I was honored to be asked to speak at our local TEDxCLE last Friday where I was allowed to try to explain why I think cooking is important.  There’s a great book out now that argues that our ancestors became human only after we began cooking for ourselves and our families. I believe it’s still important, but for different reasons.  Not just sort of important.  Really important.  I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said before, but I know it can’t be said enough.

Consider that cooking food might be far more vital than you ever imagined.  I don’t believe that everyone ought to cook.  But I think at least one person in every group ought to cook.  We fail to cook for ourselves at our own peril.  I make the case here that you should not view cooking as a hobby (though sometimes it is), and you should not view it as a chore (which it certainly can be), and most of all, you should not view it as something you’d do IF ONLY YOU HAD THE TIME!  You should view cooking as an imperative.

As I say in the presentation, my daughter often complains that we have no food in the house.  When I say I don’t understand, she explains angrily,  “It’s all raw.”

It’s surreal, yes, but it’s more than that.  This conception of my daughter’s is actually dangerous.  And I try to outline why.

I conclude my speechifying with an image not shown in the video above, with my surefire way to subvert a government that subsidizes the corn that goes into fast food, a silver bullet against the mega food giants who will never care about you or your family, a way toward better health and happiness for all:

One sure way to make our lives, our families, our communities better (photo by Donna)

Simple as that.

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86 Wonderful responses to “Why I Cook, Part II
The Cooking Imperative”

  • The Rowdy Chowgirl

    Well said! Cooking good food (or being cooked for!) is at least as important as sleep and exercise and should be as high one’s priority list.

  • Abigail Blake @ Sugar Apple

    I’m jealous of all the wonderful resources you have in Cleveland. If I want good bread, I have to bake it myself. There are finally farmers here growing organic produce and selling organic chickens, but there’s not a wide selection of produce available yet (except shipped in) and the rest of the meat is an unknown. We get great local pork and goat, but there’s never any word on how it’s produced (organic? humane? hormone free?, who knows?). And everything is horrendously expensive. The fresh fish is definitely a bright spot.

    Like everywhere else, there’s plenty of convenience food in the supermarket. But chains are not allowed here so at least we don’t have much fast food. I still get the “no food” complaint from my 12-year-old daughter sometimes but she knows how to cook and can make herself something to eat. I have to admit I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to ban the ramen noodles and frozen waffles for fear it could get ugly.

    Let’s hear it for the power of the routine act.

  • Laura

    Yes!

    By the way, I watched your talk while enjoying roast chicken and butter-sauteed red cabbage that I happily cooked myself. And I will say without hesitation that I’ve rarely had a restaurant quite this good.

  • Liz

    I understand where your daughter is coming from as someone who has recently been going out of her way to not buy things full of things I can’t pronounce and focus more on whole foods that involve work from me. It’s difficult going to the fridge when you just want to pop something in your mouth and realizing that you actually have to work to make something edible.

    It was a hard habit to break, but it has been immensely satisfying and I feel and look healthier for it. I only wish it could be gotten across to more people that it’s not that hard to prepare meals with whole ingredients and that you don’t have to be a master chef to do it.

  • Pat Huber

    Bravo! Thank you for what you are doing, Mr. Ruhlman. We need more people like you praising the glory of food and cooking.

  • Blake

    Great points, thank you for being another voice advocating such a common-sense (but forgotten in some quarters) idea. In my house, we cook for sustenance, for fun, for pleasure, for curiosity… and just because it’s what you DO. Hungry? Then make something.

    I am curious, though… our child is too young to protest all the raw food in our fridge, but I wonder about the kid/tween/teen years. I would think that if there’s one home in the US where a kid would embrace home-cooking as the norm, it would be in YOUR home. Do you chock your daughter’s reaction up to… youth? rebellion? corporate programming? Ha. Thanks again.

  • Natalie Sztern

    My son is moving out May 1st, at 24 (thank goodness) and I am trying to explain to him, as he budgets, that cooking and making his meals and his lunches will be a must financially. His answer: he won’t have time. We’ll see. I am hoping his focus changes and he realizes that it will actually become imperative for him to cook; but that doesn’t mean he will relish the act.

    My ultimate dream is that he will enjoy his kitchen and be empowered by it; however, should that not happen; the chances of him going the frozen food way will be inevitable as will the weight he will put on.

    And yet I have friends whose children just love to cook. Is it a gene?

    • Mantonat

      I think Michael has mentioned this before, but when people say they don’t have time to cook, it’s really just code for “there are things I’d rather do with my time.” When I was 24 (in the early 90s), I lived within walking distance of a grocery store and my roommates and I would go several times a week and just cook whatever looked good and fresh at the time. Maybe I was part of the Gen-X slacker generation, but I remember having all kinds of time to grill out almost every night when the weather was nice, cook, drink beer, enjoy the pace of a well made meal, etc. Or maybe that’s just what I really liked best in life.

  • B.C. Vega

    So very on-point.
    We often forget all the health, social, and even emotional benefits of a home cooked meal and eating together as a family/friends.

    Thank you for this reminder.

  • Alex Burns

    This reminds me of me as a teenager. I grew up with a mom who loves to cook and always ate home made meals, but never bothered with learning how to cook, I didn’t need to I suppose… But then I went to college, I tried the quick out of a box type of meals for about a week, hated it, and decided to start cooking! Now it’s one of my favorite things to do, I find it very relaxing, and so rewarding when you do something that tastes delicious! That’s why I think it’s so important to make home made meals (really home made, not mystery processed food stuff), you’re creating good healthy habits for your kids.

