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Overcoming Personal Barriers


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This is a spin-off of a thread in Food Media. The issue of why people avoid preparing real food, as opposed to "convenience food" was raised. Tommy mentioned that there are time, money, and life-style barriers. I think his question points in a helpful direction -- what are the internal barriers to preparing real food. What beliefs get in people's way? How do people make it harder than necesssary. And where does the motivation come from to actually surmount the barriers, perceived or real? Have you always prepared real food, or is that a change that occured at some point? If a change in your approach, what influenced you -- an article, a book, a friend, some life circumstance?

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Interesting thread, Richard.

I did a bit of a reverse for a time. I was raised among really good and adventurous cooks. We always had a garden. Cooking as fun was always a part of our family culture. However, there was a period of about 10 years where cooking was not part of my life. My family used to tease me about dusting my stove. My main meal was usually eaten out at lunch. The evening meal was a snack of fruit and cheese or whatever. I know about nutrition and tried to strike a happy balance while avoiding the stove. I wasn't into "convenience" foods but I did nuke the occasional Lean Cuisine. Cooking just was not a priority in my life at that point. I had other things on my mind.

Then, my grown son moved in with me for a time while finishing school. He likes to cook and has since he was little. I said... ok... this will be fun. I bought a house with a pretty ok kitchen and a great pantry and we moved out of the condo. (Hey... The basset hound was getting too old for the stairs anyway.) Also, at this point, I could afford to indulge myself with all sorts of toys. That made it more fun. My circle of friends expanded to include some that are really into food so that added more fuel to the fire... so to speak.

I never had the barrier of not knowing how to cook so I don't know what that feels like. (My mother had me making some pretty complicated cookies at age 6.) Money was not a barrier that I can ever remember though I have had periods of having to balance the checkbook to the penny every month. But I still went through that period where cooking and food just wasn't part of the program so I can understand if someone just doesn't care. Maybe they are just directing their passions elsewhere.

What does bother me is seeing families that don't use cooking and mealtime as a tool for bonding and teaching. I learned a hell of a lot of science through cooking, and gardening, when I was very young. In fact, I attribute my life long passion for science to those experiences. The evening meal was important family time. I see too many families where that time takes a back seat to soccer games, lessons of whatever ilk, and general rushing around so that there is no time for kicking back and just being together. When are family traditions and values shared and taught? The patterns of modern day life dictate that about the only time this can happen on a daily basis is dinnertime and if that is not a priority, then what? Nutritional issues aside... That is what is missing and the best, fastest, most convenient food in the world won't fix that.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Where should we draw the line between "real food" and "convenience food"?

- Pasta from a tin, precooked and presauced?

- Dried pasta, cooked, with a bottled sauce?

- Egg pasta made from flour and eggs, using a food processor or electric mixer and a pasta machine?

- Egg pasta mixed and kneaded by hand, cut with a knife?

- Grind your own flour? Raise your own hens? Grow your own wheat?

I personally tend toward the purist in these matters, and I gnash my teeth when our nanny insists on buying pre-cooked rice that goes into the microwave. Then again, I didn't slaughter or butcher the sheep that turned into today's mutton stew. I didn't dry and harvest the Maldon salt that went into it. I even used some dried herbes de provence that I hadn't personally grown. Was that "convenience food"?

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I see too many families where that time takes a back seat to soccer games, lessons of whatever ilk, and general rushing around so that there is no time for kicking back and just being together. When are family traditions and values shared and taught? The patterns of modern day life dictate that about the only time this can happen on a daily basis is dinnertime and if that is not a priority, then what? Nutritional issues aside... That is what is missing and the best, fastest, most convenient food in the world won't fix that.

It's not food related but a statement by my youngest son seems to sum up the current attitude of younger generations: "Why should I read books when I've got the internet?"

To make it food related I ought to add that both sons work in restaurants, making real food... :wink:

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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I think our society is going back to cooking unprocessed foods.

If you think about it, cooking used to be a pain in the neck for the woman of the house. All that peeling...plucking the darn chicken..taking out the pin bones...washing the dirt off the veggies...boiling stuff til it was soft enough to eat...

until....the 50's! and TV dinners! and dried potato flakes..and boil-in-the-bag rice ( so that you didn't have to spend 15 minutes AFTER the meal scrubbing out the pot...) and food that made life more convenient! Easy! And lo and behold, it gave women some time during the day to themselves. Hurray! What shall we do with all this FREE TIME??? Let's get a job!

So women could go out to work and still have dinner on the table in less than an hour.

