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Books, Documentaries, Reviews AND Interesting Information: No Time To Cook

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews AND Interesting Information:  July 11, 2014

No Time To Cook


I’m so enjoying this summer.

In the mornings, I’m getting up early, feeding and releasing the chickens from their coop, feeding the dogs, making a big cup of tea, and sitting on my back deck with a book for at least an hour before really starting my day.

At night, before bed, I read fiction.  In these early morning hours, I am reading mostly nonfiction.  My current book is Michael Pollen’s Cooked, which I’m really enjoying in all kinds of ways.  I love the way Pollen THINKS about his subjects as it’s thinking that is informed by a lot of research of all kinds–to include spending time cooking.


I’ve waded through the “fire” section–which is all about roasting meat over coals and all the implications of this very male form of cooking.  Think pit barbecue.

I’ve almost finished “water”–which involves stewing, souping, braising–or cooking in a pot with aromatics and liquids.  This “water” section also takes on the fact that we say we have no TIME to cook any more.  If buying food saves us thirty minutes a day, what are we doing with that time?

But wait!  Does buying food really save us thirty minutes?  Does going to a restaurant?

Americans work longer than any other industrial nation, writes Pollen.  Since 1967, we’ve added 167 hours, or the equivalent of a month’s full-time labor, to our work year.  With two parents involved, the amount is more like 400 hours.  Why?

This probably owes to the fact that, historically, the priority of the American labor movement has been to fight for money, whereas the European labor movement has fought harder for time–a shorter workweek, longer vacations.  Not surprisingly, in those countries where people still take home cooking seriously, as they do in much of Europe, they also have more time to devote to it (183).

And these people who cook are thinner, Pollen points out in a number of places in the book:  “the more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate obesity” (191, 192).

So, we spend more time working.  We spend more time on the car.  We spend more time shopping.  We spend more time in front of screens (35 hours a week on average watching tv), surfing the Web (13 hours), and playing games on our smart phones.

Folks, WE HAVE TIME TO COOK good food.  It’s always already about the choices we are making, isn’t it?

We’re also doing a lot of what is called “secondary eating”–or eating while doing something else:  watching tv, driving, getting dressed, and so on.  We now spend 78 minutes a day in secondary eating and drinking (190).

Pollen and his family try an experiment:  Microwave Night.

He and his son go to the grocery store to pick out a dish for each person–three dishes (the third for his wife) and a dessert.  The total cost was $27.  (Pollen notes that he could have bought grass fed beef and veggies for a stew that would feed the family for two nights for the same amount of money.)  Their first obstacle is to buy food that has recognizable ingredients and isn’t full of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soy).  Their second is realizing that some of their foods have packages that announce that they need to be cooked in the oven for best results and will take up to 45 minutes.

To make a longer story short, it takes an hour to microwave all the food–and at no time can they sit down together at the table as someone is always checking on the dishes in the microwave or their food isn’t ready yet, or is, but is getting cold.  Dinner time was a disaster in terms of family time.  The food also all tasted “remarkably similar”–no matter how exotically different–and much like what airline food used to taste like.

The next night, they ate a stew, visited over the table, and were relaxed and energized.  The stew had been in the refrigerator since Sunday–when it had been cooked for the week–a practice Pollen has worked into his schedule.

By the time the sweet smells of allspice, juniper, and clove began to fill the house, Isaac and Judith had gravitated to the kitchen; I never had to call them to dinner.  I brought the pot out to the table, and began serving everyone from it (200).

For the first time all day, it felt like we were all on the same page, and though it would be overstating things to credit that feeling entirely to the delicious braise, it would also be wrong to think that eating the same thing from the same pot, this weeknight communion of the casserole, had nothing to do with it, either (201)

So, I’m looking forward to the Air and Earth sections of Cooked.

And I remain certain that I will continue to “occupy my kitchen”–as I have all of my adult life.