  • Carri

    A revolution is truly afoot. I think you have found your voice, Michael. Mr. Pollan is great, but he doesn’t actually show people how to cook the food he is recommending they buy for themselves. Jamie Oliver is great, too, but he has his photo on bags of salad in the UK. You are on the way to get real people in this country to really cook…way to go.

  • Arthur Greenwald

    I’m a new and enthusiastic fan of Mr. Ruhlman’s writing, but this is frustrating — sharp insights and useful facts stewed together with theoretical assumptions and half-truths. Cooking and eating as Ruhlman describes requires much more time, money and especially energy than many families can afford. Another factor we foodies overlook — many people not only like fast food, they prefer it to the end result of their own home cooking (and so might you if you tasted it.) If we want to have real influence on the American diet, we need to ditch the judgmental tone and focus on taste, price and especially convenience.

    • ruhlman

      Arthur, the stew of facts and assumptions is a point well taken. it’s impossible in 15 minutes to present a credible solution to all of our societal and health problems. I do contend that cooking raw food would go a long way toward helping us in numerous and surprising ways. The only bodies that I am judgmental about our the bodies that try to regulate what we eat. That’s our job, and yes, judgment: we need to be more thoughtful about it. I’ve eaten fast food and don’t have issues with it’s flavor. I love to eat a big mac and fries, but the last time I bought one (in a hospital, in fact, summer of 2001), to eat in my car on a long drive, I felt so awful afterward that, well, I haven’t bought one since. Wish more felt the same.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Kristine

        Just saw Colicchio talking about this last night, and one point he made was, yes, it’s more expensive to buy farm fresh over mass produced, so eat less proteins. Don’t make it part of every meal, but when you do, spend the extra money. Having had to spend quite a bit of time in a hospital due to a sick loved one, I find it ironic that McDonald’s was the main source of our meals. There was a regular cafeteria, but the fare there was no better. I think they are trying to drum up business.

    • Paul Kobulnicky

      I disagree with “taste, price and convenience”. If you study business there is an old and accurate axiom that you can only ever have two of these three things simultaneously: high quality, low price, quick production. You cannot have all three. In food, low price and quick yields poor quality (most fast food). Quick and high quality is expensive (good restaurant). Low price and high quality is slow (cooking). It is not being judgmental, just sound application of business practice. So … pick your two. Michael and I are arguing for good and cheap.

      • Bob

        There was a cartoon about the film industry that used to hang at a coworker’s desk (I’m in television), showing an executive demanding, ‘Do it faster! Do it cheaper!’

        In the following panel, he’s holding a reel of film and asking, “Hey, how come this looks like garbage?!?!?”

    • Brenda Johnson

      I agree there’s a learning curve people need to go through in order to shift from fast/prepared food diets to home cooking, and that “foodies” should be sensitive to that. But I disagree that, in the end, cooking for yourself and your family expends more time, money and energy than the fast/prepared food route does. It’s true you have to get through the learning curve to get the reward of cheaper, tastier, healthier food that isn’t really more time-consuming than the fast/prepared alternative, but that doesn’t invalidate the result. I speak from experience here — including a relatively recent experience with having to slide back to the fast/prepared food world while my kitchen was being renovated. I was amazed at how much work you actually have to do to prepare many of the so-called “quick and easy” prepared alternatives to straight-up cooking, and how much time is involved. I was amazed at how pricy they could be. I was amazed at how crappy they tasted. Oh, and my cholesterol went through the roof too.

    • Kevin

      Arthur,
      Would you list the “theoretical assumptions” and “half-truths” that you speak of in Michael’s talk for me? (Just for clarification, so I can understand better where you’re coming from.) It’s my experience that cooking for my wife and I is less expensive and requires no more time and energy than driving somewhere to pick up “fast food”. It’s really a manner of time management and planning. For instance, I make yogurt twice a week for the two of us. It takes about 25 minutes of active work, which I do while I’m preparing one of the day’s meals, so it uses no extra time in my day. Store bought organic yogurt costs anywhere from .99 to $1.50 per serving, whereas my cost is about .30 (using organic milk) per serving. And it tastes much better than anything you can buy. It’s just one example, but I can provide more. If people learn to cook food properly and well, they’ll see that’s it’s convenient, less expensive, and a better use of their time.

  • Nancy

    Michael,

    I really enjoyed your talk and I agree with about 99% of what you said. As for cooking at home being the answer to many of our social problems, I couldn’t agree more and have been talking about this for years to everyone and anyone who would listen. It is what prompted me to study nutrition and I am finishing up my clinical work in dietetics. Given my experience I have to speak in defense of the “mega food giants”. Perhaps I am wrong, but I got the impression from your talk that you believe that the food marketed by the “mega food giants” is inferior from both an esthetic and nutritional standpoint. From an esthetic perspective of course this is generally the case. However, from a nutritional standpoint, this is not always the case and I think it is important that we recognize the distinction. After working in community based nutrition programs and skilled nursing facilities, I have learned that the “mega food giants” do have their place in our food supply. In a perfect world everyone would be able buy organic, free range foods. The reality is however that not everyone is able to do so. That does not mean however, that everyone cannot access quality food from a nutritional standpoint . Fresh peaches certainly taste better than frozen ones but frozen peaches provide the same nutritional value as fresh ones do. Fresh green beans taste better and (if you believe that salt in bad for you:-)) they are superior to canned, but does that mean that canned beans have no place in our diets? Shouldn’t the goal be to try and achieve the best nutritional/financial balance between fresh and unprocessed??
    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this!

