Cook at Home: Save Money, Save the Country

When I was just starting out as an adult, my mother chastised me for eating out too often (which was never more than a few times a week). She said eating out would make me sick and fat. I didn’t know if she was correct, but since that time, if I ate out more than twice a week, her voice would haunt me and I would eat at home for weeks as penance.

My mother has always been my food role model. She worked full time but still cooked dinner from scratch every night (we ate leftover too). We would often eat around 8pm but we never ever ordered delivery and we would only eat out once a month. So it’s not even that I could fall back on being a fancy lawyer to prove I didn’t have enough time to cook – she always cooked and she had way less time than I do. Plus I was handicapped by lacking familiarity with the concept of delivery.  It was cook or starve. So I cook most of my meals, but it’s not to save money; it’s to avoid the wrath of my internal mother.

It also helps that I love food. I saw this documentary about Asian Americans’ love of food, and it rang true for our family. Asian culture is all about the food. Part of it is taste and part is adventure but there’s also the inevitable element of community. I grew up in a Chinese church that would serve the most disgusting fried rice for lunch. But it was cheap and more importantly, because there was food, everyone in the church stuck around. This is how I got to meet the people in my church. Even today, the only reason I get to know anyone at a church is because I attended functions that involved food. There’s something about sharing food with people that brings people together in a way that business meetings, for example, cannot.

Something I had noticed in my reading of the Longevity Plan was the idea of sharing every meal with someone else. It’s much rarer these days as people are staying single longer and are getting takeout and staying in. Even when people are coupled, they might only eat with each other. There’s less of a community aspect to eating.

My mother used to throw these big Thanksgiving dinner parties where 40 people from church would come. It was utter chaos. And even though my mother is an avowed introvert, she loved throwing these parties. She loved hosting and giving. Those are some of my most fond childhood memories. If I look back, nearly every great memory involves food. Why would I want to shortcut my relationship with food when it has given me so much?

Michael Ruhlman basically shares the same sentiments, when talking about his late father, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America:

He carried the deep, intuitive understanding of the power of food to connect people, knew that food was not simply a device for entertaining or filling our bodies and pleasing our senses but rather that it served as a direct channel to the greater pleasures of being alive, and that it could be so only when that food was shared with friends and lovers and family.

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But it’s a love that’s becoming more elusive in American culture. Women look down at cooking. People are too stressed and busy to cook, and sometimes even to eat. They’re obsessed with nutrition, convenience, and speed – i.e. everything but taste.  There’s also this weird meal prepping craze that basically turns your preparation of food into an assembly line. I realize it saves time and money, and encourages one to eat at home, but I would literally rather starve. It seems so cold and lifeless.

And what’s wrong with making time to cook food? We’re a culture that is obsessed with famous chefs and cooking shows, but won’t take the time to carefully prepare something that we should nourish our bodies. You might as well tell me how to be more efficient in the time I spend gossiping with my friends. It’s not that I need a lot of time, but what would I rather be doing?

As Ruhlman notes, it’s our lack of priorities that has led to the disarray in American eating and cooking habits. But once we realign the priorities, we find we’ll get the nutrition, the weight loss, and the savings.

Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want – just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself . . . . The only way [increase the proportion of nutritious food in our diets] is for society to recognize the long-term benefits of carving out the time to cook. That’s all it really is: being organized and making time. You never hear people say, “You know I would really love to shower more, but I just don’t have the time.”

The shower comment rang so true to me. And this is basically my diet in a nutshell. In my kitchen, a nutritionist would be appalled to find such staples as bacon, butter, regular flour, nonorganic vegetables, many types of real sugar, and condensed milk (not that I eat these things together). I’m sure diets revolving around “real food” would also be dismissive of my diet. I mean this isn’t the healthiest of the healthy, but it’s all real. Everything is made from scratch – like bread, pie crusts, peanut butter. It’s not super processed. It’s not grab and go. It requires me to slow down and to appreciate the ingredients.

Also, bacon is delicious.

There’s so much else in Ruhlman’s book bout the history and business of shopping for food and how grocery stores are reacting to new trends in culture by making more prepared foods (because again, Americans don’t cook), and how all of this is affecting us and our futures. I love everything there is to know about food. (I mean, I read a book about grocery stores). But this book made me think of the past, of my culture and what we’ve lost, and what we stand to lose in the future. I also got all teary-eyed when he was talking about his father because it reminded me of my parents. And nothing reminds me more of my family than the act of cooking food.

What’s your favorite food memory?

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