Appetites: It's cool NOT to cook

Butcher and the Boar
Hold your head high, non-cooks. You fulfill a role not yet acknowledged in this country. Pictured in this photo taken Wednesday, May 23, 2012, Butcher & the Boar chef Jack Riebel, center, visits with guests at the downtown Minneapolis restaurant.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The pressure to cook is enormous. For people who don't cook, it can be shaming.

One person who is responsible for that shame is Lynne Rosetto Kasper, host of The Splendid Table and cookbook author, is here to talk about not cooking.

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: It occurred to me during a conversation with Michael Pollan, who has written a book on cooking.

Tom Crann: Urging people to cook?

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: And talking about the power of cooking when it comes to politics. And he said he is finding that a lot of people who are interviewing him are getting kind of nudgy about, you know, 'I don't cook,' and I realized for the longest time I've felt that not every one of us were meant to do everything.

Can you imagine anything worse than having to do something you really despise; doing it for a group of people who could be terribly disappointed in it; doing it with materials that change from moment to moment and day to day. They're very precarious, and every night at the time of day you're most vulnerable? Your blood sugar is low, you're exhausted, and you have to cook for the family.

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Tom Crann: What are some of the pressures, and why? Where do they come from, for people who feel pressured to cook if they're not very good at it?

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: The new food awareness that we've seen over the past decade. Here's the flip side. We cook if we are smart. We're supposed to cook to save our families and ourselves from dysfunctional, unhealthy lives. We cook to fight the obesity epidemic. We cook to save our identities, culturally, our traditions. We cook to strike out against the forces we feel are evil -- you name them. We cook because it shows how cool we are.

And we cook because if you really cook, you'll love it. I know you think you'll hate it, but if you cook, you are going to love it.

Tom Crann: That's a lot of pressure. When you hear from people who don't cook, what are their reasons for it?

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: Some of them are very sad. I don't cook because my family demeans my food. I'm ashamed. Or, I don't cook because it reminds me that I eat alone every night or almost every night. I don't cook because I don't want to have the food around -- I easily gain weight. I don't cook because I happen to be a woman and I refuse to fall into that sexist identity. And some of them are just people who say, "I don't want to cook."

It's this idea that the pressure today is we all should be doing this thing. And yeah, it's great to cook, it's wonderful to cook. But this is not something you take on if you really think you're going to hate it, unless you get curious about it.

Tom Crann: Now the wisdom is, and there's certainly research behind it, that families that eat together at a common family meal do better, are more functional. It's a great way to communicate with each other, parents and children. Cooking is almost always attached to that, isn't it?

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: It is. And of course, it's wonderful for a family to cook together. But the other thing is, the success of this whole idea of the family coming together is together.

And, for people who -- can you imagine two parents, they come home, they've worked long hours. Maybe they work two jobs. There's the money pressure, right? It's expensive to cook. It really is. McDonald's -- you can feed a family very cheaply. But the point is: they come home, they're exhausted, they're tired. Then they have to cook. And then they have sit down and they have to deal with the kids. And as I said, their blood sugar is terrible. That spells disaster. That's waiting for family dysfunction to take off.

So I would say, together is the point. Not frustrating parents and people who feel they have to do this. I don't care if you're, really, sitting around with a bucket of fried chicken. I would prefer you ate something healthy, and you ate something you made with your own hands. But the real point is sitting down and looking at each other. That's the point. And dysfunction doesn't disappear because you cook. I wish it did. My family would be entirely different.

Tom Crann: Are you ready to make an ethical case for not cooking?

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: I think we should - if we possibly have an option -- do what we really enjoy doing. Because no matter what it is, we're going to be good at it.

Now, if you do not cook, think of all the people you support who do. Think of the marriages, or the couples that you know, where one person loves to cook, no matter what their gender may be, and the other doesn't. And that person has an audience.

Non-cooks support the restaurant industry, the food trucks, the take-out, whatever. If there's a little extra money to be spent they can support sources for prepared food that are buying locally and following certain belief systems that they advocate. The non-cook is someone who generally can be a great food lover. That, by the way, is the definition of "gourmet" -- a gourmet is not a cook.

Tom Crann: An appreciator. A food lover.

Lynne Rosetto Kasper: Yes, a food lover, someone who is knowledgeable and really loves food. I think the non-cook has a great deal of power. I know that many people could care less that they don't cook.

But if you're feeling a bit ashamed, I would say hold your head high. You fulfill a role that has not been acknowledged yet in this country. But you are a great supporter of all of the other folks who like to cook.

Tom Crann: I'm a good audience member and appreciator of good cooking. I've met very little that I don't like to eat.