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← Why we don't cook anymore | Ken Albala | TEDxSanJoaquin

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Showing Revision 29 created 07/09/2018 by Peter van de Ven.

  1. So, I'm going to speak to you today
    partly about why people don't cook anymore

  2. but also more importantly,
    I think, why people should.
  3. It's an idea which sounds so very simple;
    I hope it will prove revolutionary,
  4. and I'm going to try and argue why
    people should spend time in the kitchen.
  5. Actually, I really wanted to have it
    written on my hands - "Go cook!"
  6. I didn't do it, but I'll do it afterwards.
  7. Think about this for a second -
  8. In the past 20 years,
  9. there has been a meteoric rise
    in interest in cooking.
  10. I mean, you see it everywhere.
  11. It's in popular media;
  12. there are best-selling books
    about food and about cooking;
  13. there are TV programs
    about cooking all over the place;
  14. there are magazines -
  15. just everywhere you look
    in the media, someone is cooking,
  16. and I should say that this,
    kind of interestingly,
  17. also in the past 20 years,
    has spilled into academic interest.
  18. You will see food conferences proliferate;
  19. there are several huge encyclopedias,
  20. food series, journals,
  21. and of course, college classes -
    I teach one of those.
  22. So it's not just in the popular media;
  23. it's pretty much everywhere
    you see people obsessed with food,
  24. which is great.
  25. But oddly enough, at the same time
    that this is happening,
  26. all evidence shows that there is
    a decline in actual cooking at home.
  27. Of course, there are some people who cook,
  28. some crazy people
    who just love spending time there.
  29. Interestingly, the studies show
    it's men increasingly cooking,
  30. which is very interesting.
  31. But on a whole, if we look
    at the average American,
  32. we cook less, we spend less time
    in the kitchen than before,
  33. and that should seem
    sort of weird to you, right?
  34. But I think there's evidence
    that shows this,
  35. just sort of anecdotally, if you go
    through your average supermarket,
  36. you stroll down the aisles,
    especially the center aisles - notice -
  37. you will see a proliferation
    of convenience foods.
  38. And what do I mean by that?
  39. There's canned foods;
  40. there are frozen foods,
    a whole huge aisle just for frozen foods;
  41. and things which I'd call sort of prefab,
  42. and that doesn't necessarily
    mean pre-made meals,
  43. it means things that kind of give you
    the illusion that you're cooking
  44. but you're not really.
  45. A cake mix, I think,
    is the best best thing, right?
  46. It takes the same amount of labour
    to put together a cake mix
  47. as it does to put together
    raw ingredients,
  48. but they charge more for that cake mix.
  49. And you sort of walk away feeling happy -
    "I cooked something, look what I made!"
  50. Now, I want to really ask this,
    in all seriousness,
  51. is this a kind of conspiracy
    on the part of the food industry?
  52. Did they set out to say,
  53. "Let's make sure these people
    don't know how to cook;
  54. let's ruin all their skills;
  55. within one generation, we're going
    to make sure no one can do anything
  56. so they become dependent on us,
    on the stuff we make."
  57. And I don't think anyone,
    well, maybe they did,
  58. but I don't think anyone
    actually sat down and decided that,
  59. but it's clear what they did
  60. is they realized that if we do things
    that are "value-added,"
  61. that's the term the industry uses,
  62. if we can charge more for product
    because we have prepared it -
  63. we've done something to it,
    so it costs more -
  64. we'll increase our profit margins.
  65. Very simple.
  66. You take a box of Tater Tots
    and the same weight of potatoes,
  67. these cost a lot more;
  68. Tater Tots make more profit, so they
    will do that sort of thing for you.
  69. Okay? Again, a prefab food
    is to make profit, right?
  70. Now, I was thinking, well, okay,
    so people eat some processed food,
  71. but the statistics I found
    are actually slightly alarming.
  72. Processed food accounts for
    80% of food sold in the U.S.
  73. That's in terms of profits.
  74. It's not the volume,
    the weight or anything;
  75. it's the money that is made in food:
    80% of that is not cooked in a real way.
  76. The USDA says that in terms of volume,
  77. we eat 31% more packaged food than fresh.
  78. So, convenience foods are -
  79. this is a fact,
    I'm not just making this up -
  80. are sort of taking over
    the landscape of our food ways.
  81. There are other things that are important,
  82. microwave ovens, you know,
    simplicity of preparing these things now.
