Decline of Home Cooking

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Fri Aug 25, 2023 · 1832 words · 10 min
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Food has been among our earliest needs. Whether we learned hunting or discovered fire, it indirectly helped us get better food and progress our civilization.

Even in the modern era, food forms one of our basic needs. The classical Hindi phrase "Roti Kapda Aur Makaan", i.e. "Food, Cloth and House", aptly highlights the basic necessities of life.

Yet, we've ended up at a point where we're looking at a future where cooking might become a lost art.

American Situation

(Because the East often follows trends that the West already exhibited earlier, the discussion starts from America)

I won't quote any specific statistic since nearly all point towards a sharp decline in consumption of home-cooked food during the 1960s-90s. Some statistics after the 90s show home-cooked food on decline while others mark it as more or less stagnant.

The reason for this difference in statistics post-90s can be attributed to how different studies consider different items to be home-cooked or not. (If you buy frozen fries, and fry them at home, is it home-cooked?)

Regardless, it's clear that there has been a considerable decline in the consumption of home-cooked food in the West. Proper restaurants are expensive, but with the rise of fast food chains, prevalence of frozen food, packaged meals, takeaway meals at supermarkets, etc., even those with lesser purchasing power can skip cooking at home. A recent study [1] has hinted at how Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status are cooking less than they had in the past.

It is no surprise that the American population is also struggling with obesity and health disorders (especially heart-related).

Indian Situation

With growing incomes among the educated class, they don't hesitate to pay for food prepared by someone else. Eating out is no longer reserved for special occasions. Cooking at home is seen as a waste of time because we've been brainwashed into thinking that any activity is futile if it doesn't have economic returns.

Food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato have experienced very high growth in recent years. This has made it incredibly easy to have a meal from outside your home. An increasing number of families are relying on such apps regularly for their daily meals.

We are looking at the same American situation being mirrored here - higher eating-related health issues and cultural erosion.

Cooking as Culture and Oral Traditions

I have often seen my mum ask her mum about recipes they used to have in older days. These recipes aren't recorded anywhere. They are oral traditions, passed on from one generation to the next. Going to the kitchen and cooking is the only way to preserve this culture and generational wealth.

As a simple example, I never knew cauliflower leaves were edible and they taste good if cooked the right way. This happened only after we grew cauliflowers in our garden and my mum one fine morning served us cooked cauliflower leaves.

But, even if I want to eat cauliflower leaves, it is possible for an average city dweller to buy them? Nope. They don't sell it in the market. I was lucky to have enjoyed them because I could grow them. But who does agriculture these days, duh? (/s)

This is a major problem for urban families having rural or tribal roots. Rural and tribal cultures had knowledge of a much wider variety of edible fruits, vegetables, leaves, and tubers [2]. A lot of such edibles and recipes are unknown to us even now and on the verge of extinction. Most of those edibles aren't sold in the market. So people having settled in a city eventually lose touch with their traditional foods.

Festivals or occasions (like weddings) in my culture call for specific dishes to be cooked. It's a tradition, which in turn is our identity. Preserving them is a statement against the monoculture spread by capitalists. Commercialization of food won't preserve the cultural capital our societies had.

Breaking the Classical Stereotype Causing Decline in Home Cooked Meals?

In India, cooking has classically been a skill sought after in women. With women being in charge of the more important role of managing the house, they were expected to know - among other things - cooking too.

With the growth of liberal thinking and the idea that women should have the right to choose what they want to do (they actually should), more and more women are spending less time at the stove. On the surface, it looks like job responsibilities are the number one reason why cooking at home is becoming a thing of the past. However, simply blaming a working woman doesn't lead us to the cause.

It's the shift in perception about the responsibilities at home. The important aspects of life (i.e. family, home etc) have been reduced to the tag of "unpaid chores" now. Undervaluation of a woman's contribution to the house has made them seek value and validation elsewhere. This thinking has led even non-working women to reduce time spent cooking at home and instead delegate the work to a paid cook or just simply order food. Concepts like no-work-Sundays are also gaining traction where a stay-at-home-woman doesn't do any of the housework on weekends, in pursuit of enjoying holidays the way their male counterparts do.

