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Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 06:18 pm

No time to cook? I hear you.

The hope is to see more ways to eat better

These days most kitchens don’t look like this.

“I know you’re not an elitist,” my husband, Peter, said to me. “But do you ever worry that you come across that way to readers?” Peter’s question arose from a conversation he’d had with one of his dental patients. This working mother of young children said she read my columns every week and really enjoyed them. But then she sighed and said, “I’d like to cook more. But when I get home at night, I’m just so tired. I should be more organized, I guess.” This woman liked my articles, but they were also making her feel guilty.

I realize that eating healthy food, real food, involves more than just turning away from fast food (including processed and pre-prepared supermarket foods). It also requires more time, thought and planning for buying and preparation. I’d never thought of it as being elitist, but understood Peter’s point.

Providing people with access to affordable, healthy, sustainably-grown food is critical to moving America’s food system towards one that’s not dependent on industrial agriculture, inhumane and potentially disease-ridden factory farms and slaughterhouses, or that revolves around the production of highly processed, nutritionally inadequate foodstuffs.

Equally important is that folks can find the time and have the ability to prepare that affordable, healthy, sustainably-grown food — something that’s not always easy in today’s harried and hurried world. It’s a worthy goal, easy for me to write about because I believe it passionately. It was integral to my family’s identity, and something Peter and I had in common when we met. But I also remember coming home after working all day in Peter’s office, dead tired, half my mind still whirling over an office problem, the other half attempting to “be there” for the kids, with only enough energy for nuking something in the microwave or ordering out for pizza.

My parents had it easy. Mom worked part time at the phone company (back when there was just one) when I was younger, then full time when I was in high school, but she never had to cook when she got home. My grandparents lived next door; Nana always had dinner on the table minutes after my parents got home. I had a babysitter only once in my life.

I variously worked part or full time the early years of Peter’s practice, and my parents and grandparents took care of our children. In the beginning, we ate dinner there frequently, too, but as the kids got older and after-school activities increased, more often than not we were on our own for supper.

Yes, there were pizza nights. But my family’s organic farm provided us with wonderful ingredients, fresh in season and frozen or canned during cold weather. I’d learned good cooking skills from Nana and my mom, and had begun increasing my knowledge on my own. As important, I enjoyed cooking and so did Peter, so time in the kitchen was time shared. We drafted the kids to help, too, as soon as possible, who joked (accurately) that whenever I’d call upstairs, “Hey, guys, come help make supper” they didn’t need to ask what to do: they just started peeling garlic.

Not everyone likes to cook, but everyone eats. And there’s a generation of young adults who never learned from their parents to cook with fresh, unprocessed ingredients, often because the parents didn’t themselves learn.

So, please, don’t feel guilty if you don’t have the time or ability to cook more — that’s never, ever, been my purpose. But I do hope that maybe some folks might start looking more closely at what they’re eating, where it comes from, and begin seeing some new ways to make what they eat better for themselves and the environment, and more pleasurably delicious. Oh, and not least, to have fun in the process.

Next week: some strategies, ideas and recipes for no-fuss midweek meals.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.
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