  83. I think it's also very clear -
    and this is just anecdotal evidence -
  84. that eating out has proliferated,
    and people have done studies on this,
  85. that we're eating out a lot more,
    and it's not high-end restaurants,
  86. especially since the economy has slid,
  87. it tends to be what they call
    "downscale casual restaurants,"
  88. things which, I guess -
  89. just drive up and down Pacific Avenue
    or across March Lane,
  90. and you will see, you know,
    Applebee's, Chili’s, TGIF,
  91. Red Lobster, Marie Callender's;
    there's dozens of them!
  92. That’s not even to mention the fast food,
  93. just these sort of chain restaurants
    that are prefab, homogenized,
  94. things shipped in from elsewhere,
  95. and of course, just sort of
    warmed up there, and you eat it,
  96. but that's on the rise as is takeout,
  97. that's another phenomenon
    that is meteoric in rise.
  98. And the weird thing is,
    this whole entire phenomenon,
  99. is the more we watch cooking on TV
    and read about it magazines,
  100. the less we actually do it, okay?
  101. It's sort of like sports or sex, right?
  102. People want to watch it a lot,
  103. but the more we watch of it,
    the less of it actually happens.
  104. I don't know how they know that
    about sex but, it's ...
  105. (Laughter)
  106. What's weird is -
    stop and think for a second -
  107. these are really
    biological necessities, right?
  108. We need to eat, feed ourselves.
  109. We need to compete;
    that's hardwired in our systems.
  110. We need to reproduce.
  111. And yet, as a society,
    we're not doing so much of that,
  112. we're not as good at it
    as we used to be.
  113. I don't know.
  114. In any case, it is what
    food historians call "deskilling,"
  115. and I think you can see it.
  116. You just turn on the TV
    and watch any food TV program;
  117. it's really not about instruction anymore.
  118. I mean, in the days of Julia Child,
    she'd stand in front of the table,
  119. flop a chicken down and say,
    "Here's how to cut it up."
  120. That just doesn't happen anymore, right?
  121. It's now about entertainment;
    it's now about competition;
  122. it's about, you know, someone
    trying to build the highest cake;
  123. it's about eating weird things;
    it's about traveling -
  124. very little of it is actually
    instruction anymore.
  125. Now here's a question -
    I'm a historian, so I always ask,
  126. "If we cook less,
    what's the real evidence?"
  127. That implies that in the past,
    people must have cooked more, right?
  128. Somehow they were cooking up
    a storm back then,
  129. and today, we just don't anymore.
  130. Well, the evidence is a little
    contradictory, I have to admit.
  131. You know, if we look at the past,
  132. we tend to think
    that cheap, fast restaurants
  133. are a modern phenomenon - they are not.
  134. Every city would have had its,
    you know, sort of cafeterias and taverns
  135. and places where you could just go
    and find cheap, quick food.
  136. Fast food is its own phenomenon,
    but it exists in the past also.
  137. There also -
  138. Very interestingly, if you look
    at the way people lived in cities,
  139. tenements often didn't have
    cooking facilities.
  140. That means people had to
    eat out, necessarily.
  141. There were also things
    like boarding houses,
  142. where you'd live there,
    and they would feed you,
  143. and that's a very common phenomenon,
  144. just a hundred years ago.
  145. So what other kind of evidence is there?
  146. If you look at cookbooks per se -
  147. I like to tell people cookbooks
  148. are absolutely no indication
    of what people in the past ate
  149. nor today, for that matter.
  150. They're really aspirational.
  151. People read them;
    they're sort of, you know,
  152. they're prescriptive,
    they're not descriptive.
  153. You open them up, sit in your armchair,
    say, "Oh, wouldn't that be nice to make?"
  154. you put it away, right?
  155. Rarely do people cook out of them,
  156. but I do have to say,
  157. 150 years ago, cookbooks were
    a lot more complicated than they are now.
  158. The techniques that they're talking about,
    the range of ingredients,
  159. I mean, even 200 years ago,
  160. there's a recipe
    for how to cook a whole turtle,
  161. I mean things that we just
    would never think of doing anymore.
  162. And it is a fact that 150 years ago,
    there were no convenience foods.
  163. Canning was not yet - it was invented,
    but no one was really using it.
  164. There were no frozen foods;
    there were no prepared meals,

  165. and I think also, very importantly,
    there was a much lower urban populations,
  166. so people who lived out in the country
    had to cook if they wanted to eat.
  167. It doesn't mean it's good,
    but they had to cook.
