Among my many jobs, one is as a food columnist for a social networking site named Gather.com where I publish article/recipes under the title “Paisano” focused on what I call “peasant” food. Essentially it’s about family cooking from around the world. One column may cover pot roast and the next fondue which has a gourmet tinge in this country but in its original incarnation as bread dipped in melted cheese, fondue was what Swiss cowherds ate.
I like Gather. It has a strong intellectual bent and the level of discourse is fairly high, being one of the few paid columnists on the site is an honor of sorts. But Gather is a for-profit company and sometimes it devolves to the lowest common denominator as it works to sell ads and build traffic to its site. For example, it recently hosted this discussion that’s pretty clearly advertiser-supported.
“The Gather team challenges you to try making a Stouffers meal for the family to help free up your time and then to answer the following question: By spending less time at the stove, how do you spend moments that matter with your family?”
Try making a Stouffers meal? This is only a challenge if you can’t read and don’t have a microwave. Nevertheless, this query brought out the idiots:
“We both have busy schedules, but it’s great to have something like Stoffer’s [sic] so we can not spend as much time slaving away at the stove.”
“Stouffers meals bring out happy casual conversation during dinner in my family, and that is a difficult thing to achieve.”
“This winter, while cooking the stouffer’s Lasagna [sic], I will be teaching my 7 year old how to crochet and knit.”
Give me a break! You can’t have a happy casual conversation without TV dinners? You’re going to teach your kid to crochet and knit – amusing but not particularly useful skills – and not teach them to cook? Don’t you have a responsibility to teach them how to live in the real world?
Although the bulk of the 100-plus comments were along these lines, a few people objected as I did:
“The moments that matter most are the moments when all are gathered in the kitchen together. The children are learning one of life’s most basic skills, how to cook from scratch – a time of togetherness, creativity and closeness!”
“It doesn’t take that much longer to prepare quick easy meals from scratch…. there are tons of cookbooks out there on cooking from scratch with few ingredients. They don’t have to be fancy meals, but cooking with the family around you is more rewarding that when you feed them stuff full of preservatives.”
I realize I sound a bit harsh; after all Stouffer’s doesn’t hurt anyone. But I simply can’t imagine a world where people don’t prepare their own food for themselves and their families. My siblings and I grew up cooking because my mother considered it an essential survival skill. She worked a full-time job and my father traveled a lot, adding to her burden, so we learned to cook and sew (far more useful than knitting).
There was nothing ideal about those days, Mom was often short on patience and Dad would have us out weeding the garden in the middle of August. We all had chores we were assigned, and pretty much hated. But there was never any discussion about “family time.” We lived together and worked together to maintain a household. As kids we usually helped with dinner – no shortage of family time there – and have memories of pulling the strings off home-grown beans or shucking home-grown corn for dinner, all tasks that can be accomplished with your family as company.
Sometimes supper was actually breakfast – scrambled eggs, sausage, and biscuits. Sometimes it was a hamburger or ham sandwich. But in the summer there were almost always sliced tomatoes and cucumbers dressed with nothing fancier than a bit of salt and pepper. There was corn on the cob (What? You don’t have 5 minutes to cook corn on the cob?). And in the dead of winter a beef stew or pot of soup takes almost no time to prepare and a crock-pot handles the slow-cooking requirement perfectly.
I do confess to eating the occasional frozen pot pie or ordering out for pizza. Sometimes time is in short supply. But if it’s always in short supply (and you still have time to read this column) then your problem isn’t lack of time but managing it. So don’t give me any garbage about “not having time to cook.” If you don’t like cooking and don’t care about your family’s health, you’re entitled to that choice, but don’t lie to yourself. Living on carryout pizza and Stouffers lasagna is a choice.
And if a Swiss cowherd can melt cheese and dip bread in it how hard could it be, really?