    • ruhlman

      yes, absolutely. your points are all good ones. I agree, it’s a complicated scenario that will become more complicated as the world population soars and more and more people live in urban areas.

  • Randy

    Michael, I have two kids in college. And one thing that I have seen amongst his friends, both male and female, is that although they are super intelligent, they can’t do anything to take care of themselves, including cooking for themselves.
    If it wasn’t for cheesy mac, they would die! EVERYONE should learn how to cook…you might not be a Ruhlman, Batali or Flay, but you can learn to roast a chicken…and, I am going to say something controversial and if the ladies on this site want to call me a pig, so be it….but I tell my nieces that if they want to land a man, ONE of the things that will catch a good man is a good meal…I also tell my son that women find a man who can cook very special as well.

    • The FoodNinja

      Indeed. Just this past Sunday, I was privileged to marry a beautiful woman who began to regard me as partner material and more than just a casual date after the first time I cooked dinner for her.

      Many people present facility with food preparation as some sort of moral imperative, but its benefits certainly transcend the abstract.

  • Brian the Cook

    Nicely put! I will say that I think it says something about the nature of food and cooking that although I have cooked professionally for over five years (yeah, I know, I’m a beginner!) I am only willing to cook MY food, from my heart, for those few who I truly love. The original dishes, such as they are, only feed those who already have my heart. Take that for what it’s worth. But of course every dish I cook has something of my soul in it…just not all of it.

  • Susan

    Where better to learn to be an appreciated member of any society than in the home kitchen where every family member can be given an opportunity to be involved. Maybe if everyday cooking was approached as if it were collaborative Thanksgiving dinner, everyone would appreciate each other and the food more. I don’t mean by preparing a huge feast..but treating each meal as if doing it together daily was as worthy as a holiday meal. Planning the menu with everyones input, choosing the foods deliberately (even convenience foods sometimes), letting everyone participate in the preparation to some extent should give everyone a reason to feel accomplished. It breeds confidence, self esteem, teamwork, and goes along way toward good physical health. Now if there were just a way to make everyone buy in!

  • Bob

    I’m most of the way through ‘Catching Fire’ – it’s a quick read, and raises some interesting questions. The author’s disdain of the ‘raw food’ movement is clear (note: RAW food, not ‘slow’ food).

    But to give you an idea, the book was lying around the office, having been sent in as a PR item. None of the producers found it interesting.

    • ruhlman

      I thoroughly enjoyed his skewering of the raw food movement. he shows convincingly that humans have to work really really hard to subsist solely on raw food, and only in the wealthiest of societies are they able to do so.

  • Laurie Iseman

    Michael,
    Such an important message and well said. I was fortunate to be raised in an ethnic family, Ukrainians on one side and Italians on the other. If I wasn’t on one side of town eating homemade ravioli, I was on the other side eating stuffed cabbage, borscht, etc. I know I was more fortunate than many to experience food in a way that enhanced every aspect of my life. You are to be commended for devoting your life to getting this message out to as many people as possible.
    I had to laugh at your daughter’s comment about all the food in your refrigerator being raw. Years ago on of my dear friends told me that her nephew was staring into her refrigerator and his comment was “all you have in here is ingredients”. Let’s all try to keep it this way.
    Kind regards,
    Laurie

  • luis

    Quite a speech Michael. Amazing stuff..who’d thunk cooking was so instrumental in shaping our lives from the very beginning?.

    I identify with your daugthers comment regarding having all these raw foods waiting on me to cook… and nothing to eat right this minute. Which is why when I cook I freeze portions of it.

    In between I tend to have fruits that I can reach for a snack in a pinch. But it’s not easy. At work and in the community I observe folks that eat healthy and well are not overweight and are enjoying the best health for their age. No doubt about that. They eat smaller portions and their meals include beautiful vegies with their proteins. And they don’t eat lots of deep fried stuff.

  • Snow

    Well said.
    We’ve been training our son early (He’s now two). The other day he came to us and said “Cookie”, and we told him that we didn’t have any (true). Then he said, “make cookies”! He doesn’t understand yet that it is also possible to buy them, but we hope the early socialization in cooking will stick with him. It did for my wife and I who hung out in the kitchen early on.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    This is by no means statistically valid but … the young adults that I know that are the most well adjusted are also the most likely to have grown up in homes where food was cooked and these young adults can and do cook for themselves. It has, I believe, a lot to do with the many aspects of both community and self-reliance. Both of our 20’something sons are great cooks & bakers, highly independent and when we all get together a large part of our fun revolves around the preparation of food. BTW … we would all be described as thin, especially the sons who are extremely fit. We are data points that fit Michael’s hypothesis.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Aside from nutritional standards, the love of the act of being in the kitchen creating, dissing the fast food and food giants we have a love/hate relationship with and all this organic vs not, industry talk….let’s face it. What food actually did in families was bring us all together at one table at the same time. Food in those days, the olden days, meant togetherness at the Dinner table. That is why we cooked and enjoyed doing it:

    Kudos to those families who actually force feed their kids at the same dinner table. Time was a luxury lost. Time is a luxury lost and when there is no time how do we cook? I won’t even get into the finances of food.

    The fast food we all have now is the computer, and instant gratification. Our kids only know that. Instant gratification and it goes not just for information, politics and stock exchanges: it goes for food too. I want it now, not in an hour.

