I’m really into this Netflix documentary series right now by Michael Pollan called Cooked. The four-episode series is based on the 2013 author’s book by the same name. Essentially, it explores the evolutionary aspects of cooking and the cultural impact that cooking has on our lives. At its core, the documentary is more of a calling for humankind to return to the kitchen and reclaim lost traditions while restoring the balance that cooking and fire once bestowed upon us.
Cooking in one form or another has always been a part of my life. Over the last 15 years, I’ve gone out of my way to make time for cooking. I give it significant consideration and it plays a fundamental role in my life at home. I was lucky to have a parent, my mother, who loved to cook. An image I can easily summon is of the metal pot swirling on the stove from which she ladled out seafood stews. That pot, those smells, symbolized my home and my family. For me, that’s what cooking represents - a moment to gather together and to harmonize. It is joy in its most basic and elemental form. It is life.
But cooking these days, is, well, optional at best. It’s no longer given that you have to cook. It wasn’t always like this. For most of history you had to cook if you wanted to eat. As a culture, we are finding it increasingly more difficult to hold tight to that ceremony of eating and spending time in the kitchen. How did we get to this point? When did curbside pickup replace the ritual of cooking and what have we lost in the process?
When we learned to cook is when we became truly human. We’re the only species that cooks its food. But according to the National Institutes of Health, since 1965 the amount of time spent preparing food has been cut nearly in half, from 112 minutes per day to 65 minutes per day.
But the reality is that we have less time than ever to make our food, let alone discover and understand where it comes from. Plus, we’ve shifted the ritual of cooking away from the kitchen and on to our televisions. Chefs are celebrities and that shift has changed the image of cooking into something elite and out of reach. The truth is that cooking is not that hard. It’s not rocket science. You can make something delicious in 20 or 30 minutes – the same amount of time you might spend at a restaurant.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating a return to some symbolic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. I enjoy eating out as much as anyone. I work in the franchise business and understand the role that a more industrialized food industry plays in modern society. But I do advocate for balance. I support understanding where and how our food is processed and brought to the table. Greater transparency will lead to better lives. I’m convinced of that.
And I would also encourage all of us to return to the kitchen. That ritual of cooking is an undeniable bond that connects us no matter who we are or where we come from. For me, it’s my mom’s stew pot or my father burning bacon on Sunday morning. It’s the smell, the sitting down at the table, the sharing of food that ties me to my family and the people in my life that I care about the most. It’s what I want to give to my family now – to my wife Bibi and my sons Mathias and Oliver.