  168. Let me give you some percentages.
  169. Recently, the percentage
    of home-cooked meals
  170. cooked from scratch
  171. dropped from 72% in 1980 to 59% in 2010,
  172. I don't know how they document that,
    but that's statistics, okay?
  173. Now, looking at this situation,
    nutritionists have thought about this,
  174. government bureaus
    have thought about this,
  175. obviously the USDA and everyone
    are thinking, typically,
  176. "What do we do about this situation?
    We must educate people."
  177. And you all know there's been
    a slew of programs
  178. like to teach cooking in grade school;
  179. there have been school gardens,
    which have been very successful;
  180. culinary courses in community colleges,
    extension programs;
  181. and, of course, more cookbooks.
  182. They just keep churning these things out.
  183. There's also a whole brand
    of nutrition education,
  184. which means, "Let's try
    this shape pyramid.
  185. No, that doesn't work;
    let's try another pyramid."
  186. It's all very politically driven,
    you probably know.
  187. You know, milk and meat
    and grain and corn;
  188. that's what we grow in this country,
    so that's what shows up on the pyramid.
  189. And I think the nutrition education -
  190. the funny thing about it
    is it never works.
  191. One of the topics I've written about
    is nutritional theory 500 years ago.
  192. No one paid attention to it then,
  193. and, I think, for the most part,
    they don't do it today either.
  194. People really want what tastes good
    and not really what's good for you.
  195. And the tendency of these cookbooks
    and the education,
  196. in general, has been to simplify
    simplify, dumb down everything;
  197. if we have to tell them
    how to boil water, we will.
  198. The other thing, which is
    my own personal ax to grind,
  199. is the modern recipe format.
  200. Think of what happens
    when you open up a cookbook.
  201. It has to be a list of ingredients;
  202. it's assuming you work
    in a professional kitchen -
  203. we'll need your mise-en-place.
  204. It has very precise measurements;
  205. if you put a quarter-of-an-inch more,
    a cup more of something in that,
  206. it's going to be ruined,
  207. or, Heaven forbid, you substitute
    something else, it won't work.
  208. This is the implication.
  209. Very precise cooking times,
  210. which with the exception
    of maybe cakes and cookies,
  211. how long you cook something,
    really doesn't matter.
  212. And think of it this way:
  213. how many people here have a GPS device?
  214. One of those things
    that navigates for you.
  215. Think of what that does
    to your ability to navigate intuitively,
  216. to look at a map and just say,
  217. "I'm heading north,
    maybe I should go this way."
  218. GPS devices have caused people
    to drive onto railroad tracks:
  219. "I'm following the directions,
    right? It's got to be right."
  220. The same thing has happened in cooking.
  221. Precise, precise recipes calls people
  222. to trust the recipe
    and not their instincts,
  223. not what really is going on in the pan,
    not what they could see!
  224. It says, "Bake this for one hour."
  225. Even if it's burning in the oven,
  226. they'll say, "Oh, it says.
    The recipe says. I have to follow it."
  227. Now, I totally understand
    why cookbook authors do this.
  228. They need to copyright their work, right?
  229. They want to write
    very specific directions.
  230. They want to be original and new
    so they can have a niche in the market,
  231. and they, therefore,
    have to make things original.
  232. Therefore, they're going to give you
    something as precisely worded as possible,
  233. and I think it is dangerous.
  234. I think it's really ruined
    our ability to cook.
  235. So let me give you my solution.
  236. I hope this sounds as revolutionary to you
    as it did when it first occurred to me.
  237. As I say, let's lose cookbooks;
    let's toss them in the trash,
  238. and especially this modern format.
  239. You're probably saying,
  240. "Hey, wait a minute,
    doesn't he write cookbooks?"
  241. I do, but they're not cookbooks.
  242. They don't have measurements,
    cooking times or anything like that.
  243. They're really to teach you
    how to cook intuitively;
  244. they're there to tell you
    how to use a certain ingredient,
  245. what kind of technique will work
    on that ingredient,
  246. what procedure could work,
  247. and I think that way
    it becomes a lot more fun.
  248. You're not just there, slavishly
    following my directions because I said so;
  249. you're finding an ingredient
    and "Hmm, let's try this with it!"
  250. And if you fail, so what?
    There’s food tomorrow.
  251. But it teaches you to cook.
  252. I think spending more time in the kitchen,
    doing these kind of basic tasks,
  253. I think we have a problem
    in that we consider that a chore.