    My Urban life used to go like this: a quick coffee and bagel, off to work, home: first walk the dog, then hit the computer and finally after all the mail has been sorted, the emails answered, the bills paid online : once all that is done; then lets get into the kitchen and eat.’ because I am exhausted.’ ..That is, for most of us, the last thought of the day.

    It is why we have fat kids, why we have so many gyms, why we binge. No bloody time to ‘live life’. We need to do life: but that’s not living it.

    Unfortunately.

    • Bob

      So true.

      I grew up in the 1960’s, so the ‘organic’ craze didn’t really exist.

      But what was the rule was a fixed dinner time, with the family, and a balanced diet: a protein, a starch (usually rice, since I’m Asian), and a vegetable.

      And there were little things – chores included helping with the dishes (later, it would be helping Mom cook), so you couldn’t rush off to do your own thing (not that there was a computer or game console to slouch in front of).

      It seems we’ve replaced this fundamental connectivity with ‘busy’ – kid’s sports, music lessons, and various and sundry forms of escapism. Then we wonder why we feel so lost.

      • Karen

        Bob,
        I’m almost thirty and have 2 kids under 4 years old. I plan on instilling values about food, togetherness and working together as a family. All is not forgotten about family values, so know that there are a few of us out there who cherish the time with our kids, the quiet time without video games or TV or running from place to place. My kids, as young as they are, help me cook, put their dishes on the counter after dinner, help me un-load the dishwasher, put their clothes away after they’re folded and dust what they can around the house. AND, for now, they enjoy it!!! For now….hah hah hah

  • rose

    being a great-granny I still do love the sizzle of the sausage in the pan as I feed my 3rd generation of happy, healthy children; A REALTOR AT AN OPEN HOUSE WILL SUGGEST YOU BAKE COOKIES TO WAFT OVER POTENTIAL BUYERS – doesn’t that say it all???

  • Bob

    It’s interesting, but among some of the first video out of Chile after last weekend’s 8.8 earthquake were people making off with food from the local grocery stores.

    And the video showed people taking large sacks of flour and bottled water. Other reports said people were also making off with supplies of beans. No one is stealing potato chips or prepackaged stuff – they apparently understand flour and water = flatbread.

    It would be interesting to see what different age groups throughout America would take, and how their perception of ‘cooking’ ties into their choices.

  • Mo

    Very well said. I am a farmer and I concider what I do ‘food prep’. Growing to me is the first part of cooking for my community and family.

  • Michelle

    Thanks for sharing that video with us. Very well put. I have been interested in reading “Catching Fire” ever since I first heard about it on NPR. I am interested in the sociological and domestic impact of cooking on humans. You mentioned Pollan, and I also think of Alice Waters when it comes to proponents of fresh food, cooking and eating. And I am a staunch believer in what they preach and the benefits of cooking and eating fresh, whole foods. But I must say, it is far easier for a middle aged, financially well-off person living in California to change their eating habits and forgo the fast food world, than it is for a college kid living in fast food capitol of the nation OKC. We keep hearing these very proponents preach that food and cooking is a “social interaction”, but somehow these same proponents don’t seem to realize that getting the world to change how it eats is not as simple as telling people to choose an apple over french fries. If it only were that simple. What they seem to forget is that we are not only changing “what” we eat, but we are changing “where and how” we eat, which means we are asking kids and adults alike to go against decades of intense social training, which is a difficult thing. My son who is in college and basically eats like Bill Maher and Michael Pollan rolled into one (no pun intended) has been profoundly affected, both socially and emotionally, by the way he eats. — When virtually all of your friends socialize over fast food, CAFO meat, and 7-Eleven bags of chips, this leaves you out of a lot of social activities. He has actually expressed a sense of loss and lonliness at times caused by his decision to eat well. I am curious if the “higher ups” in this food revolution have considered this outcome of their quest to change the way we eat.

    • Paul Kobulnicky

      Michelle … remind your son that what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. A little loneliness won’t kill him but will make him more self-reliant.

  • ohiofarmgirl

    Thanks for talking about this. We farm for ourselves and not only make our own food – we MAKE our own food. We grow what we eat, eat what we grow, and do it in a sustainable way. And yes, we cook. When my nieces come down all they want to do is learn how to cook and we spend the whole day in the kitchen where they learn what real food is and where it comes from — outside in the barnyard.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Paul Kobulnicky

      Atta girl. We garden and wind up eating mostly what we grow. I just pulled 20lb of carrots out of my snow covered beds with parsnips, kale, collards and sprouts still under the snow awaiting. I love the grow, cook, compost, grow … cycle.

      • ohiofarmgirl

        Thanks Paul! Most of the meals we had today were from our farm. I can’t wait for spring/summer to get this party started again. We are just weeks away from having fresh goat milk again, the chickens are crankin’ out eggs faster than I can keep up with, and the freezer is full of naturally grown pork (and yep, we butchered it ourselves!). And ohh.. the compost we have…

  • Joanna

    I am a married woman and passionate “from scratch” home cook. I have married girlfriends ages 25-50. They are all so proud to announce at every opportunity, “I don’t cook.” It is a badge of honor, a result of the 1970s woman’s movement and processed food culture. “We have been liberated from the menial and demeaning task of cooking for our family!” I wonder what in the hell do they eat everyday of their lives, when they get home from work? I am so distressed by this attitude that somehow makes me, a passionate home cook, feel I am out of step and an inferior woman for cooking for my husband.

    Thank you for your speech! I never realized the importance of my position in my family. In making my marriage stronger. “The smell of food cooking in a home relieves stress!” It enriches my life and seals the bond with those I love most.

