The not-so-sad decline of cooking from scratch
Everybody's a critic. On the one hand, there are health experts wagging fingers at Americans and their obesity epidemic, blaming it largely on a lack of old-fashioned traditions, including home-cooked meals.
On the other, people occasionally do sit down to home-cooked meals – and complain about what they're served. As researchers at North Carolina State University recently discovered, "time pressures, tradeoffs to save money and the burden of pleasing others make it difficult for mothers to enact the idealized vision of home-cooked meals advocated by foodies and public health officials."
And it's not just the kids who are griping, researchers said. "We rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn't complain about the food they were served."
Welcome to the new age of eating.
Americans' love of food is exploding in proportion to its shrinking interest in cooking from scratch – or apparently, eating food someone else cooked from scratch.
We're becoming a country of connoisseurs, but not cooks. Instead, we take foods that are precooked from restaurants and retailers and combine them into a yummy meal. A little pasta here, some pesto there, a loaf of locally baked focaccia and a tub of precut vegetables – what's known in the parlance as "meal components" – and you're set.
People might call it cooking at home, but it's not cooking from scratch. It's more like meal assembly.
This new way of putting together meals fits people's modern lifestyles. They can decide in the afternoon what they want for dinner, then stop on the way home at stores carrying those "components."
It's a phenomenon that helps explain why more than half of shopping trips involve going to two or more stores.
Retailers are rising to these new types of eating occasions by offering higher-quality prepared foods. They're also talking to consumers more online – for example, via Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest, where photos of their foods might prompt people who are contemplating an upcoming meal.
And they are venturing into home delivery of food in various forms, from groceries to prepared ingredients for cooking to fully cooked meals.
No doubt it's changing our tastes and preferences, as many a retirement community dweller can attest. They are perhaps the last generation of scratch cooking standard-bearers.
It's an exciting new era of food shopping and eating in which almost anything seems possible – except cooking from scratch.