Local Food: Throwback or the Next Big Thing?

Oct 22, 2014
Vicki Robin

10 days left in October. Enough to do the 10-Day Local Food Challenge – or to just join the conversation to hear what those doing it are learning. Scroll down for this week’s excerpts.

And please join us – if only for the 3-Day, 7-meal Local Food Challenge Lite. Go here for the how-to. And to follow the blog.

Home Cooking: dying art or part of the maker revolution?

Cooking has become one of the hottest Local Food Challenge topics. Challengers seem to be amazingly creative cooks to judge by our photos and stories…but we’re worried about everyone else.

We wonder if what is natural to us – cooking from scratch – is a dying art.

Are folks too busy – with professions for the privileged, two jobs for the financially squeezed and just daily life with errands and kids for the rest – to prepare meals at home?

Or are fewer of us learning to cook from scratch; no more home-economicsign up for a life of drudgerys, no more learning from mom, no more lunch ladies ladling out stews and tuna casserole?

Or have we forgotten what we once knew? Or does it seem too mundane or boring to invest hours a day cooking and doing dishes? Or is it too embarrassing to admit you don’t know how to even cook eggs? Or have our taste buds adapted to high fructose corn syrup, rendering whole foods uninteresting?

Or are we just too much on the go, grazing at delis and restaurants and food courts? (Case in point: I’m writing this is the Frankfurt Airport on the way to an international Slow Food Convention. But I’m eating an apple from home.)

Is cooking is a hidden prerequisite to adopt a local food diet? As goes cooking, so goes the possibility of a slow food nation.

But wait! Maybe there is another story. Maybe what’s called the “maker revolution” – a return among the young to do-it-yourself empowerment, engineering everything from apps to robots – is also about cooking. Maybe believing home cooking is a dying art serves fast/prepared/packaged food industry – making it harder for us to believe that we can indeed bake a potato or boil an egg.

What do you think? Join the conversation on Facebook or the blog – and be sure to scroll down for this week’s excerpts of dialogues on this and other topics.

Of course, just as we are discussing this, along comes Time magazine with a cover story about home cooking, centered on Mark Bittman’s new cookbook.

Here’s what he says (sounds like Challengers to me):
Just two generations ago, preparing meals was as much a part of life as eating. Now we’ve given up what is perhaps our best excuse to get together and spend time with the people we love—mealtime—and someone else stands at the stove. We’re either watching cooks on TV like we would a spectator sport or grabbing grub, bagged, and eating it alone and on the go.

The fetishizing of food is everywhere. There are cutthroat competitions and celebrity chefs with TV shows, and both social and mainstream media are stuffed with an endless blur of blogs, demos and crowdsourced reviews. So why in Julia’s name do so many Americans still eat tons of hyperprocessed food, the stuff that is correctly called junk and should really carry warning labels?

It’s not because fresh ingredients are hard to come by. Supermarkets offer more variety than ever, and there are over four times as many farmers’ markets in the U.S. as there were 20 years ago. Nor is it for lack of available information. There are plenty of recipes, how-to videos and cooking classes available to anyone who has a computer, smartphone or television. If anything, the information is overwhelming.

And yet we aren’t cooking. If you eat three squares a day and behave like most Americans (and increasingly, the world is doing just that), you probably get at least a third of your daily calories outside the home. Nearly two-thirds of us grab fast food once a week, and we get almost 25% of our daily calories from snacks. So we’re eating out or taking in, and we don’t sit down—or we do, but we hurry.

Shouldn’t preparing—and consuming—food be a source of comfort, pride, health, well-being, relaxation, sociability? Something that connects us to other humans? Why would we want to outsource this basic task, especially when outsourcing it is so harmful?

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Heard around the 10-Day Local Food Challenge “table”

Annabel Ascher

Scratch cooking is something I do–everyday, 365 days a year, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. […] The main thing for me is to inspire at least four meals a week made from scratch. Many will find this so much easier than they thought that the behavior will expand. […] When they experience the better taste, better health, and fatter wallet the choice becomes easier to make.