    Young women out there: You are not betraying womankind by COOKING!!!

    • Bob

      Joanna:

      Neither of my sisters cook. (My older sister knows some basics, but never developed her skills further.) This puzzles the heck out of my mother.

      But sometimes, I think there’s an equal disdain for cooking on the guy side of the road. For me, cooking is an essential way to connect with my wife, because I’m in a profession that has had me on opposite sides of the clock, or working weekends … so those rare moments where I am able to cook dinner for us keeps me sane and our relationship healthy.

      • Natalie Sztern

        It’s got to be the genes because my brother is a dynamite cook and my late sister didn’t know a turkey had giblets in its ass…actually neck cavity…I know how to cook from my mother but my brother had an instinct for it.

        His wife never cooks; its his most extreme pleasure and releases a day’s worth of stress.

    • ohiofarmgirl

      THANK YOU! I don’t understand why you can’t burn your bra in one hand and cook with the other? I would think that today’s younger women, who are so child-focused, would understand that the best thing they can do for their families is provide them with good nutrition! You are just right, get off your bottoms and cook! My grandmother had seven children and helped run a business and she would have died rather than feed any of her kids, grandkids, or great-grands any of the crap that is lining the shelves.

  • Karen

    I can’t tell you how many people mock me as “Martha” (as in Stewart, in case you were wondering) because I cook so many things from scratch. I recently started making my own pie crusts, pizza doughs, sauces, etc. Many things which can be easily and cheaply purchased pre-made, but I actually have fun making them. Plus the home-made taste is undeniable.

    I’m glad to see many other Ruhlman followers are as passtionate about cooking and it’s importance in society. Last year I finally had the opportunity to start a vegetable garden. While many of my family/friends are so focused on beautiful flowers, I let mine wither as a result of tending to my veggies. If I’m going to spend time sowing, weeding and harvesting, I want it to be for something productive! I think this is a weak argument that proves that most people have their priorities backwards and only focus on the beautiful things, not the things that keep up beautiful on the inside.

    I would also like to point out this blog I came across while looking up something completely unrelated: http://blog.nutritiondata.com/ndblog/2010/02/another-perspective-on-the-sodium-wars.html
    I was talking to a couple of ladies at the store today and they were so passionate about the use of sea salt and how baaaaad salt is for you. I didn’t get into it, but I thought “hey, you need table salt for the iodine, plus if you eat in moderation, you don’t have to worry about the salt”.

    I wish we could change people’s mindset about food, but I’m going to start with my children and take it from there.

    • Susan

      Don’t let your flowers die..they help pollenate your vegetable garden!

  • Tony Spagnoli

    As a Chef, one of the most rewarding side effects of working in a professional kitchen, is the relationships developed from working along side other passionate people.

  • Mike Bruce

    So this is off the point of this actual post, which is great.

    But: the chicken pictures remind me: many thanks for posting your roast chicken… well, “recipe” seems like a strong word, but whatever. Thanks for including that in your post about the fake-difficulty of cooking a while back. I’d roasted chicken many times before, and had gone through any number of multi-temperature methods, basting, starting in a pan and moving to the oven, etc, etc. But it turns out that just rubbing with salt, stuffing a cut-up lemon in there, and leaving it at 450 for about an hour has the best results of all. Crispy skin, moist and tasty meat.

    Anyway, this is probably a weird place to mention that, but there you go.

    • Elaine

      Mike, I had the same experience! I haven’t even tried the lemon, I just go out into the yard & snip some sage & thyme. So good. Now I just need to figure out how to do stock. 🙂

  • JMW

    “If we want to have real influence on the American diet, we need to ditch the judgmental tone and focus on taste, price and especially convenience.”

    I must respectfully disagree, although I do understand where you are coming from. On the surface these concerns do seem real; but I would argue that with some analysis, they fall apart.

    How much more can Mr. Ruhlman focus on convenience when his recipe for chicken requires nothing more than waiting for an hour while, presumably, having sex? (his suggestion, not mine! 🙂

    But that is for a whole roasted chicken. Don’t have an hour to wait? Roast chicken thighs or breasts; the smaller portions will ensure they cook more quickly. Is money an issue? Do some shopping at Sam’s Club.

    And I would like to address the issue of price head-on: do you really believe that McDonald’s, for example, is saving consumers money? They have, according to Yahoo Finance, operating margins of nearly 30%, and net close to 20%. That is a huge amount of money left on the table for consumers. Wal-Mart, by contrast, one of the biggest purveyors of fresh food in this country — if not all free range 🙂 — has a total net margin of only 3.5%. Who is saving money for whom in this economic equation?

    I think where you are most on the mark is in referring to the quality of outcomes. I do believe that even poor consumers are aspirational; as well they should be! Who wants a low quality of life, or food?

    This is where education matters; as it does in all areas of life, from civic involvement to career outlook. In this regard Mr. Ruhlman is most admirable, for his efforts to educate the general public.

    I, for one, don’t believe that good food is inaccessible to poor folks. I find it hard to believe that dried beans, properly made with anything fresh, bought at a large discount store like Wal-Mart, are less economical or tasty or convenient than a Big Mac. What I do believe is that the culture has elevated indiscriminate excess to the level of aspirational, and it’s the job of us stuffy foodies to take it down a notch. My parents were far from rich, and they knew the value of a fresh tomato while raising five kids and working full-time. That’s cultural; not economics, not convenience. Culture is the name of the game here.

