Revered cookbook author and teacher Marion Cunningham lamented the loss of the family meal in 1998, when only thirty percent of the population cooked at home, even with skyrocketing interest in kitchen appliances. (Perhaps those were for the caterer.) "Home cooking in America has always been considered menial drudgery," Cunningham told the Los Angeles Times. This despite all the food shows on TV and sales of celebrity cookbooks. In defense of the family meal, Cunningham wrote cookbooks for children and for adults who didn't know what to do with their saucepans or spatulas.

We like to watch, like Chance the gardener, the Peter Sellers character in the 1979 movie Being There, the man who never went anywhere. Everything he knew, he learned from television. On the bright side, a person like Chance could learn to cook from Julia Child, who took to television and books to simplify French home cooking for Americans, knowing "our readers wouldn't have mortars and pestles for pounding lobster shells." (And if the readers didn't, the TV audience certainly didn't.) Now many of us have the mortars and pestles, but they're heavy and inconveniently stuffed way back in a kitchen cabinet because who has time, and who can afford lobster?

Burdened by beatific Norman Rockwell visions of the family meal, we have developed a negativity about eating at home that is shared even by organizations that know better, the ones pushing healthy food habits. Weight Watchers ("Stop Dieting. Start Living.") acknowledges the difficulty of cooking for a family night after night, particularly for the person on a diet, because home is where we know we should comply with whatever diet we've adopted at the time. Restaurants are where we go for a little fun, to treat ourselves, not to control our consumption.


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