  254. We think this is something
    you just got to get it over with,
  255. get it done as quickly as possible;
  256. taste doesn't really matter,
    get it in, it's fuel,
  257. go on to more important things.
  258. Well, honestly, what is more important?
  259. I hear people tell me, "I love to eat,
    I love food, I love this."
  260. "Did you cook something today?" "No."
  261. I stopped on the way, or something.
  262. So I think the important thing to do
  263. is stop thinking that quick,
    convenient, easy, simple things
  264. are worth your energy.
  265. They're not; they're usually junk.
  266. And start thinking about things
    that take a long time
  267. or that are difficult
    or even that are dangerous.
  268. I twisted my back something awful,
    picking olives the other day -
  269. I crush them by hand.
  270. It was a silly thing to do,
    I don't recommend it,
  271. but still, it's just the willingness
    to just get in the kitchen,
  272. see what happens and have fun.
  273. I think the result of this idea
  274. is that people will spend
    a lot more time in the kitchen,
  275. perhaps less time watching TV
    or other non-active, passive, things.
  276. I think cooking will be a lot more fun;
    it'll be a creative outlet.
  277. I hate to say it, but there is no way
    microwaving popcorn is fun -
  278. it's just putting something
    in the microwave -
  279. or even following someone else's recipe
    just doesn't sound like fun to me,
  280. and, I think, most importantly
  281. is even those people who really
    love to cook, when do they do it?
  282. When they're entertaining,
    maybe on the weekend,
  283. maybe as a kind of hobby.
  284. It shouldn't be a hobby; it should be
    an integral part of people's lives.
  285. It should be something they do every day.
  286. Let me make a proposition.
  287. It's going to sound
    sort of weird and arbitrary,
  288. I think people should spend
    at least an hour every day cooking.
  289. And I say this only because the US
    Department of Labor’s survey in 2010
  290. said that the average American -
  291. and this is as a head of household;
    it doesn't count the kids -
  292. spent 32 minutes each day
    preparing food and cleaning up.
  293. That means - let's divide that
    by several meals, perhaps,
  294. and half that time is cleaning up,
  295. so 15 minutes per dinner -
    that's about average -
  296. compared to 2 hours
    and 45 minutes watching TV.
  297. Unproductive and, obviously,
    very productive to spend cooking.
  298. And I think the most important thing
  299. is that sharing food
    is fundamentally satisfying;
  300. it's what makes us human:
  301. feeding, sustaining other people,
    giving them nourishment,
  302. taking your creative energy,
    letting it flow through something living
  303. and making it sustain us
  304. is the most valuable, rewarding thing
    you can do for others,
  305. and of course, it's the basis
    of all of our rituals, right?
  306. You never have a party without eating,
  307. you never do anything
    without somehow consummating that
  308. by sharing food, breaking bread,
    whatever it may be.
  309. I think it is fundamentally
    a spiritual thing for our species.
  310. You might argue also fresh food
    is better for your health.
  311. That's not my primary concern here,
    but that's what physicians tell us:
  312. food prepared from scratch
    tends to have less,
  313. you know, preservatives
    and other junk in it,
  314. but the one thing I will argue is that
    preparing food from scratch is cheaper.
  315. Go to McDonald’s.
  316. I tried to find out the price
    of a hamburger, online last night;

  317. it's impossible to find, I don't know why.
  318. I'm guessing it's probably
    about three bucks.
  319. And then by the time you get there,
    by the time you wait in line,
  320. you know, spend all this time,
  321. think of how much a pound
    of ground beef costs -
  322. let's say you're really
    money conscious here - $1.99.
  323. If it's a quarter pound hamburger,
  324. that's four people you're feeding
    for $1.99, plus buns, whatever,
  325. it's always cheaper to cook
    at home, always, always.
  326. And I think, also, knowing more
    about food and where it comes from,
  327. how it’s processed
  328. will inevitably make people
    more responsible eaters.
  329. They're going to start thinking,
  330. "How does this food choice
    impact the environment?
  331. Was this animal sustainably raised
    and in concern for its own welfare?"
  332. They'll start thinking
    about things like food security.
  333. By that I don't mean
    poop poisoning the food supply,
  334. I mean the access
    that people have to food.
  335. One of my favorite exercises
    to do with my food class
  336. is I have half the class go to
    a supermarket right south of campus,
  337. and another go to a supermarket uptown,
    more affluent neighborhood.
