping indictments of "the way most people cook" are not necessarily factual.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese is now advertising heavily how their products can be used to thicken sauces. Instead of, y'know, a roux. And people wonder why we're fat?

Most people under the age of 40 have a very low failure tolerance, and not unreasonably so. Most food worth the labor is very cost intensive, and blowing $10 on a new recipe with a tricky cooking technique has a much higher risk/reward ratio than buying some burgers. I'm not what I'd call a talented chef, and it took me a several tries and a lot of burned pans to make Bananas Foster properly.

Of course, I can now knock off $50 in restaurant-grade dessert for eight people in about ten minutes using maybe $10 in ingredients. Such is the pay-off for cleaning all those pans. But most people can't be bothered.

I'll offer one more thing. Home cooking lost its prestige. Indeed, many home cooks only did the job because it was necessary. But there were some who went out of their way to do better, or at least eventually gained the skill to make something exceptional. As the saying still goes "as good as grandma made..." as if the product was as good as someone who had spent maybe 70 years on a particular dish. Why would anyone bother learning something that did not at least bring the accolade of their family? Why would anyone now want to learn how to "flip burgers?"

My grandmother has been cooking for over seventy years. She's still awful. Of my remaining 90+ relatives, the food made by the remainder generally favored complexity over technique and cost too much money.

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Most people under the age of 40 have a very low failure tolerance...

And you know this exactly how?

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Most people under the age of 40 have a very low failure tolerance...

And you know this exactly how?

I used to work tech support.

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The Crock Pot.

I think that this is deeply reflective of our American mindset: set it and forget it. Throw the ingredients of success in a pot and see how they simmer. Not only does it take away the dexterity in mastering kitchen instruments, but in doing so it values function over form. For children, it distances themselves away from cooking...and champions cooking that lacks a heart and a brain. In essence, it is a meal that cooks itself; a surrogate chef!


Kristine

http://www.platosplate.com

“I know something interesting is sure to happen whenever I eat or drink anything”. - Alice in Wonderland

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The Crock Pot.

I think that this is deeply reflective of our American mindset: set it and forget it.

Or how about "set it and use the time you save by using a crock pot doing a multitude of other things in your busy life"?

Throw the ingredients of success in a pot and see how they simmer. Not only does it take away the dexterity in mastering kitchen instruments, but in doing so it values function over form. For children, it distances themselves away from cooking...and champions cooking that lacks a heart and a brain. In essence, it is a meal that cooks itself; a surrogate chef!

It doesn't take anything away from the home cook. It's just one tool in a cook's arsenal. Like the microwave, like the chef's knife, etc. Like any cook's tool, what you can achieve with it depends on the cook's skill in using it.

Time saving devices do not equal the dumbing down of the home cook.


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Actually, I think the crockpot has been a boon to the home cook. I went to visit my brother recently and he prepared a very nice orange sesame chicken for dinner one night. Previously to getting the cockpot his dinners were more likely to be a pot of KD or takeout. In allowing people to be away from the kitchen, or not paying attention to the kitchen, the crockpot/slow-cookers have opened people up to experimenting with flavours more often, and being more interested in their food.

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I have several Crockpots or slow cookers as well as the large electric roasters that (after a hiatus of a couple of decades) came back onto the scene about twelve years ago.

Use of the slow cookers allows me to experiment with many other kitchen tasks that require more "hands-on" effort.

For some families, the slow cooker has brought them back to "real" cooking instead of heating prepared or frozen foods.

Because the long-slow cooking works well on cheaper cuts of meat, it also saves them money.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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I don't think it's about particular products. The education and empowerment of women has lead to families where everyone works and time for food preparation is minimal. If food and/or nutrition is not important to them, they will opt for covenience products or domestic help.

I'll give you two examples from India. One friend of mine lives in a large traditional joint family of around 40 people of different generations. They are well to do but she works as she is educated and her family are enlightened enough to realise there is a positive mental effect of work that goes beyond money. She gets up early each day to join in with communal food prep before she goes to work. All the women in the house pitch in to make meals and they also have household help (very common in India). It works because there are many if them. Junk food, convenience products and eating out are "treats". On a daily basis the family prefers traditional home food.

Another friend lives in a nuclear family with just her husband and two teenage children. They are lower middle class (ie. comfortable-ish but not super well off). She also works and does some prep before she goes to work. She has some household help. She often expresses disappointment that she cannot offer super fresh exciting meals everyday, but she just does not have the drive to do so. Making roti in the morning and reheating later is easier, routine dishes are easier, etc. Convenience products save her time and her kids like them, though she likes the idea of fresh traditional food more.

Looking at these examples we see a clear dilemma: It is very easy for those of us who like food and cooking A LOT to rave on about the importance of fresh and from scratch meals. But this means someone has to make it. In many societies this task falls to the women of the house, though I will stress that this is not always the case. This person may not enjoy cooking. Having to cook may stop the from working or pursuing leisure activities they enjoy. There are people all over the world who spend hours each day cooking and turn out amazing meals that would impress all of us here. A number of them do it because they "have to" and they hate doing it.

BTW if I must pick one thing it would be maggi noodles. Many housewives in India no longer whip up traditional snacks and breakfasts because their children beg for maggi! They would rather have maggi than a meal! The second friend I mentioned struggles to stop her kids from eating only maggi!

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I merely think that using the Crock Pot is conceptually, a step back from home cooking. When I think of home cooking I think about something that is constructed with my own hands. It's more of a novel idea; using the crock pot reminds me that the meal is a task (Marx...) instead of an art or a craft...there's something about being a part of the process -- whether it is the constant check of a low simmer or the art of prioritizing ingredients -- that really defines home cooking for me.

