Thursday, 17 May 2012

To Cook Or Not To Cook?

Last night a familiar scenario played out in our house. I got home from work and started making dinner, which according to the meal plan was risotto. Cursing myself for choosing a dish which involved both extensive prep and standing over a stove for eternity on a week-night, I crushed, diced, sliced, chopped and stirred. Luckily my boyfriend got home pretty soon after me so I got him on lunch box duty - Moroccan Couscous Salad.
Couscous is pretty much the easiest thing to make, however you should never underestimate these things. With a huge list of ingredients it wasn't quick work, and by the time we were both finished it was pretty late and the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. We ate our risotto, saving half for tomorrow's dinner (I always make a double portion), packed up our lunch boxes for the next two days, and cleaned up the kitchen before watching an hour of TV and heading to bed.

Was it worth it?

We could have done what the majority of people here in the UK do - bought a freezer meal, or a chilled ready meal, a packet of pre-cut vegetables and a jar of sauce or ordered take-away. Many of the people I work with don't seem to factor cooking into their daily schedule which makes me think "What on earth do they eat?".
A mixture of the above, I can only assume, with a few restaurant meals thrown in. But we can't eat that way, and not just because of the cost. After returning home from a holiday in Europe when we eat out at least twice a day, we are always so glad to be back in our kitchen, eating food we have prepared from scratch. It's the combination of knowing exactly what you're eating, and being able to eat exactly what you want, when you want it which I love. If you are in Barcelona you can't walk into a restaurant or cafe and ask for tuna and sweetcorn soup the way your mum used to make. But in your kitchen you can whip it up in 15 minutes flat.

It feels to me that knowing how to cook, and making the time for it, is going out of fashion. Certainly in London, and I would assume in many large cities, the infrastructure is such that huge trucks can deliver freshly made ready meals and pre-made sandwiches to hundreds of thousands of supermarkets and shops every day, and at a low cost to the customer. Whereas "back home" (in New Zealand) we simply don't have the population to support such an economy. I was shocked when I first arrived in the UK, by the amount of ready-made meals available. And according to Food Market Research (UK)  their popularity continues to grow; "[Ready meal sales have] grown ahead of grocery, driven... by both increases in frequency and weight of purchase." This means that we are buying more ready meals than previously, and buying them more often. Children are being bought up in households where cooking simply isn't a necessity, as you can just buy everything ready-made from the supermarket. 

Although I find this terrifying, I'm not completely against it. After all, if the technology and infrastructure are there to make our lives easier, why not let it? Use the extra time we have saved by not cooking to relax more or spend more time with friends or family. Or just watch more TV, whatever - the point is that certain technologies have saved us a lot of time in the past. Pre-1950s women had to spend hours scrubbing and wringing, rinsing and squeezing every day just to get their family's laundry done. And we hardly bemoan that change. "If only all our laundry were done by pounding it on rocks, it's better for the environment and doesn't use so many chemicals..." is not a refrain you hear often. 

So: to cook or not to cook? Of course I cook for many reasons; I enjoy it, I find it calming (when it goes well) and it satisfies a creative urge in me - the most basic creative urge really, to create something to be enjoyed by your loved ones. Also I'm interested in nutrition and it's important to me that I know what I'm eating, even if it's just a variation on sugar and butter! But I don't want my life to be dominated by food preparation - I already have a full time job and I don't need another one! So that's why Friday night is take-away night. Back in NZ it would be fish and chips, here in South East London it's some jerk pork from our local Caribbean shop. It's a treat, and a time to not worry what's in our food, just enjoy it and enjoy the fact there's no washing up! I still feel that ready meals are an absolute last resort. We make our own by cooking up a huge pot of stew or curry every few weeks and freezing it on single portions, ready for a quick mid week meal.

What do you think? Is cooking going out of fashion? Should we be worried for the new generation of "microwave oven" children? Or should we embrace the ever changing technology of food production and just get on with it? Thoughts, please!

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit when I first moved to the UK I found it a pure luxury to have such ease in the form of a box you could stick in the microwave. (Do note, I ended up going up a few dress sizes when I moved to the UK, not saying micro food was entirely responsible, but I do hold it in as a contributing factor)

    As an avid "Diary of an ex-dancer" reader, I've been inspired on more than one occasion but your recipes. I love that they're simple, totally yummy, and very healthy. You get the balance perfectly, and you inspire me to be more creative with my time. We all state we 'don't have time', but in fact we do, we just don't utilise in the best of ways.

    I hope the next generations will get the same childhood/adult joys I have had, by learning to bake in my Nana's kitchen, and learning to enjoy experimentation in my mother's kitchen. You're keeping a fire ignited, that reminds us to all check in with a.) how we're living and b.) try and step out the box (no pun intended!) and into something better all around!