Monday, September 22, 2014

In Defense of Home-Cooked Meals recently posted a curiously useless, sour article with the hyperbolic title “The Tyranny of the Home-Cooked Meal.” That’s right, tyranny. So cooking is the new Communism, and mothers, your family are the new Stalins.*

Columnist Amanda Marcotte asserts that the home-cooked meal has become “the hallmark of good mothering, stable families, and the ideal of the healthy, productive citizen,” which is overstating it, but yes, a good home-cooked meal is certainly, and rightfully, regarded very positively – except by Ms. Marcotte and North Carolina State University sociologists, who complain in a recent study that too many mothers don’t have the time or money to live up to that ideal.

The researchers interviewed 150 mothers “from all walks of life” (although only the middle class and below are discussed) and found that “even for middle-class working mothers who are able to be home by 6 p.m., trying to cook a meal while children are demanding attention and other chores need doing becomes overwhelming.”

Welcome to the real world, ivory tower sociologists. Yes, simultaneously juggling chores, cooking, and wrangling kids can be overwhelming, but that’s motherhood. Mothers have been multi-tasking since time immemorial. What is a real-world alternative, besides not becoming a mother in the first place? The article doesn’t offer one.

The sociologists also discovered that “low-income women often… can't afford to pay for even a basic kitchen setup,” and “even when people have their own homes, lack of money means their kitchens are small, pests are hard to keep at bay, and they can't afford basic kitchen tools like sharp knives, cutting boards, pots and pans.”

Yes, poverty makes feeding your family problematic – it makes everything problematic – but the notion that cooking is too expensive for most mothers is demonstrably false. You don’t need the Barefoot Contessa’s kitchen to cook for your family. And again, what’s the alternative – an even more expensive restaurant? Fast food? I paid over $8 recently just for McDonalds Happy Meals for my two kids. By contrast, my entire family stuffed ourselves on my wife’s hearty, healthy, delicious dinner tonight that cost literally under $4 total for all four of us.

But the study reports yet another downside: “whiny, picky, and ungrateful” family members who didn’t appreciate the mother’s cooking efforts, including husbands and boyfriends who were “just as much, if not more, of a problem than fussy children.” I feel sorry for the women in this study who apparently married ungrateful jerks and raised ungrateful kids, but I don’t believe they’re in the majority. Speaking for myself, my kids and I gush compliments and gratitude to my wife over every home-cooked meal.

In conclusion, “people see cooking mostly as a burden… because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.” Wow. Besides the sheer whininess of that statement, the article doesn’t even offer a solution: “If we want women—or gosh, men, too—to see cooking as fun, then these obstacles need to be fixed first. And whatever burden is left needs to be shared.” The “obstacles need to be fixed”? How? It doesn’t say. The entire piece, and the North Carolina State study, simply seem like an unhelpful attack on the family unit, especially the husband.

Time and money may be in short supply but there is no instantaneous, free alternative for feeding your family – certainly not going out to eat – and there has never been more information available for mothers and/or fathers about how to make healthy meals quickly on a budget.

A home-cooked meal is considered a hallmark of good mothering for good reason: far from being tyrannical, it’s a powerful labor of love that saves money, instills healthier eating habits, and most importantly, helps unify and stabilize the family unit. Maybe that’s why Slate feminists resent it so much.

* Marcotte apparently took such heat for that title that it has since been changed to “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.”

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 9/18/14)