I just worry that the slow cooker is taking the "easy way out," and I wonder if by constantly turning to it, we will eventually forget, or never learn how to cook.

Also realized I didn't properly introduce myself to this forum...my name is Kristine, and I am quite happy to join and see such wonderful discourse on food. ;)


Kristine

http://www.platosplate.com

“I know something interesting is sure to happen whenever I eat or drink anything”. - Alice in Wonderland

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Oh boy. Quoting Marx and talking about the demise of homecooking? Welcome, anyway.

Women have increasingly entered the workforce in the past fifty years and that has certainly impacted the frequency and perhaps quality of home-cooking. Only the upper middle class can truly afford to have only one wage earner per family these days. (Excellent article about same in the WSJ yesterday by James Taranto.) It has also been quite unusual for most families who are not very wealthy to have household help until the last generation or so. Even then, help is usually reserved for the care of children (au pair) or a once a week housekeeper. There are exceptions, of course, but I am speaking in the aggregate.

Most people work longer hours than in the past to make a modest wage and their work often requires a great deal of travel. If nothing else, plain old exhaustion is more of a culprit than a lack of caring. It's easier to stop off at the market and pick up a rotisserie chicken than to come home and prepare that chicken from scratch. At least it is hot and it's not pizza.

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I dont see the crockpot as being any different than a pan buried in the coals on the edge of the fire, or sitting on the back of the Aga.

Lets try a cause for the putative demise: the community baker. All of a sudden, people didnt all have to bake their own household bread. It was the gateway 'prepared food'.


"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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I wonder if we can approach this question of demise in another way. When do you think we hit a high water mark for home cooking? I'm talking skill-wise, and product-wise.

I say the water's still rising, but it's been rising faster and faster. I reject the notion that there was a golden era in the past, and we are living in a time of constant decline (this idea's been around as long as history has, you can see it in the decline in lifespans in the Bible, i.e. no one lives as long as Methuselah any more, and it also plays a role in Marx's positive view of feudal Europe).

I think things are on the rise. I don't have a crockpot, but if I had the room for one I'd get one just to make confit onions or whatever. There's cool new stuff coming out all the time (sous vide is becoming more and more accessible). But on the other hand, technology's also making it easier for people to live without basic cooking skills like cutting up a chicken or making gravy.

Somebody once proclaimed in a grandiose way to a group of people I was in at a party that nobody knows how to make gravy as if it was ancient knowledge. I said I knew how, and explained how easy it was by telling everybody right then and there how to do it. They were amazed; I was amazed at their amazement. Then again, why do they need to know this, when they don't know most of the basic principles of cooking? They just order or buy a can/packet/etc. Is this demise? It depends, but ultimately it's someone else's demise or not.

So for me, things are getting better and better. The fact that it is so easy to do cooking tasks that were incredibly labor intensive decades ago is great. I just hope as technology gets better, it drives more people into the kitchen than out of it, even if just to make a simple Sunday dinner. I think there's a lot of value in cooking and making food for ourselves and others. As the great Pepin has said, cooking is an important human act, because you are always cooking for the other. This is what I think people lament when they talk about a demise in cooking, that uniquely human act.


nunc est bibendum...

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There are a tremendous number of things that I am able to prepare in relatively little time due to modern conveniences like the home food processor, an immersion blender, a KA mixer with attachments, and a microwave oven. There is simply no need for me to spend all day in the kitchen unless I choose to.

I'm with Alcuin on this: I think we are really in the Golden Age of the homecook, not the decline. We have the luxury of cooking for fun and experimentation; the availability of exotic ingredients in far flung locales and instructional video on either television or on the computer on how and where to use them.

When I first moved into my own apartment at the age of 18, I had a set of pots and pans and a chef's knife and that was it. My eldest son at 22 has a batterie de cuisine like I had at 30: food processor, microwave, toaster oven, pots and pans, whisks and good knives, a coffee maker, a range top and oven and a full sized refrigerator.

People who look back with rose colored glasses are misremembering the good old days.

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Rather than use the "quote" function and reply to individual posts, I'm going to try and reiterate what I have noted in previous posts.

I don't think there was ONE commercial product that "led to the demise of home cooking."

I was born in 1939, at home, on a farm that was largely self-sufficient in that only a few (necessary) food products were purchased.

There was a cook and kitchen help who did much of the work but my grandmother and my aunts and great-aunts also put in time in the kitchen, particularly during visits by outside friends and family.

I was quite young when my cooking instruction began (mostly to keep me out of mischief) and I still use some of the basic procedures I was taught in those long ago days.

Such as making gravy, be it basic brown, red eye, milk, sausage, wine or the white sauce that covered many types of vegetables. I can prepare gravy in my sleep.

Ditto biscuits and corn bread. I don't usually measure these ingredients because after all this time I can eyeball them accurately.

About the Crockpot or slow cooker - if anything, they have brought people back to "home" cooking when before they had relied on frozen entrees (the Banquet effect) and pre-packaged ready-to-eat foods, and have not created more distance from cooking.

There are all degrees of "cooking" some people are so busy with work or family concerns that they simply can't take the time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals every day.

Some of these people (and I know quite a few) spend the weekends preparing meals for the coming week and freezing them. They sacrifice what in many families would be recreation time to make sure that their families are well fed with foods that contain fewer preservatives and questionable additives.

I spend a lot of time preparing things that other people do not bother with because they are time consuming and my results probably cost a lot more than the equivalent commercial products.

I do this because I enjoy it. I'm retire and it's better than sitting around watching soaps and in my opinion keeps me from aging quite as rapidly - keeps my brain functioning well.

This is not for everyone but it works for me.


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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