I have been thinking about this same question, too, for many years. At least 25 years ago, I read an article in Parade Magazine that said cooking would go the way of sewing; that is, most people would know how to thread a needle and sew on a button, but very few people would be able to (or want to) sew every day clothes as was done in earlier days. Yes, those days are gone for the vast majority of people, for better or worse, and while I do own a sewing machine, only rarely do I pull it out. But not cooking? I found that thought both hard to believe and a source of dismay from a personal and professional perspective.
Yet, I have been watching that happen. I remember the day a friend with a college degree in Home Economics told me, even before my first breast cancer diagnosis in 1984, that she found it hard to believe I actually made my own tomato soup from our home-grown, home-canned tomatoes rather than just opening a can of soup purchased at the grocery store. Still cooking from scratch in the early 80's, apparently I was already a novelty (dinosaur?) in my community of stay-at-home or part-time working moms way back then.
However, I confess, even my family became enchanted with home-delivered pizza when it burst into a part of every day life in the late 80's. In fact, shortly after finishing chemotherapy for my second breast cancer in 1995, I looked at the large number of pizza delivery boxes in our recycle bin and thought to myself, "How did THAT happen? Nooooooot good at all for any of us! What else aren't we cooking for ourselves anymore?", and even though I was still struggling with debilitating post-chemo fatigue, I made the decision on the spot to "go back to cooking again".
I don't disagree with the many factors Michael Pollan gives as reasons for why we are eating the food we do and why we are not cooking. Additional factors can be added to the discussion related to feminist thoughts that the kitchen and cooking were identified as something from which to escape, i.e., 'woman's work' (even 'drudgery'), and at the very least, there is no disputing the fact that it is still the norm in most households for women to spend more time in the kitchen than men.
However, when discussing possible reasons for why we have become so disconnected from our food sources, why we are eating processed foods high in salt, sugars, fat and low in fiber as our primary diet, plus why we are not cooking 'from scratch', one additional potential reason that I have not seen raised or discussed in any depth is that (by my observations) most people do not take a moment either individually or as a group to express some words of thanks, a grace or blessing, for the foods they are about to consume.
I have no background to write a scholarly essay on possible reasons for the frequent absence of the practice of saying thanks or grace before a meal, so I will simply say I have a 'gut feeling' that taking a minute to regularly say (or silently express) a few words of gratefulness for having food on our plate (even in a bag or a styrofoam container) could be another way to both open the door and provide a path to ultimately lead one to begin thinking about:
• the journey of that food (its harvest season, its carbon footprint from field to fork),
• the food's story (the conditions of the animals and people involved),
• the impact of our food choices on more than one's own wallet (personal health, the health of the planet, the economic health and wealth of one's own community),
• etc, etc, etc., plus,
• how cooking one's own food 'from scratch' and from thoughtfully chosen ingredients can positively impact all of these factors.
Any one of these points can be the first step to choosing to eat differently, i.e., off the grid of our industrial food and agricultural system, and/or beginning to cook or 'going back to cooking'. (And just to be clear, perhaps to the point of being silly, by no means am I saying that all people who do say grace before meals already cook from scratch with only healthy, sustainably-raised foods, nor am I saying that one must say grace prior to a meal in order to cook with healthy, sustainably-raised foods.)
My own path 'going back to cooking' plus cranking up my food choices from healthy to 'ultra-healthy' began in 1995 with a very narrow and deeply personal focus, to optimize my own health after a cancer diagnosis and the overall health of my family, which then evolved over the next 14 years in a step by step manner to embrace and integrate all these additional food factors as listed above into my daily thinking and actions, all of which had much wider impact than just my personal health.
Each piece of information I was learning about the benefits of creating sustainable food and agricultural systems, each food choice, each new habit I put into place, was like adding another piece to a giant jigsaw puzzle, a section of a tapestry, or another square of an enormous quilt. However, while I was beginning to get a pretty good picture of the obstacles to healthy eating created by our current industrial food and agricultural systems (and how to overcome these obstacles), I had this vague but nagging feeling that I was missing something of importance and value to help hold this big picture all together.
The thread that finally stitched this much wider view of food all together for me was a discussion with my friend Ruth where she described a class she was teaching at her church about gratitude. She shared her handout with me, on which she included several graces from a wide variety of religious and literary sources. Even though saying prayers of thanks before a meal was not part of my upbringing, except perhaps at holiday meals, I instantly understood that the act of expressing gratefulness prior to each meal for my many blessings, which included the healthy food I was cooking, was my "missing link".
My husband and I have read the graces from Ruth's handout plus from the book Bless This Food:Ancient and Contemporary Graces from around the World by Adrian Butash on a daily basis for almost two years now. The moment it takes to read a grace before a meal gives me a connection to all lives and their ecosystems on our planet, and thus is a deeply spiritual act for me.
I've likely gone out on a limb here with this posting, and I welcome your feedback to my initial thoughts about yet one more possible reason why people have become so disconnected from their food and don't cook, knowing that all reasons are very worthy topics for discussion and action (plus I fully understand that I have not even touched on the vitally important topics of accessibility to and affordability of good, clean, and fair food for all people in this posting).
My deepest hope is that people will not need a health crisis like I had to open their eyes, mind, and their heart to expressing simple yet profound gratitude for their food, for an opportunity to make changes in what they eat, and for the opportunity and inspiration to either 'go back to cooking again' or begin for the first time with foods that are healthy for one's personal health plus the health of our families, our local communities, and our planet.
Yes, we still eat pizza. :-) However, it is very rare that we order home delivery pizza. It is much more common that we make our own. Really, it is easy! However, it does require planning. Here are two photos of our home-made pizzas: (1) one of the individual heart-shaped pizzas I made on Valentine's Day in 2007 (before I started blogging) and (2) a photo of a pizza recipe from my 365DaysofKale blog that has (yes!) kale as an ingredient. :-)
I will end with two of my favorite graces.
Be a gardener, dig a ditch, toil and sweat,
And turn the earth upside down
And seed the deepness
And water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
And make sweet floods to run
And noble and abundant fruits to spring.
Take this food and drink
And carry it to God
As your true worship.
~~Julian of Norwich, c.1373
The food which we are about to eat
Is Earth, Water, and Sun, compounded
Through the alchemy of many plants.
Therefore Earth, Water and Sun will become part of us.
This food is also the fruit of the labor of many beings and creatures.
We are grateful for it.
May it give us strength, health, joy.
And may it increase our love.
Final note - Please understand that I am not espousing any particular religion, nor any religion at all, with my post today. In the end, I think my awareness and practice of expressing gratitude prior to eating my food does distill down to the last line of the second grace, "and may it increase our love". Indeed, food can increase our love and respect for all life on this earth in the deepest possible sense. I hope it does for you, too. :-)
Diana Dyer, MS, RD