Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

01.11.13

Friday Forum: How often do you cook?

How lost is the lost art?

Laura from 11D writes: 

A Twitter friend just asked people, "how many nights do you cook a meal from scratch at home." She said chicken nuggets and fish sticks don't count. What's your answer? 

I cook a complete meal from scratch (protein, carb, veg, and a salad) five nights a week. And I'm hating life right now. Last night, I was thinking envious thoughts of people in New York City who do not cook at all and use their ovens to store their sweaters. I am THAT sick of cooking.  

The twitter friend was me.  Peter and I order takeout a few times a month, we occasionally dine with friends or go to work dinners, and I'd say that a couple of times a month, when we're really pushed for time, we resort to frozen entrees.  The rest of the time it's cooking from scratch, or the leftovers from same.  Usually for lunch, as well as dinner.  

That's how both of us grew up.  But we both had the sense that this was unusual.  In the Florida panhandle, where Peter grew up, people ate a lot of prepared foods, mostly frozen, that were popped in the oven and reheated, maybe with a salad or frozen vegetable on the side.  Or cheap takeout.  In Manhattan, where I grew up, people seemed to eat a lot of takeout, or prepared foods from places like Zabars and Fairway.  

To be sure, I use a lot of gadget shortcuts: slow cooker, sous vide, now a pressure cooker.  But most mornings or evenings will find me prepping dinner from basic ingredients.  Tonight's dinner--lentil soup with ham--went in the slow cooker before work this morning.  So I asked Twitter whether we were normal or weird, compared to the people we know.

Now I throw it out to you guys: how often do you cook something from scratch, as opposed to heating something up?  Heat and eat foods like chicken tenders or fish sticks don't count.  Neither do eggs and side salads.  

I'd especially like to hear from those who don't cook very often.  Personally, I don't see why people should cook if they don't like it: one of the great advantages of the modern era is a vast array of convenient and tasty prepared foods.  But I feel like the people who don't cook often fall silent in the face of questions like this, for fear of being judged.  I'm not asking the question in preface to a lecture on the decline of American cooking.  I'm just curious.