    • Arghya Mukherjee

      I agree wholeheartedly with you – the very reason I started cooking for myself was the realization that I could eat better and cheaper by cooking myself than by eating out on a student’s budget. Luckily, I had the skills already dormant from helping my mother at home, so it was a fairly easy learning process.

      The cultural aspect of it is also spot on. Cooking does not have to be complicated – but many people grow up without the framework to approach it, and that mental hurdle is the hardest to surmount.

  • Stephanie Manley

    Your lecture, as well as your commentary on cooking at home is so well said. I don’t understand why we as a nation with as much resources that we have we give up this right. We should cook, we should cook simply because we eat. We have the opporunity that it is simply un parallel with any other time in the existance of man. Why would we simply throw this opportunity away? Often I am so frustrated with people that do not cook, how can you not cook? You eat.

  • Noel

    The only thing MR did not blame for the state of our health is global warming. How do you explain the fact that people are living longer and healthier?

    • Sally

      We’re living longer, though not necessarily healthier, due to advances in medicine. We are getting sicker sooner. If we keep eating the way we are, our children and grandchildren won’t live as long as we do.

      Children as young as 2 or 3 show fatty deposits in their arteries. Grade school children are developing Type 2 (formerly adult onset) diabetes.

      I’m a nurse and over the years I’ve worked with many diabetics. It used to be that after people were diagnosed, it would be 12-15 years before they started having problems from the complications of diabetes (heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, etc.). Now when I ask those who are dealing with the complications how long they’ve been diabetic, most answer less than 5 years.

      I think we’re reaching a point where medicine won’t be able to help the damage we do to ourselves with our knives and forks and lack of activity.

    • Paul Kobulnicky

      Noel … It’s a good thing that you wrote this instead of standing in front of us saying it because in writing we can’t see your lack of a straight face. Longer, yes … but due in large part to dramatic, positive shifts in infant mortality. Healthier??? Are you not following the news? Have you not been to the Mall to people watch? Girth is everywhere and carried by wheezing diabetics. Show me a family that cooks and I will show you a family that is in resonably good health (statistically).

  • Nancy Oster

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I grew up in a family that cooked together on every possible occasion. My mom and aunt used to start baking for Christmas in August. (In those days you had to shell the nuts, skin them, roast them, and grind them. You also had to preserve your strawberries during the summer if you wanted strawberry-flavored items at Christmas.) My aunt tells me that I used to sneak out of bed after the other kids fell asleep and come bake with them.

    I gave my daughter-in-law a couple of cookbooks for her birthday and told her to choose recipes we will make together. I’m dedicating my blog (http://www.nancyoster.blogspot.com) to our cooking adventures over the next year.

    Some of my fondest childhood memories are making caramel corn, doughnuts, and fudge with my grandparents and cousins. Our job included eating what was left in the bowl (http://www.amazon.com/review/RTFM3Y6060T67/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm).

    I wrote an article a few years ago on how families ate during the Depression. The people I interviewed told me stories of food sharing and family gatherings. The memories of being together in hardship–a sense of community around food–came through far more strongly in their stories than a sense of deprivation.

    Great TED presentation! And your cookbook Ratio is at the top of my personal list of most valuable cookbooks. Thanks.

  • Sally

    I used to buy the idea that women going to work was responsible for less cooking being done in the home. Then I remembered my mother, her sisters, my mother-in-law (and her sisters) and most of my friend’s mothers. All of these women would now be in their 80s into mid-90s. All worked. And all cooked meals from scratch every night. Okay — some had help in the form of their children or spouses. But someone in the home cooked a meal from scratch nightly.

    I don’t think it’s so much that we went to work as it is that we gave up our authority in the kitchen — and made other things more important. The food industry said, “Here, let us do that for you. You have more important things to do.” And we said, “Okay – sure enough.” It only took a generation for us not to know what to do in the kitchen. Feeding ourselves and our families didn’t have to be a priority; the food industry was more than willing to make it their priority. Unfortunately, they haven’t proven to be good caretakers of that responsibility. It would be bad enough if we weren’t cooking and they were giving us quality food. But many of us aren’t cooking and they’re not giving us quality food.

    I think in trying to get us back into the kitchen, many recipe developers and food writers have done more harm than good. First, there’s all the controversy over exactly what to eat. But that’s another story. Second, many of the recipes they develop call for expensive or hard to find ingredients or aren’t appealing to the home cook.

    I cook mostly from scratch. I buy basic ingredients and cook simply. While I enjoy foods from a variety of cuisines, I don’t attempt to cook most of them at home. I don’t consider myself a foodie, though I thoroughly appreciate good food.

  • Matt Schantz

    Ruhlman – I know you may sometimes feel like a broken record, but I think these ideas you talk and write about on a daily basis CANNOT be reiterated enough.

    BTW – Nice to see you dressed up for the event 😉

  • Ingrid

    This semester I am doing an ethnographic research project for class where I interview Hispanic students at a local high school. My student was born in Guatemala, but immigrated when she was young and thus was raised in America. She has told me that her mom still loves to cook Guatemalan food and tries to teach her daughter, but this American girl claims Guatemalan cooking is just “too complicated” with “too many things to remember.” So she’s happier when they order pizza. I was stunned to hear this. I treasure the recipes and techniques that my own parents taught me, even though they typify the classic ungourmet and flavorless Midwestern fare. I would be overjoyed to have a mother who could teach me authentic Guatemalan cuisine.

