This morning, I heard the New York Times columnist Gail Collins on National Public Radio, where she was promoting her new book, When Everything Changed. The subtitle is The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, and this will give readers a pretty good idea about the subject of the book. On NPR, Collins spoke about how after World War II, a family was able to live a comfortable middle-class life on one income, a life that included a house, a car, vacations, and college for the children. This changed in the 1970s, when the economy could no longer support a middle-class lifestyle with only one salary. Women, in great numbers, began to work outside the home so that their families could continue to live the good life. (Of course, it must be noted that many women were itching to get out of the house, and for these women this was a golden opportunity.)
Most women today expect that they will have careers as well as a family, and by and large this is a good thing. The days of the bored, trapped housewife, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, are over, and good riddance, too. Being trapped is never a good thing. Unfortunately, as Collins noted, our American society has not kept pace with the changes. From maternity and paternity leave to childcare to vacation time, the United States is far more parsimonious than most industrial countries. And what are the results? Well, women are no longer bored. Instead, they are stressed because what they now lack is time to be with their families, take care of the house, and, yes, cook. (Some headway has been made with getting men to pitch in and do their fair share around the house, but more progress could certainly be made on that front.) Fast food—from McDonalds to frozen pizza—is a temptation that most busy families succumb to at least some of the time.
Recently, Michael Pollan wrote a piece about how America loves to watch cooking shows, but when it comes to actually cooking, not so much. Naturally, he disapproved. For a dissenting view, Matthew Yglesias, on the blog Think Progress, suggests that we have better things to do with our precious time than cook, activities such as “read a blog, download an MP3, get a movie from Netflix on Demand.” He’s tired of all the foodies and celebrity chefs hectoring the general public about the evils of fast food and the glories of cooking, which he seems to feel are overrated.
So back and forth we go, ricocheting between cooking shows and really cooking; fast food and home cooked meals; watching a movie after work or cooking dinner. And amidst the ricocheting, two things are true: we Americans have too many demands on our time, and we have lots of media distraction.
Yet despite the lack of time and the distractions, it seems to me that many people are cooking and are even enjoying it. Maybe these home cooks are more Mark Bittman than Julia Child, but some people, at least, are taking the time to prepare simple, nutritious, delicious meals. Are they are a majority or a minority? I really couldn’t say, but they certainly are a presence on blogs on the Internet, and in Maine, anyway, interest in cooking and food has probably never been greater.
I’d like to end on an upbeat note. Now, I realize that my family probably has a greater interest in cooking and food than many families do, but here is how my daughter Shannon and I chose to spend Columbus Day, a day off for both of us—we made an apple pie together. We could have done any number of things with our time. We could have gone out to lunch. We could have gone to a movie. We could have gone shopping. These are all fun things to do, and I don’t look down on any of these activities. Instead, we chatted as we peeled apples and made a piecrust. As the pie baked, the kitchen was filled with the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon. When the pie was done, we made tea and had warm pie with ice cream. My husband, Clif, who had been working on outside projects, came in and joined us.
Did we think this was a good use of our time? We certainly did. And the pie was pretty good, too.