It’s true – magazines, television and other popular media increasingly urge families to return to the kitchen, stressing the importance of home-cooked meals and family dinners for both physical health and emotional strength.
It’s almost like a sick joke to finally push for things that are so out of reach for the average family. Especially after decades of culture creation eroding family life away, and an economy deeper in the toilet than ever before. So what could researchers have to offer? But first…
Foodist “extraordinaire” Michael Pollan wowed audiences with this obvious gem – that the average family spends four minutes in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner. And oh, what could they possibly be eating with a four-minute cleanup, with nary enough time to wash pots and pans? I didn’t get swept away by his Chomsky-esque observations. I first heard about him for his standing up for the Food Safety Modernization Act a few years ago – a sweeping power giveaway to the FDA à la global Codex guidelines. It will do the opposite of keeping food affordable, safe or local.
So one must ask himself – how helpful are these astute observations?
The stress adds an intolerable pressure for sure, but it’s kind of like they are suggesting it just isn’t worth it – the whole family thing is just so passe these days. (There’s more of course…)
And just like Pollan’s rumblings, how much help will this incredible discovery provide?
This paper actually goes under the name of “The Joy of Cooking?,” published online in Contexts. It was supported by a grant called Agriculture and Food Research Initiative from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. When families have been forced into life without cooking – it’s time for government intervention!
Basically, they were studying the relationship and gap presented in popular culture and the realities that people live with when it comes to feeding their children. The researchers interviewed 150 females in families with children between the ages of 2 and 8, as well as conducting observations of 12 of these families for a total of 250 hours.
From Dr. Sinikka Elliot:
We found that middle-class, working-class, and poor families faced some similar challenges. For example, mothers from all backgrounds reported difficulty in finding time to prepare meals that everyone in the family would be willing to eat.
In addition, middle-class mothers reported being torn between their desire to spend quality time with their children and the expectation that they needed to provide the children with a home-cooked meal. Middle-class mothers were concerned that they weren’t able to give their kids the best possible meals because they couldn’t afford to buy all organic foods.
Poor families, meanwhile, faced more severe restrictions. Their financial limitations made it more difficult for them to afford fresh produce, find transportation to grocery stories, or have access to the kitchen tools needed to prepare meals – such as sharp knives, stoves, or pots and pans. (I guess that answers Michael Pollan’s ponderings)
Poor mothers also skipped meals and stood in long lines at non-profit food pantries to provide food for their children.
This idea of a home-cooked meal is appealing, but it’s unrealistic for a lot of families. We as a society need to develop creative solutions to support families and help share the work of providing kids with healthy meals. [emphasis added]
What pray tell, would they be?
There are a lot of ways we could do this, from community kitchens where families work together to arranging to-go meals from schools. There is no one answer. But we hope this work inspires people to start thinking outside the family kitchen about broader things we as a society can do when it comes to food and health. [emphasis added]
It appears that the family has ultimately played the smallest role in this research….
There are enough problems facing quality in the food system as it is. And yes, there are people who do and have in the past, gotten together to help with food prep – as a choice. But the crux of the food problem is the economy. Without good jobs for a long time (thanks “free trade,” thanks Wall St.), access to healthy foods and the time to prepare them is shredded, making it that much harder to withstand the face of food monopolies. Latchkey graduates know the cycle well.
So, the answer to a race to the bottom is to be herded together into state-sponsored kitchen gatherings where we all labor together for all? With our new communal family? With what food? How is that different than standing for hours in food lines? What comes next?
Hefty grants provided to research like the above, while maybe are good for a reality check, are a thinly veiled attempt to influence Americans to keep their place, eschew their families for the societal family and get used to austerity.
Maybe it’s time to stop thinking in terms of tightening our belts, but taking them off.
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