    It’s very easy to blame the fast food American culture for this sad story, but often when I notice aspects of our society that I dislike, I try to think of how I can have a positive impact instead. It’s too easy to become arrogant about one’s lifestyle habits, but I don’t want people to view my cooking as inaccessible. I only want people to be impressed with the food that I make to the ends that they are inspired to do the same, not intimidated at another elitist hobby.

    • Terry

      Ingrid, maybe it is not so simple. Your Guatemalan-American informant has emigrated to a new country: that is a complex process at so many levels, shot through with insecurities and a need to carve out a new place in the world. Engaging with a new culture can mean rejecting elements of one’s ‘original’ culture. Perhaps in her enthusiasm to become more ‘American’ and less Latina, she wants to turn away from her mother’s cooking and fashion what she sees as her own new identity. You understand that being American doesn’t mean ‘not being’ Asian, Hispanic, African or anything else because you are familiar with the melting-pot concept which lies at the core of American demographics. But maybe your student sees ‘being American’ in a different and more unidimensional way. I don’t know what kind of rapport you might have established with her, but it is also possible that she is putting on a public ‘pizza-eating’ face for you, and that at home, she’s busy learning to make black beans and tortillas with her mother. Or at least eating them happily.

  • Terry

    Michael, thank you for this excellent talk. I am an anthropologist and enthusiastic cook, so what you (and Richard Wrangham) say resonates loudly with me. At home, I do most of the cooking for the four of us, and try to make as much as possible from scratch. Sometimes I am a little concerned because the elder (and more ideological and dogmatic) of my two young sons will turn up his nose at processed foods when these are offered on play-dates (“Frozen pizza? Yuck! Papa makes the dough for our pizza at home…”). But I think it is a fine trade-off: children are so constantly bombarded with the worst kind of messages about food that a bit of reverse proselytizing is probably not amiss (though obviously manners are important too).

    One of the things which you notice if you’re lucky enough to spend time in tribal societies in Amazonia and elsewhere is the richness of the social and symbolic elaboration embedding food: its production, preparation and consumption. Even the act of hunting (predation) is often cast in terms of exchange and reciprocity (and concomitantly relatedness), while cooking itself is a way of imposing culture upon nature, transforming the wild into the domestic product. Hunting speaks to the transformation of boys into men, cooking to the domestic division of labour, and shared consumption to the demands of kinship.

  • Rhonda

    Michael;

    Because I am a TED fan and try and get data for all TED broadcasts, I seen this a few days ago.

    Glad you posted on it.

    Fantastic Job!

  • White On Rice Couple

    Until you philosophized about it, I didn’t ever stop to consider why I cooked. Cooking turned from a hobby to a passion during an early period in my life when I feel I was most in tune with my instincts. Instincts that never led me wrong and pulled my heart into the kitchen.
    The result:
    Nearly everyone whom I love was met or our meeting was influenced through cooking and food. I have a life for which I am thankful and feel lucky to be living.
    For me it seems as if we are coming out of the Culinary Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. Our society isn’t always progressing, however the rebounds can be amazing. Especially if there continues to be people like you who continue to share their passion. Great talk Michael.
    Todd

  • Faith In Denver303

    I quite agree! I have had a passion for cooking since I could remember. In my family, I was always joined with my mother or father, whom both appreciated and respected all the many differant cultures and cuisines in the world, in the kitchen cooking, learning, absorbing and adding my own opinions. My father was especially excited that I had such a passion for cooking and he explained to me that when you prepare something out of love and respect for the food, it always tastes better than anything that comes from a box or a fast food joint.

    With that being said, Colorado/Denver and the surrounding metro area have several Farmers Markets and offer locally grown produce, farm raised pork and lamb, some of the best I’ve ever had, which gather more and more populous each time I visit. Its a wonderful experience to see all the people in this state whom appreciate and value buying and preparing good, quality food. Together, with thier families or even by ones self. And this site is a great place to let the world or atleast country know!

    Thank you Mr. Ruhlman for youe insight and thought provoking subjects!

  • chefinohio

    Lately, my concern has grown from not just where our food is coming from(and the motive behind it’s production) but the physiological reasons for eating what we do. More importantly the nutritive qualities of the foods we eat.

    Food is not only to satiate our palates, desires, or efforts to project a certain image or lifestyle on those around us. I find myself, professionally and personally conflicted by what I cook because in the end I am the only one that has to live with me and the consequences of what I feed people.

    Let’s go back to the root meaning of “restaurant”…to restore…does our food really restore?

    Recently, I purchased a new cookbook. Not a food “porn” cookboook, but one that deals with the nutritive(restorative) nature of food. Now, I am ashamed of the crap I have fed people all these years, the lies I believed, even coming from “experts”, and most crushing is the realization of my own ignorance, dare I say negligence that I have perpetuated…the only thing I have “restored” is greed, ego, and misguided interpretations.

    Please look for a book titled “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon…it will blow your mind, more than porn from publishing houses capitalizing on the hedonistic, Freudian based marketing schemes playing to our desires as opposed to our actual needs.

  • Debbie

    I cook because I really enjoy it. Not everything turns out great all the time, but you learn from your mistakes.It is very soul satisfying when it does turn out wonderful. I wish everyone could read your blog. It’s sad that people buy so much ready made stuff, also dangerous as all the recalls show. Most cakes from scratch are not hard to make, and cookie mixes really bother me. All chocolate chip bags and Quaker Oats boxes have recipes on them. If you can read, you can cook and for a whole lot cheaper.

    I understand working long hours, I do myself sometimes. That’s not really an excuse though. Spend a few hours on the weekend cooking dishes you can freeze. Portion them to grab when you’re tired and don’t feel like cooking.

