Last week on my Babble blog I asked readers what they thought of Michael Ruhlman’s HuffPo rant about parents being too “busy” to cook for their kids. Actually, that was only a subset of the rant. Most of Ruhlman’s anger was directed at food editors, cookbook authors, and Food Network stars (even Jamie!) for giving rise to the 30-minute-meal industrial complex…thereby validating the message that parents are too busy to cook, thereby placing those busy, unimaginative parents at the mercy of the convenient, pre-packaged, get-it-to-the-table-fast world of processed food. (Really? You want to bring Jamie Oliver into this?) I wasn’t surprised that it touched a lot of nerves — and I encourage you to read the entire post as well as the comments that piled up over on Babble — but here on DALS, I feel compelled to write a little more it; or, more specifically, about these two quotes because I can’t stop thinking about them:
“Maybe you don’t like to cook, maybe you’re too lazy to cook, maybe you’d rather watch television or garden, I don’t know and I don’t care, but don’t tell me you’re too busy to cook. We all have the same hours every day, and we all choose how to use them. Working 12-hour days is a choice.”
“..[T]he processed food companies make it easy to blow off cooking for ourselves. And we do so at our peril…. America is too stupid to question whether something is good for it or not (‘Marge, it says snack well right on the box!’). And in the very same way we believe that idiocy, we believe these very same companies telling us how wonderful our lives will be if we buy this low-fat Lean Cuisine because it will save us so much time, only 3 minutes! Used to take seven! You’ve got four extra minutes to play with!”
I’m not crazy about the scolding tone he uses here (parents feel guilty enough without a professionally trained chef rubbing it in, not to mention single parents for whom twelve hour days are actually not a choice) and the assumption that cooking for your family is a categorically pleasant, life-affirming experience is oversimplified to say the least. BUT. BUT. BUT. There was something resonant about the message to me. And that’s because I was a victim of that kind of thinking. When I returned to work after my first maternity leave in 2002, it never even crossed my mind that I would feed Phoebe anything other than what came in a jar. Probably because I was too busy mourning the loss of cooking real meals for myself — since everyone from my relatives to my coworkers to magazine covers was telling me that, now that I was a mother, I was barely going to have enough time to tie my shoes let alone wander the farmer’s market or the aisles of Gourmet Garage in search of ingredients for Coq au vin and Marcella’s milk-braised pork. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself! They all said. You’ll only set yourself up for failure! (And the thing is, I believed them. I remember thinking that parents who made their own baby food were making some kind of statement and/or dealing with deep feelings of maternal inadequacy. I can’t say I’m proud of this, by the way.)
On one level, of course, my support panel was right — I had to think hard about how I chose to spend my discretionary hours since I now had so few of them. But once the baby began sleeping through the night and once the haze on my new reality lifted, it occurred to me that this whole time-crunch thing was something of a blessing. Having a baby clarified some things. It made my choices easy. It gave me a built-in excuse to say no to all the things that I didn’t necessarily enjoy in the first place (Sorry, can’t do drinks tonight! Have to relieve the sitter!) and to say yes to the things that I did.
For me, one of the things that mattered was dinner. That doesn’t mean that cooking for the family has always been easy or that it’s universally satisfying (see: 2002-2005), but it certainly has never been something to write off as impossible, as one arm of conventional wisdom would like you believe. There has always been time for me to make dinner because…you make time for the things you love. Don’t believe anyone – the food industry, the magazine covers, your crazy aunt — who tells you anything different.