As someone who has written about food for the last nine years, you might think that I’d skip into the kitchen each evening to cook up something delicious. But like everyone else, there are nights when I just don’t want to pull out the skillet or chop anything. On those nights, I unapologetically either eat out or order in for my kids and me. Heck, sometimes I even dig out a heat-and-serve something from the freezer.
What I don’t do is feel guilty about it. To the contrary, I am grateful that I have the choice — to cook or not, to use alternative methods to nourish my kids, to eat well.
But apparently my enjoyment of cooking is offensive to some. Or, at least, that’s my take from a recent article I read. This time it’s writer Virginia Heffernan who takes on those of us who dare to enjoy cooking and — worse, apparently — share it with the world in family-focused cookbooks and articles. Her recent article appeared in the New York Times Magazine.
Heffernan jokes that she hoped that by the time she had kids she’d be able to just “conjure” dinner — sort of like a real-life Jetsons family. But the frozen foods and pizza delivery of the ’80s didn’t lead to even more convenient dinner trends, she notes.
Heffernan writes: “[T]o my horror, home cooking had made a hideous comeback. Noble food philosophers preached the retro virtues of slow, real food instead of the quickie, frozen stuff that had once spelled liberation to me.”
She takes issue with feminists who aren’t jumping on the down-with-cooking bandwagon — because they, too, like to cook.
I understand that some people just don’t enjoy cooking. My mother is one of them. That’s why she wouldn’t even give a second glance to family-themed cookbooks. She isn’t the demographic. Instead, she appreciates the reliability of “The Betty Crocker Cookbook.” She also knows where to get the most wallet-friendly but tasty pizzas in the area.
Ms. Heffernan isn’t the demographic either. And that’s fine. These cookbooks are produced for a niche market that she clearly isn’t part of. Instead, she should take a cue from my mom and find a cookbook that works for her — if she wants one at all. Then cobble together the techniques, tips and takeout menus that work for her family.
But calling out family cookbook authors (by name, even!) and eschewing the helpfulness of the books simply because she doesn’t want to cook is ridiculous. What good does that do? Moreover, how does an angry agenda help womankind at all? It’s really just another turn of the screw in the woman-on-woman drama that happens far too often.
Sure, it makes for entertaining reading if you haven’t been a fan of Jenny Rosenstrach since her Cookie magazine days. Because when the Laurie Davids and Rosenstrachs are just names on a page and not real mothers trying to help moms who want to cook, it’s easy to just brush off their notions of kids who eat well.
But at its heart, is there really a difference between what family cookbook authors write about and what real moms do? It’s all about nourishing our families — through whatever means necessary in our lives.
Honestly, I can relate to Heffernan’s point about disliking the connection of moms cooking to those patriarchal gender roles that women fought against 50 years ago. When I was in my early 20s and a recent graduate of the all-girls Barnard College, I eschewed cooking too. Learning to cook and feed others seemed like I was giving in to the very gender roles that women before me had fought to break out of. Wasn’t it a misogynistic institution that had created these roles in the first place?
But then I did learn to cook — and cook well. Part of it was economics. It’s expensive to rely on prepared foods, takeout and convenience. I had to find ways to live within a budget — and cooking was necessary for that. Then, as I spent more time in the kitchen, I discovered that I really, genuinely love cooking. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do it.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that the women’s movement was about so much more than breaking out of gender roles. It’s about the freedom to choose our path — whether it takes us into the kitchen or not. I choose to cook. If you choose not to, that’s fine.
So, here’s my advice: If you really don’t like to cook, then don’t. Defrost something and serve it proudly. Toss five ingredients in a slow cooker in the morning and serve it up in the evening. Get takeout! Feed your family in the way that makes you happy. Ultimately, nourishing those you love doesn’t have to mean grinding your own flour, growing your own veggies or cooking from scratch. It can be just making smart choices — and letting others do the work.
But don’t attack those of us who enjoy cooking. We don’t deserve it.
And if you do like cooking and have the time, you could make soup. This Vegetable Basil Soup is truly easy. Brown the onions. Toss the remainder of the ingredients in the pot. Simmer until it’s ready. It’s a bowl of comforting, nourishing vegetable goodness. Serve it with grilled cheeses, if you want. Or just sprinkle a little grated parmesan on top and dig in.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 cups diced carrots
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 1 cup diced bell peppers
- 1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes (no-salt added recommended)
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven, or a large pot. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden -- about 10 minutes. Ad the carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes and vegetable stock to the pan. Stir well. Stir in the basil.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour, or until carrots are tender. Taste, and season as desired with salt and pepper. Enjoy.