  • luis

    Michael this just in….. About the effect of chemicals in our bodies….

    “Because there’s probably more at work here than just calories in/calories out. More and more research is indicating that America’s obesity crisis can’t be blamed entirely on too much fast food and too little exercise. (Or on these seven habits of highly obese people.) A third factor may be in play: a class of natural and synthetic chemicals known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), or as researchers have begun to call them, obesogens.”

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35315651/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/

    We need you guys now more than ever….

  • Jenny

    “You should view cooking as an imperative.”
    I totally agree. Or maybe, “I cook, therefore I am (or we are).”

  • EHood

    I wrote this in response to the previous ‘why i cook’ post of February something. forgive the length. i thought long about the question. Thanks for asking, no one ever has.
    *********************************************
    Why do I cook?

    Cooking is love. Cooking is art. Cooking is craft. Cooking is therapy. Cooking is exercise. Cooking is valuable. Cooking is wonder. Cooking is exploration. Cooking is experimentation. Cooking is science. Cooking is sculpture, painting, and performance. Cooking is fun. Cooking is life.

    I cook because nothing else I do could ever provide me with so much pleasure and nourishment. I feed those that I love; I feed my creativity and encourage my personal curiosity and sense of adventure. (I am fearless! I will capture yeast from leaves and the atmosphere and make delicious bread!) I revel in making something good and valuable for myself and the people I love.
    I first began to cook quite young for a very simple reason. My mother was frequently ill, my father traveled for business, and my brothers and I were frequently hungry. There were early successes (Bolognese sauce) and notable failures (pancakes in the oven?) but I remember feeling, at an early age, accomplishment when I managed to produce something that we could eat. That feeling, and the confidence that come from it, stayed with me (despite myriad other neuroses). I believe that in part, cooking helped provide me with the confidence I have today.

    When at a career path crossroads after HS graduation I found myself an apprentice in a busy kitchen in a touristy New England coastal town. I worked my way through a couple restaurants and up to kitchen manager by 21, managing not just line duties, but specials and ordering. Cooking was something I was good at and that I could point to as a point of pride. “I did 120 covers solo tonight.” “My soup was called comforting AND original in the review in the paper.” After I hung up my apron, and, however imprudently, became a wife and mother, cooking provided a means of thrift and expression in a stressful and lean time. Once divorced and putting myself through college with small children, it was an exercise in pleasure stolen from the narrowest of windows of time. It was also a lesson to pass on to my sons. Cooking frees you from the mediocrity of what is readily available.

    Now, many years later that I am an empty nester and a laboratory research scientist (in a way I still cook for a living), I am simultaneously a hobbyist and stickler for quality. I make stocks, dressings, oils, soups and basics to keep us in good quality food that can be prepared easily, often individually, through the week, and for the most part, sit-down meals are limited to weekends, holidays, and visits from family and friends.

    In the end though, I cook because it’s something I love to do. It’s nourishing and pleasurable and gives me connections to my family, my community and the greater world in a way I don’t get from anything else.

  • Sarah

    Thank you so much for this post. I read it a few days ago, but I guess it took a bit of time to foment in my brain. It wasn’t until last night when I was making candied orange peels and got a bit shocked how much sugar I needed to use that got me thinking about the sugar and preservatives that went into the Ding Dongs that I’m embarrassed to admit, I ate the other night. Ding Dongs that made me sick about 10 minutes after eating them.

    I know that I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I did it out of nostalgia since I live and have lived in Japan for the last 4 years. However, it was then that I saw how much living in Japan has affected my diet and lifestyle; I buy produce and meats more frequently, resulting in fresher and better tasting food. I don’t buy dressings or most sauces, soups, etc..because they’re simply not available here. I cook smaller, NORMAL-sized portions because it’s expensive and difficult to find things in bulk. I didn’t realize how much this all added up, until those Ding Dongs made me ill.

    I admit it, I love sweets, and I’ll eat 5 or 6 cookies if I don’t stop myself, but eating 5 of my own homemade cookies has never made me sick. I’m no longer willing to trade my good health for ease and speed of preparation. You are right: It IS no surprise that our countrymen are getting sicker and fatter.

    I’ve read many articles, blogs, and comments on them that polarize this issue. People that argue that only the privileged can afford to buy fresh vegetables, organic, fair-trade. But does buying a frozen dinner or a can of soup really save you that much money? Maybe in the short-term, but what about the long-term costs of doctor’s visits, medical treatments, operations? Our short-term tunnel-vision allows us only to see the total at the grocery store or a meal as separate from its origins, like in your daughter’s case. We need to stop looking at what is immediately in front of us and develop lifestyles and a culture that can sustain itself into the future.

    You began your speech with the admission that you were rueful that you didn’t write on more ‘important’ subject. As a woman that went from wanting to be an ambassador to wanting to become a chef, I understand that pressure to be apologetic. However, after reading your posts and hearing your speech, instead I feel proud and more committed to cook, and to encourage others to think about their diets and the food they eat. Food IS important.

  • annmartina

    It needs to be said over and over again so that we won’t be drowned out by the people who want to make us believe cooking is not important.

    I was driving home last night and a grocery store ad came on the radio listing their specials for the which, which included a lot of processed foods, ending with the tag line that said something along the lines of “helping you feed your family quicker so that you can get back to the things that really matter.” I’m tired of this message that if you’re cooking, you’re wasting your time.

    Thank you for being such a good cheerleader!

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