Erin Dugger Reetz
Several times a year we have a dinner potluck where what you bring must come from what you already have in your refrig/freezer/pantry. No shopping allowed. It is easy to type ingredients into Google for recipe ideas, and we have enjoyed a hodge podge of absolutely fantastic meals. There is so much joy that comes from feeding one another. All it takes is for one person to reach out and invite people to share.

Susan Cunningham
[…] local food is not always obvious and/or we’re not always aware that others are perfectly willing to share — with or without payment or barter. So we may not even know to look or ask for it.

Cindy Blackshear
I’m thinking this network [of local food sourcing] grows organically (excuse the pun). I think when we share our harvest it prompts others to start gardening, join the CSA or shop at the farmer’s markets.

Jan Deligans
Give anyone a well grown tomato or carrot raised in organic and holistic methods and I dare you to find one person who is not immediately enchanted with the new discovery that whole foods raised holistically in nature’s way taste like heaven. [The assumption is] that your cooking from scratch must include flavorless golf ball grocery store tomatoes and old out of date factory eggs and salad greens in plastic that have been irradiated and chlorine washed then stored for weeks. That is not what cooking from scratch means. It depends on access to real food. The problem is not the decline of cooking, the problem is the decline of access to fresh and truly wholesome non chemical tasty ingredients.

Anne Bromwell
I remember the first time I saw cut and ready-to-eat carrot & celery sticks in the produce section. This soon branched into salad greens and all kinds of other ready-to-eat “fresh” produce. The sad thing is that so many of our children never learned to cook like we did because all they witnessed was this type of meal assembly by their tired and cranky mom after she picked them up at day care arriving home way too late in the evening to do anything more than assemble the parts on a plate and place it in front of the family so they could eat before bedtime.

Mariah Raftree Ross
I like to think there is a growing group of people that are interested in cooking from scratch. I was a child of the 80s and victim to bad quick meals but have taught myself how to cook and it is a big joy for me everyday as an adult. I love hearing how friends and acquaintances are getting into the kitchen as well. More potlucks and having friends over for a meal.

Aloria Lanshaw
The psychological component of our personal food patterns is often overlooked and much harder to address than the rational, informed and well-thought-out food choices that something like an eat local challenge initiates. At three days of eating local, you have only barely touched on the intangible benefits of becoming intimately connected with your food sources. Quite frankly, it doesn’t stand a chance against a lifetime of comfort food, and really should not be expected to when you are in a vulnerable place.[…] those cravings don’t just turn off at the command of rational thought. […] As you foster new connections with people who grow your food, you will come to find that it nourishes both body and soul.

Cris Cantin
I struggled with this issue [of eating meat] for years. But then, over time, I started adding meat again […] My struggle led me to the decision that if I was going to be an omnivore, I really needed to be hands on with my entire diet. So, that led me to raising my own meat sources in my backyard. […] When it’s time to harvest, I thank them for their contribution to this little life I’ve made […] Taking the life of another creature to provide food for yourself is an incredibly hard thing to do, but doing it humanely, and being conscious of how much or little harvest needs to be done at a given time to provide food for myself, has really led me to a powerful understanding of my place in the food cycle of the world.

Maureen Momo Freehill
The ways that the vast majority of meat is currently processed with factory farm methods is totally destructive. When livestock are merged with prairie restoration or organically raised in small local farms it can be a different situation–but that takes great care, time, awareness/study and funding. […] It is the WAY we unconsciously interact and kill that is so destructive, not necessarily the killing itself–because we need to do that to continue life.

Aloria Lanshaw
Farming of any sort changes an ecosystem, destroying habitat of something, even organic vegetable farming requires the killing of animals, it just is easier to consider them “pests” and feel exempt because we don’t eat them. Everything is part of the natural cycle of life and death, we just have to chose our place in it that provides us the most peace.


1 Comment. Leave new

Making everything from scratch makes me feel like a rebel in my kitchen. I make my own yogurt, sour cream, sourdough bread, broths, crackers…and I’ve even started brewing mead and making scrap vinegar. This is not drudgery and I’m not merely nourishing myself. I’m learning to be more self-sufficient, I eat with the seasons (better nutrition!), cut down on food waste (we waste 40% of the food we produce in this country!) and by buying at the farmer’s market, I support local farmers, small businesses and my community. Cooking solves so many problems.


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