October 24, 2014

Mark Bittman: Be Radical, Cook at Home.

Mark Bittman: Be Radical, Cook at Home.

There’s lots of talk right now in the public square about cooking at home. Some praise home cooking and are rallying for a return to what has almost becoming a lost art. Others lament that home cooking burdens women and should be abandoned, or at least that the “duty” of home cooking should be dismissed as antiquated in our progressive society.

Cooking at Home: A Burden?

For example, PBS Newshour published an article last month entitled Study finds that home-cooking disproportionately burdens mothers. The article was essentially about a study that a team of researchers at North Carolina State University published challenging the idea that home-cooked meals are ultimately “better” for the family as a whole.

The story is reminiscent of that NPR story that ran back in February of 2013… the one that basically said that if preparing family dinners is too demanding then – obviously – we need to redefine what’s good for the family. In other words, get rid of the expectation of family meals. The guilt is just not worth it.

The study stated that “…[O]ne could say that home-cooked meals have become the hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen. Yet in reality, home-cooked meals rarely look this good. Leanne, for example, who held down a minimum-wage job while taking classes for an associate’s degree, often spent her valuable time preparing meals, only to be rewarded with family members’ complaints — or disinterest.”

Family Meals Are Sacramental

This thinking is a far cry from our Judeo-Christian understanding of food, cooking, and shared meals. I was thrilled to read recently an article written by Elizabeth Foss titled Dinner Together. It was published back in May. In the article, Foss shares a conversation she had with Leila Lawler, co-author of the new book, The Little Oratory. In discussing how to protect the spirit of prayer in our overly busy lives, Foss was surprised by one of the first suggestions offered by Lawler: protect family meal time.

“Eating together as a family is vital to the life of that family. Indeed, Leila said, ‘Dinner together is the natural sacrament of the family.’ The natural sacrament. The lifeblood. The vehicle for grace. We can’t miss this moment of opportunity.”

The importance (in fact, the sacramentality) of family meals is a message that I actively promote here at CatholicFoodie.com, on the Around the Table food show, and in my new book Around the Table with The Catholic Foodie: Middle Eastern Cuisine.

A Radical Gift to Self and Others: Cooking at Home

But defending home cooking and family meal time is not something isolated to realm of Catholic blogging. Earlier this year, cookbook author and food writer Mark Bittman – food columnist for the New York Times and Time Magazine – delivered the keynote address at Edible Institute. During his presentation he lauded the return to home cooking, saying that today cooking at home is the most radical thing you can do. More fuel has been added to this fire this months since Bittman headlines the October issue of Time Magazine with an article entitled The Truth about Home Cooking.

In an interview with Edible Manhattan, Bittman admits that it’s a sad fact that home cooking has become such radical thing to do. “It used to be the exact opposite,” he said, “…mundane, conventional, banal. Everyone did it because few people had the choice not to. Now that it’s not only conceivable but common to avoid cooking, it feels all-too normal to leave our food choices — and by extension our health — in the hands of restaurants, fast food places, big food companies, fad diet evangelists, etc.”

“Cooking real food is the most radical thing that we can do for our diets because it does more to improve and sustain health than any trendy diet ever could and because it allows people to find answers about their diets in their own kitchens. It also takes power away from the giant food corporations and restaurant chains that have so much of it, and puts us back in control over what goes into our bodies. When you think of it that way, it sounds like an honest to goodness coup.” – Mark Bittman

Watch Mark Bittman on Home Cooking:

What Do YOU Say?

Do you cook at home? Are family meals a priority? Do you cook every day? Just once a week?

Join the discussion… Leave a comment below!