  338. The food is cheaper uptown.
  339. The further south you go,
    the more expensive it gets.
  340. The people who don't have
    the money to spend pay more
  341. because there's fewer supermarkets -
    it's not as profitable, obviously.
  342. That's a weird thing in this country.
  343. I think also when you start
    cooking from ingredients,
  344. you feel bad wasting food.
  345. By that I mean just an animal.
  346. Imagine you're buying
    a big hunk of animal,
  347. you feel kind of bad:
  348. this animal is giving its life for me,
    and I'm tossing some of it in the trash.
  349. You don't feel that way
  350. when you get an unidentifiable piece
    of slab of meat in a plastic package.
  351. That's not an animal,
    that’s a piece of meat;
  352. it doesn't come from anyone.
  353. I think it will make us
    think more carefully
  354. about what we eat, in better ways,
    and not waste food.
  355. Food waste is one of the biggest
    problems in this country.
  356. Most importantly,
    I think food will taste better.
  357. When people start trusting
    their instincts in the kitchen,
  358. it will not be laden with artificial
    flavor enhancers and salt and sugar.
  359. Food will start to taste
    like itself again,
  360. and I have to say,
  361. when people ask me where I live,
    I say Central Valley, San Joaquin Valley.
  362. The best thing about living here
  363. is unfathomably good produce,
    fruits and vegetables,
  364. great wine just north of town,
    asparagus in the Delta -
  365. I mean, the best thing
    about living here is the food,
  366. and yet people don't seem
    to be so thrilled about it.
  367. Let me tell you a very brief, quick story.
  368. Several years ago, it was announced
    in the Stockton record
  369. that we would be getting
    our own Olive Garden.
  370. This was a cause for celebration
    because, of course,
  371. it's an index of material prosperity.
  372. If they will open an Olive Garden
    in town, everyone's happy.
  373. And the Stockton Record reporter said,
    "Will you say a couple of comments?"
  374. and I said, "Well, I've only eaten
    in an Olive Garden once or twice,
  375. a long time ago, on the East Coast,
    and it was deplorable!
  376. It was absolutely disgusting,
    vile, heinous filth!"
  377. I said something like that,
    I don't know ...
  378. And the guy, of course, quoted me on that,
  379. and everyone in Stockton seems to,
  380. "How dare you? We love Olive Garden!
    I take my grandpa there, and he loves it!"
  381. And I was like, "Okay, do you know
    how Olive Garden makes that food?
  382. They don't go to Italy to train.
  383. They get a little package,
    and they microwave it, serve it to you.
  384. Sorry, they don't eat
    greasy breadsticks in Italy,
  385. they just don't do it."
  386. Even apart from that, the part
    that this reporter did not mention
  387. is that I said, "We have the best food
    in the whole country, right here,
  388. and people are going
    to Olive Garden, that's pathetic!"
  389. Another thing -
  390. I think cooking your food is going
    to make you appreciate the seasons,
  391. appreciate that
    when something is good,
  392. you eat it every day, you glut on it,
  393. and then you forget about it
    for the rest of the year.
  394. When you go into the supermarket
  395. and you see those sad,
    pathetic fruits or tomatoes
  396. that have been sitting on the shelf,
  397. they're not grown for flavor,
  398. they're grown so they can ship
    and look nice when they arrive.
  399. And people wonder, why don’t children
    eat fruits and vegetables?
  400. Well, they taste awful.
    It's as simple as that! Right?
  401. Have them seasonal.
  402. They should show up a month or so
    in the summer and then disappear,
  403. and I think that would be great.
  404. And in conclusion, let me just say
  405. that I think cooking from scratch,
    and especially without recipes,
  406. without the kind of trepidation
    or fear that you're going to fail
  407. and not impress people, who cares?
  408. I think the more people
    get in the kitchen and have fun,
  409. the better food will taste, in general,
  410. the more connected
    people will be to their food,
  411. and the more willing they will be
    to spend time in the kitchen
  412. and to share their food,
  413. and I have to say,
    that I hope that the attitude
  414. that somehow cooking
    is not time well spent -
  415. there are surveys that suggests
    Americans don't think that -
  416. I think it's completely erroneous.
  417. It's the best time you can possibly spend,
  418. fitting it into your working schedule -
  419. my God,
  420. if I think of all the time
    getting my kids to one place or another -
  421. but cooking is absolutely essential,
    and without it, we would not exist.
  422. Thank you.
  423. (Applause)