October 4, 2009

Remember When We Cooked?

I attended a "cooking demonstration" on Thursday night, where two cookbook authors were promoting their cookbook "Remember When We Cooked?" That was pretty much the most ironic title ever for a cookbook, because for most of the recipes, the two ladies on stage merely combined a couple of ingredients from a can or the freezer. I don't think I'm shattering their reality by saying what they were doing wasn't cooking. One of the ladies even said, as she poured several cans of fruit into a bowl for "Spiced Hot Fruit," "This is my kind of cooking, dumping." The same woman later said she didn't go in for that fancy stuff like kosher salt. Here is one of the recipes that they demonstrated from their cookbook:
Mystery Fruit Salad
Serves 12

6 crisp apples
6 bars (2 ounces each) Snickers
12 ounces whipped topping

Cut apples into bite-size chunks. Cut Snickers into small pieces. Combine apples, Snickers, and whipped topping in a mixing bowl. Chill before serving.
Maybe you're like me and surprised that anyone had the need to write that one down, not to mention that it's being passed off as a fruit salad. The ladies seemed like your stereotypical sweet, rural, baby boomer soccer moms, and I say good for them creating a moneymaking opportunity out of a cookbook that any community church's ladies society could have put together.

But back to their cookbook's title, "Remember When We Cooked?" I didn't think it was a reference to the days when grandma went out and caught, killed, plucked, gutted and roasted a chicken for dinner, but I thought at least they meant the good old days when grandma combined flour, sugar, eggs, and milk into something without opening a can or boxed mix. Even the ridiculous opening sentences in the A-J's writeup - Really, all they require is water, electricity and a table. Then stand back and watch the magic - make no allusion to, you know, food! being involved in their recipes.

One of the most beautiful things I've read in the New York Times lately is Michael Pollan's Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch, which discusses among other things, the popularity of the Food Network amongst people who couldn't boil water properly, and how the amount of time spent on food preparation has an inverse relationship with obesity. He wrote:
I spent an enlightening if somewhat depressing hour on the phone with a veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, who explained that “people call things ‘cooking’ today that would roll their grandmother in her grave — heating up a can of soup or microwaving a frozen pizza.” Balzer has been studying American eating habits since 1978; the NPD Group, the firm he works for, collects data from a pool of 2,000 food diaries to track American eating habits. Years ago Balzer noticed that the definition of cooking held by his respondents had grown so broad as to be meaningless, so the firm tightened up the meaning of “to cook” at least slightly to capture what was really going on in American kitchens. To cook from scratch, they decreed, means to prepare a main dish that requires some degree of “assembly of elements.” So microwaving a pizza doesn’t count as cooking, though washing a head of lettuce and pouring bottled dressing over it does. Under this dispensation, you’re also cooking when you spread mayonnaise on a slice of bread and pile on some cold cuts or a hamburger patty. (Currently the most popular meal in America, at both lunch and dinner, is a sandwich; the No. 1 accompanying beverage is a soda.) At least by Balzer’s none-too-exacting standard, Americans are still cooking up a storm — 58 percent of our evening meals qualify, though even that figure has been falling steadily since the 1980s.
So perhaps the dump-and-stir brand of cooking the ladies did at the demo was in fact cooking.


Auntie said...

Yes! This "cooking demonstration" would have aroused my indignation, too.

Opening a can and dumping it in a bowl is how one might feed a dog.

It is NOT cooking.

There is a world to be saved from this. Carry on, dear niece.

wendy v. said...

Remember when we ate all those empty calories and pretended it was a fruit salad? If you look at your Taiwan pictures, you'll see that they do that in Danshui as well. Ah, the joys of globalization!

Kimberly said...

Hat tip to Wendy: fruit salad photo