Cooking · Culture · Kitchen Culture

Kitchen Renegade

I like cookbooks.  A lot.  As in, I actually read them, cover to cover, for fun.  As in, I own 44 (I literally got up from this computer to count them), and I have cooked multiple recipes out of 34 of them (I also just counted that).  As in, one of my favorite parts of the week is sitting down with a stack of randomly selected cookbooks to pick recipes and make my grocery list.  As in, I have been known to check cookbooks out from the library. On purpose. 

Most of my cookbooks are finds from bargain bins, community book sales, and charity shops.  Nearly all of them had previous owners, and I think I only paid cover price for two.  Like many things in my life, I believe in recycling.

Whenever I go to a Goodwill, I always make sure to do a flyby of the cookbook section.  I like reading the titles and seeing what’s there.  You tend to see a strong representation of cookbooks from last year’s diet “miracle” (Atkin’s, South Beach–I’m sure the Paleo collection will be in season in the next year or so…) and there are always at least four copies of that Oprah cookbook, In the Kitchen with Rosie.  (I guess every person in America must have owned at least five copies in 1998.)    Through my perusal-ing, I have gathered that, in the early ’80’s, people believed that the secret to healthy living was removing all the fat from all the things (titles along the line of Feed Your Family the Fat-Free Way, and Living Healthy: Old Time Flavor without the Fat).  It was also widely accepted, apparently, that it was only a matter of time before microwaves completely replaced the traditional oven (There is usually an entire shelf dedicated to things like Microwave Miracle!: 101 Microwave Oven Recipes for the Modern Cook).

I usually end up leafing through the oldest cookbooks there, myself–the ones from the ’60’s and ’70’s.  I like getting the window into a world that is so different than my own–a world where kids still took homemade birthday treats to school, getting together with friends meant someone was going to “entertain,” and Betty Crocker’s marketing team had not yet convinced America that from-scratch cakes are so much more difficult and complicated than ones from a box.  (They aren’t, incidentally.)

The recipes in these faded books are a lot better, by and large, than their modern counterparts.  I think it’s because when these cookbooks were written, people still, well, cooked.  Today, most cookbooks have recipes that call for about a million ingredients, at least a dozen of them impossible to find if you don’t live in one of the Food Capitals of the World (New York, London, Paris, L.A.), let alone Smalltown, America.  I mean, you can only cook recipes out of a book like Plenty (a truly beautiful cookbook–it’s like food porn) if you have about three to four hours, decent skill, a professionally outfitted kitchen, and access to some crazy ingredients.  And that book was a New York Times bestseller–a bestseller! I’d wager this cookbook sits in cabinets all over America with pristine pages while their owners eat Chinese take-out for the third time this month. 

Most people I know maintain diets that include a significant amount of restaurant food (be it from fast food, delivery pizza, or sit-down restaurants) supplemented heavily by premade food that we just heat up (chicken nuggets, burritos, frozen pizza, pre-portioned frozen dinners).  We live in a culture where we watch other people cook food on television while we pull the plastic film off the top of a Lean Cuisine.  We, as a culture, honestly believe that cooking is a thing reserved for professionals, retirees, and rich women with nothing better to do.

Let me say that in another way:

We have bought into the lie that cooking–the act of going into your kitchen and making something from scratch–is a luxury the average American can’t afford. 

That doesn’t sit well with me.  It bothers me that we think we’re “too busy” to do something that makes us so fundamentally human.  It bothers me that we’ve let marketing campaigns convince us that we “can’t possibly” make a pizza by ourselves or that we’re “too busy” to make chicken noodle soup that doesn’t come from a can.  I think we’re better than that.  I think I’m better than that.  I think you’re better than that.

So prove the marketing people wrong.  Take back the kitchen from the people on T.V.  Be a renegade.

Cook dinner tonight.