And guess what....we developed a generation of super-women who aren't a whole lot happier than their 50's era moms, and are even busier because they've filled the time they used to cook from scratch, with carpooling and meetings in the evenings because nobody is home in the afternoons to get all that stuff out of the way.

It's not about "drawing the line", I don't think. It's about priorities. When parents say, "No, you can't play soccer because all of your practices and games are scheduled during our dinner hour", then people's food habits may change.

I could go on and on, but I imagine you get the point!

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It's about priorities. When parents say, "No, you can't play soccer because all of your practices and games are scheduled during our dinner hour", then people's food habits may change.

To stay with Richard's original point, I think you have described the barrier very well.

I actually know a family with two kids, age 14 and 16. Mom is a typical "soccer mom" with other interests like PTA and such. She doesn't work outside the home. Dad provides very well but works late and has to travel a bit. They actually keep their calendars in Outlook! (As she proudly showed me one day to demonstrate how busy they all are.) She cooks some. She is so busy that meals are whatever might be in the fridge to nuke and eat, all put up in single portions. The kids are a real pain in the butt. With all of their "healthy activities", they have lousy manners, don't exhibit much respect for others much less their elders, and their grades are mediocre. I wonder if there is any connection?

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Of course there is a connection.

The "single portion" part of your post depressed me to no end. THAT is what's killing our society. It's been shown time and time again that eating together as a family is the best thing you can do for your kids. It teaches them social skills. How to listen to others. how to participate in a wonderful activity that is the basis for social interaction since the beginning of time. Cut that out of their lives...imagine growing up having had no family dinners...

I grew up in a very European household in this country. My mother didn't work. She had dinner on the table every night for us. We helped prepare it. It was a given..dinner was at 6:30 when my father came home. We were very, very lucky.

I raised my kids the same way. Dinner every night at 5:30. Help in the kitchen.They were allowed only one extra-curricular activity a semester. That cut down on the intrusive stuff. And guess what? We had time for family dinners, time for homework and time to chill out as a family at least 4 evenings a week.

My kids are grown now...one has graduated from college and is involved in the food world. The other is still in college and loves to cook. When she was in high school, she would throw dinner parties for her friends!

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I have a couple of other ideas to throw out on this topic. I’m in my mid 40s, and I believe that part of the too-busy-to-cook lifestyle started with cultural changes in the role of women in the 1960s. While most of us were raised in families with stay-at-home mothers who cooked dinner every night, who even had us help prepare dinner, we were also being told in our other ear that we could and should do anything we wanted and that we should educate ourselves and become successful, high-powered, high-salaried business women. For many that followed this path, the idea of showing any sign of domestic capabilities was seen as a big step backwards and, perhaps, a career killer. So, “I can’t cook a thing” became a badge of honor because it showed that you were successful and important – you could afford to have someone else do your cooking for you. I've worked in this environment for 25 years now, and the "stigma" of the home cooked meal still prevails (interestingly, men now wear a badge of honor that THEY are the great cook in the family).

I think our generation’s children have only known this attitude – that being constantly busy equals success, and that stopping for chicken nuggets at the drive thru is part of that lifestyle. In many cases, the only time the whole family eats together is when they go OUT for dinner, because eating at home tends to mean tv shows and phone calls and various family members having to run early or come late. In this scenario, family time is equated with NOT cooking at home, family time means having someone else cook for you.

So, I’m putting forward the idea that doing the home-cooked family meal ritual for a big segment of the population has been successfully marketed as showing lack of success and being "lazy," oddly enough. We should all be too busy doing everything else BUT cooking, according to the marketers, and popular culture has soaked that up.

For the record, I have no children and only cook for myself. I do, however, cook, even though it is just for me. It always tastes better when I make it! ;o)

Edited by Terrie (log)
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It's not food related but a statement by my youngest son seems to sum up the current attitude of younger generations: "Why should I  read books when I've got the internet?"

To make it food related I ought to add that both sons work in restaurants, making real food...  :wink:

because the internet doens't have everything. it works best as a complementary resource.

best set of appendices, footnotes, suggested reading, etc. available.

adds depth and breadth to a book or other reading.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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Okay, people on this thead have described several situations or issues involved.

1) People who like to cook and have cooked in the past, but for whom it is a very low priority at the time for whatever reasons. For some of the reasons, read on.

2) Women who don't cook because they feel that they can not cook, or admit to liking to cook, and be taken seriously in their careers. How widespread can this be and places like Whole Foods and Central Market and newer competitors for affluent food incomes exist? Are men cooking all this raw food?