All this lies in the fact that society now sees cooking as a chore rather than an integral part of human culture. And its a common trend now - a lot of such activities that didn't have economic output, but instead fulfilled a more important purpose of keeping families happy together are being washed out into oblivion.

Male Perception is Also Hurting the Outcome

The male perception about cooking also has its own flaws. While a lot of men from the educated class have thankfully acknowledged the fact that women don't "belong" to the kitchen, they've grossly failed to acknowledge that men too can enter the kitchen.

This in turn fuels the desire in some women to also totally give up on cooking. They'll happily accept being ordered around by their bosses at their office, but won't take up responsibilities at home.

Men, or families as a whole, need to understand that one doesn't have to "belong" to the kitchen to cook food. People work at an office 10 hours a day, but they don't "belong" there.

I believe that liberal and free thinking should've resulted in more men joining hands with women to make meals and bringing a positive shift from the older setting where the kitchen used to be a place for women only. Sadly, the opposite has happened. An important part of the house - the kitchen - is becoming a neglected corner where neither men nor women are choosing to step in. "Progress" is making us give up responsibilities rather than letting us share them.

Just Why Should You Cook

Cooking as an activity goes far beyond just providing bits to fuel our body. It is a way to ensure our overall well being and form better relationships. We should stop seeing cooking as an "unpaid domestic chore" and instead enjoy the process.

Emotional and Social Effects of Cooking

These benefits are backed by research and aren't mere opinions.

A 2021 research paper [3] highlights how cooking can contribute to overall well-being by intersecting it with the PERMA model - positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.

A 2017 research paper [4] acknowledges how there is limited research on the connection between cooking and psychosocial aspects, but the trend of positive correlation suggests that cooking should have positive psychosocial outcomes. It highlights that different research papers have taken up the matter of well-being from different perspectives. Some papers bring out the positive relationship between cooking and improvement in self-esteem and/or confidence. Others relate cooking to a better mood and quality of life.

A recent paper published in March 2023 [5] takes us to Japan where a big chunk of the population is in older stages of life. The research focused on men and women aged 65 or above and tried to bring out the relation between cooking skills and social relationships. This research also concluded in favour of cooking, highlighting how cooking skills led to better social relationships, which is increasingly important for the elderly to prevent social isolation and age-induced mental health issues.

Anyone who cooks regularly - as an enjoyable daily activity and not as a chore - knows that cooking has an important role to play in mental well-being and satisfaction.

To carry on your culture and family

As I highlighted above, cooking has for long carried forth our culutre and oral traditions. Clothing, food and rituals are important pillars of a culture. There's an endless ocean of recipes that await you once you depart on your journey to explore what foods your culture has got to offer.

Cooking also has a positive role to play in keeping families happier (if both partners take up the activity). On a lazy evening, heading to the kitchen with your partner and trying to cook a new dish could be a better bonding exercise than binging a Netflix show silently.

Cooking as an Expression of Love

Cooking is a never-ending method to express love to someone. When I'm eating home-cooked food, its value goes far beyond just the taste. I realize how someone to whom I attach importance, put time and effort into cooking something for me.

Days are busy and time is limited. In this wound-up world, taking out time to cook something for the beloved is a method I often resort to.

I don't equate it to a love language. Humans have relied on food since inception and there has to be an inbuilt positive emotion attached to food someone cooked for you with love.

Next time you think of a Starbucks or Theos date, instead ask her what dish she likes and make it yourself.

[1] : Trends in US home food preparation and consumption: analysis of national nutrition surveys and time use studies from 1965–1966 to 2007–2008 :

[2] : Tribal women’s collective in Wayanad on a mission to conserve tubers :

[3] : Well-Being and Cooking Behavior: Using the Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (PERMA) Model as a Theoretical Framework :

[4] : Psychosocial Benefits of Cooking Interventions: A Systematic Review :

[5] : Associations of Cooking Skill with Social Relationships and Social Capital among Older Men and Women in Japan: Results from the JAGES :

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