24 thoughts on “Kitchen Renegade

  1. I love to cook but I don’t love to cook dinner. I’ve gotten so where I loathe it. I am never inspired because I’m always watching what I eat BUT I know if I plan something and actually take the time to cook it what I eat will be better for me and more enjoyable. I don’t have to cook tonight though – going to my parents’ house for dinner. I will plan the week though. I too love reading cookbooks. I just enjoy cooking out of them for entertaining rather than feeding myself and my daughter. I need to change my way of thinking!

    1. I figure doing a little something is better than nothing–even if it’s only one meal a week you used to eat out. (PS. The CrockPot is a great option for minimum fuss and maximum food, if you’re looking for short cuts.) Good luck! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh, I agree!!!! I think we would be happier and healthier if we really cooked. I live a lone, so I tend to cook on Sunday and create meals for the rest of the week.

  3. Sounds like a great idea. I am going to make Shrimp & Grits this week. I already bought the grits and have the flavoring for the shrimp. I want to buy it as fresh as possible. πŸ˜‰

  4. I love to cook (except when I’m tired) and I LOVE cookbooks. I have a Betty Crocker from the 1970s that my mother gave me – it has the BEST pie recipes! And you are so right that reading old cookbooks is a peek into the past – you feel like a historian doing research! I’m making an Asian dinner tonight with cake for dessert!

  5. I love to cook on the weekend. Have you read Rachel Reichl? Just finished Delicious. You’d love her.

  6. Too bad you can’t come to our library book sale, the table for cookbooks is always overloaded. I have a lot of cookbooks too, but lately I get most of my recipes from Pinterest. I print out the recipe from the blogs, then if I like it, I clip it into a stack of similar recipes. Then when I start planning for the week, I look through my Pinterest boards for new ideas or revisit the pages I have. I figure I can get two meals out of every recipe, so I only need three ideas a week. In fact, beef stew is in the oven as I type this. πŸ™‚

    1. My friend Ryan is constantly on me to transition to Pintrest..I’m too old-school. Well done on being part of the rebellion. πŸ˜‰

      1. Really you should check out Pinterest, not only can you get the recipe, but a photo of what the dish is supposed to look like. Get Ryan over there and play with it. You will like it!

  7. As someone who enjoys cooking I wholeheartedly agree with you. Besides many times being tastier, foods we cook can be healthier as well. Let’s get those pots and pans out and put to good use.

  8. This is a great slice and very persuasive. I wish the world were filled with more people like you, people that are taking back out kitchens and not believing the marketing like. I like this call to action, “So prove the marketing people wrong. Take back the kitchen from the people on T.V. Be a renegade.”

    Keep writing!

  9. I cook almost every night. I also love to look through cookbooks and try to find a few new recipes every once in awhile, but I tend to rely on old favorites. I have a falling apart Betty Crocker cookbook from the ’60’s. It was my first cookbook.

    1. I love it! I don’t have the Betty Crocker one (that’s the one my grandma swears by) but I picked up the 1960-something Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I love it!!

  10. Let’s see-you like to write and receive letters, love to cook and bake, love flowers in the kitchen, and have a black thumb (I also killed a cactus…thinking it was the one plant I couldn’t kill)…you are my alter ego. I enjoy your stories!

  11. Oh man! I am with you on cookbooks! I LOVE THEM!! When I was a little girl, my grandmas, aunts, and mom would pull out the cookbooks at family dinners and ‘discuss’ recipes. I loved that time at family dinners.

    I like to pick up church cookbooks at auctions. They have great recipes made with stuff I usually have on hand.

  12. I agree but I use online recepies lie Cookinh Light, Healthy Earing to name a couple. I love finding healthy meals using fresh organic ingredients! Great slice!

  13. I love that this slice gave me a new perspective on cookbooks as primary source document. I’m so excited. And I am listening to your urging me to go to the kitchen and cook. I definitely see taking out cookbooks as something I do not have the time or motivation to do. I take out my same ole cookbooks around 4 times a year. Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Cooking is a touchstone for me. When I read about how much you love to read cookbooks I thought, how wonderful it is that our passions are so unique. I like to cook. I like to eat. I do not like to read cookbooks but I love that you do.

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