3) People who don't cook real food out of a rejection of the sensual aspects of cooking. I guess this might include people who do not see cooking as utilitarian enough, or who become uncomfortable with the pleasures of complex tastes and who prefer flat, relatively tasteless food.

4) People who commit to so many other activities for themselves and their children that they do not allow time for cooking real food (or who perhaps eat out for all meals).

5) A generation of people for whom family warmth and bonding mean eating out at a restaurant (fast food or otherwise), so what would the emotional motivation be for cooking at home? And how high is the skill intimidation factor with people who have grown up on fast foods and "convenience" foods?

So let me ask everyone this. When other people react with (fill in the blank -- awe, shock, disgust) that you spend time cooking at home at all), how do you react? When people raise the questions of time, money, skill, what do you say?

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It's not food related but a statement by my youngest son seems to sum up the current attitude of younger generations: "Why should I  read books when I've got the internet?"

To make it food related I ought to add that both sons work in restaurants, making real food... :wink:

because the internet doens't have everything. it works best as a complementary resource.

best set of appendices, footnotes, suggested reading, etc. available.

adds depth and breadth to a book or other reading.

Still, the concept of sitting down for a couple hours and reading for enjoyment seems to be foreign to kids these days, regardless of their academic standing. At some point this activity was never shuffled into their busy daily itinerary.

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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I would never want someone to feel guilty or deficient because they can't cook, or don't want to. Likewise, I would never feel guilty because I like to cook. We have members of this site who have a very refined appreciation of food, but can barely boil an egg. Should they feel guilty?

As far as I can tell, the cook-vs-non-cook dimension is almost gender neutral, at least here in the UK, if you control for children. Lots of childless men can't cook and have no interest; lots of women likewise. Having children changes the equation, because you have to do some cooking to raise children, and women still bear the heaviest burden of child rearing.

I've read in a couple of places that the manufacturers of cake mixes, back in the 60s, tweaked their recipes so that you had to add a cup of oil or an egg, because research had shown that consumers felt inadequate if all they did was to toss a box of powder into a bowl, add water, mix and bake. Adding an egg didn't change the quality of the product, but it made consumers feel more creative, or at least less guilty, reduced the cost of the mix and enabled the manufacturers to raise the price a bit.

By the way, the idea that all or even most Europeans sit down for family dinners, every night (at a long table, of course, with olive trees in the background, sun glinting on the meadow, three generations at table, etc. etc.) and eat a delicious, langorous, home cooked meal, flowing with olive oil and red wine, is simply a romantic myth. French supermarkets have more instant, frozen, pre-cooked, take-away foods than many places in the US -- some of it quite palatable. McDonald's and the fast food joints are very much in evidence. And I'll bet that television, not to mention mobile phones, are often in use during European dinners.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Everyone gets the same amount of minutes in a day, and it's up to them how they spend it. I have a friend who cooks three squares a day, in drudgery. Doesn't enjoy cooking, or eating.( And she's an above average cook) This women would do herself a favor if she cut back and served some pop up rolls and store bought cookies...she'd be happier to be around.

There are also only so many cents in a dollar...and its up to each person how they spend it. I have another friend who serves everything from the jar, and only buys cheap cuts of meat to dump in the crock pot with her jarred sauces... but takes her kids hiking and camping all the time. She's never spent $7 for the first soft shell crabs of the season, but she must have $1000 worth of hiking boots on hers kids feet.

There are alos only so many things that you can teach your children to prioritize, and each person gets to make that choice. While sharing an appreciation for a meal or cooking together is important , in my family its more important to read a newspaper and discuss a situation. I've only cooked a dozen times with my kids..but my 16 year old reads the NYTimes every day, and has opinions and thoughts on many current events. It's more important for me to raise politically involved and engaged children, then children that love to cook. I'f rather they have a stance on gun control than cake mix vs. scratch.

I think its ok to judge Sandra Lee's book, but I get a little uncomfortable when we start to judge the parenting skills of people who don't cook or have a Leave-it-to-Beaver lifestyle

Edited by Kim WB (log)
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Likewise, I would never feel guilty because I like to cook. We have members of this site who have a very refined appreciation of food, but can barely boil an egg.  Should they feel guilty?

yup, that's me. don't feel guilty per se. i know i'll learn one of these days.

Herb aka "herbacidal"

Tom is not my friend.

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I like to cook and bake from scratch. BF can't cook. His attitude is that since technology allows him to save time by reheating stuff in the microwave instead of cooking, he'll take advantage of it. That attitude extends to eating food with bones -- he will not eat anything that reminds him of the animal it came from because it's "gross." (*sigh* so roast chicken is out). Again, it's because he feels we should take advantage of anything that technology gives us.

He also doesn't like to eat the same thing two days in a row, so he feels it's easier to buy two frozen dinners rather than try to make several different dishes. He's told me that taste, to him, doesn't matter that much. Food is just fuel to him.

I like cooking, but since I don't have a dishwasher the difference in clean-up for scratch cooking vs. heating pre-made food is often significant. That may be another factor.

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He's told me that taste, to him, doesn't matter that much. Food is just fuel to him.

This is a really good point, ChocoKitty--though it's also sad, probably, to most of us. We're here on egullet precisely because taste does matter to us, when the truth is, for a lot of people, it isn't that big of a deal. There is a wide variation in the human population in terms of which senses are prominent--I know I'm a spatial thinker, and that has a huge effect on how I write, for example. A good friend of mine has virtually no visual imagination whatsoever--by that I don't mean that she's vision-impaired, but that appearances aren't what she notices or remembers. She recently told me that when her husband isn't in front of her, she can't remember what she looks like! Instead, she's much more attuned to sounds. Similarly, the great perfume makers (there's got to be a fancy word for that) of the world have very sensitive noses.

Yes, to an extent, these are things that we can develop over time--but everyone's going to have basic propensities to start with, and if a person starts out in life with a sense of taste that takes a back seat to other senses, then it's not surprising that they won't make good food a priority. Why bother, if they can't tell the difference?

Any doctors/scientists around who want to chime in on this theory?

Batgrrrl

"Shameful or not, she harbored a secret wish

for pretty, impractical garments."

Barbara Dawson Smith

*Too Wicked to Love*

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He's told me that taste, to him, doesn't matter that much. Food is just fuel to him.

This is a really good point, ChocoKitty--though it's also sad, probably, to most of us. We're here on egullet precisely because taste does matter to us, when the truth is, for a lot of people, it isn't that big of a deal.

These are excellent points. My husband really likes leg of lamb. So do I. I made a spectacualr one yesterday. When we sat down to eat, I was so excited, so happy, just reveling in the deliciousness of the lamb. He, on the other hand, as one who does not obsess about food, was simply eating and saying it tastes good. No joy, no wanting to get up from the table and do a "happy dance" when the meat touches your taste buds..just eating. And this is a food that he declares his FAVORITE.

on the other hand, we have been at symphonies whre his entire body is tense with joy and energy..and I'm thinking.."it's just music".

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I don't think it is "sad" that someone doesn't do a happy dance about food... as long as they do a happy dance about something. I really can't get into music. I enjoy the occasional performance but it is just not that important to me. I enjoy some art very much. Some of the Impressionists leave me in awe. I can't draw a good stick figure. But I am awfully glad that there are people in this world that can make good music and great art and I don't give a damn if they do that while eating at Mickey D's every day.

In fact, food is not always THAT important to me. I get excited about developing a recipe or a technique. I do a happy dance when it comes out like I want it to. I do lots of happy dances when I have had a good time cooking with friends. In between, I can adopt an eat-to-survive attitude and not get too dissappointed about that not-so-good meal. I just eat it and move on, not wasting a lot of energy on bitching about it.

Maybe the barrier for some is that it's just "not their thing". Vive le difference!

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Food is my passion and I spend hours (or minutes on busy days) cooking because it is what I love. I know that most people do not feel the same and I know plenty of people who see it as fuel. I have one sister, who is quite a good cook by the way, who once told our family that she doesn't really like food and if she could get her daily nutrients through 3 pills a day she would do it rather then eat.

I think everyone has their own "thing", Like Fifi I really don't care for music, I probably own less then 20 cd's and only listen to music in the car because there is nothing else to do. My husband has a passion for woodworking and carving, this last Sunday just casually mentioned I was wanting shelves made for the kitchen, in less then a second he had paper and pencil in hand and was making a drawing of what he would build, 2 hours later I had new shelves and he couldn't understand why I wasn't jumping around for joy about them. To me they are just shelves......

Back to convenience cooking, though it may be faster (for some people) I doubt that it is cheaper, a lot of the purchased products she calls for in her book (semi-homemade cooking) are not cheap and I am sure I could easily make a better dish in the same amount of time with half the cost. For those people who hate to cook, I am sure convenience foods are a life saver.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I don't recall having anyone reacting negatively when they learn that I am a "recreational cook". (My choice of words.) More often there is an exchange of information on the whys and hows of our various interests. I do love finding someone that isn't into cooking but is into wine. (I like to drink it but have no interest in studying it.) "Hey... I will cook if you bring the wine! :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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