Home > American Culture, Lifestyle, Society > On 20-somethings and Cooking

On 20-somethings and Cooking

I saw something when I was out grocery shopping this weekend that I can’t stop thinking about.  There were three young 20-somethings in front of me in the self-check-out.  They  had a very full cart.  I’m assuming they were roommates shopping for the household.  In any case, I had a bit of a wait, so I started to look at what they’d bought.  I’m always intrigued to see what groceries other people buy.  Anyway.  Their food consisted entirely of prepackaged meals, almost all of them Hungry Man frozen dinners.   We’re talking enough frozen dinners to feed all three of them for around a month.  It took all of my self-control to not let my jaw drop open.  There was not a single piece of fruit, vegetable, or even, heck, a box of pasta in the mix!  Not even some canned applesauce!  Every single item was a frozen dinner.

This rather dramatically demonstrates a trend I’m seeing among my generation that frankly worries me.  I’m not one to rant in a pretentious way about what you should eat, but what the hell happened to the art of cooking?!  Why are people reaching their young 20s with absolutely zero knowledge about how to make dinner from scratch?  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are my age who know next to nothing about cooking.  One of my meals that never fails to impress these friends who can’t cook I call Poor Man’s Pasta.  I take some fresh veggies, chop them up, stir fry them for a bit with herbs, water down some marinara sauce, add it to the pan, and cook it until it simmers down.  I toss pasta in with this, and we have a meal stuffed with fresh veggies and herbs and far more health than a frozen meal that god only knows where the food came from, how long its been frozen, or how much sodium is in it.  It’s basically frankenfood, and it disturbs me that people my age don’t know how to make anything better.

Cooking is one of those things we need to know how to do as human beings.  We should know how to make ourselves food! This seems obvious, but it apparently is not.  Why are parents letting their kids grow up without knowing how to cook?  Isn’t this a basic human need that should not be ignored?  It reminds me of the kids in my undergrad who arrived at college with no clue as to how to do their own laundry.

So, I call out to my fellow 20-somethings.  If you don’t know how to cook, please learn.  It is cheaper.  It isn’t that time-consuming to make a freshly-made meal.  Ask a friend who knows how to cook.  Take a lesson at a local adult learning facility.  This is a basic skill you should at the very least know how to do.  Even if you only cook your dinner yourself once or twice a week, it’ll still be better for your health.  Not to mention, then you can pass the ability of cooking on to your kids, if you decide to have them.  Don’t let the future be a world where only professional chefs know how to cook a meal.

  1. January 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Oh, it isn’t just the 20-somethings; it’s chronic now in a country that emphasizes convenience and markets processed meals as “healthy”. This has really only happened over the last three decades! It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing thing, and raising two children alone, it can’t always be. However, the emphasis on cooking from scratch and using fresh ingredients is SO worth it.

    • January 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      Amen, sister! I fully admit. Some days, you just have to do the convenience foods. The days when I had to do grad school and a full work day come to mind. But making any effort at all is a step in the right direction.

  2. January 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Right on! I’m happy to report that cooking actually something my kids know how to do! However, I’m afraid that laundry is another story! (Okay, I think they know how, but just don’t.) AND the thing that I REALLY need to get them to learn is cleaning up the kitchen after they make a mess cooking! Big problem.

  3. January 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Guilty as charged! However, I’m currently learning to cook. I have cookbooks now and have learned to cook chicken and bake. I know that’s not really a huge deal, but frozen food gets boring. Anyways, I do quite like this post, as it reminds me to get off my ass and cook something.

  4. January 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    If they live in a dorm, they might not have a stove top or oven to cook with, only a microwave. I know when I was in dorms I lived off ramen noodles and Marie Calendar’s.

    I agree that people should learn to cook, though. It’s not as hard as the people on Top Chef make it to be. 😉

    • January 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

      I remember making ramen with my coffee pot!

      • January 23, 2011 at 7:51 pm

        And anyone can toss together a salad! Microwave or no microwave. 😉

  5. January 20, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I think ours was one of the first generations in which many kids had fast or frozen food regularly for dinner, and many of them never learned how to cook and are afraid to try. I’m glad my parents believed in home cooked meals because that has carried over into how I approach food now.

    I agree with booksnyarn’s point about pseudo-healthy processed foods. Have you read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food? I was fascinated (and appalled) by his description of how the food industry manipulated us through the FDA and marketing.

    • January 23, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      I’ve been told so many times to read that as well as The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Once I have the itch to read more non-fiction now that my graduate degree is finished, I’ll have to get on that!

      Parental influence is such a *huge* factor. My dad cooked every night after a long day of work, largely because it’s cheaper, but also because he enjoys it. I guess that enjoyment got handed down to me as well.

  6. January 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I’m right there in the amazement area, dear. Since school districts have basically eliminated Home-Ec, the 25 and younger crowd believes in eating out and pre-packaged meals. No wonder the U.S. suffers from obesity! The youth of today has forgotten what a home-cooked meal was, and half can’t even boil water!

    • January 23, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Someone my age once told me that he once ruined a pot of pasta. I didn’t even know it was possible to mess up pasta that badly! He said he let it boil too long, and it turned to mush. *sigh*

  7. January 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

    I am a fellow 20 something and am feeling you lol. I’m fortunately that come from a family of cooking lovers and have found friends who also enjoy it…but we are the minority in the UK too. You know what ready-meals don’t even taste that good which is off putting enough but then when you start thinking about the rubbish that goes into them, my veins are furrying and my indegestion system is churning just at the thought. I think there is almost nothing as satisfying then to create a delicious and healthy meal for family or friends.

    • January 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      🙂 If you ever make it State-side, Jessica dear, I hope we can hang out and do that. It’s one of my favorite things too. 🙂

  8. January 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Back when I lived near school people were home all the time, I could make meals! It was delicious! Now maybe I will have a meal with Sara around 9pm when I’m home late from work. >_<

    I do get free fruit at work. That's delicious.

    • January 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      Free fruit at work is awesome! I’m all jealous and stuff. I hope Sara gets home earlier and can cook for you sometimes. 😉

  9. January 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I check out other people’s carts too, and like you, I’m also sad to see the lack of fresh produce. It’s primarily all boxed, bagged, canned or frozen. Especially families with kids! I mean, I know you’re busy, but cook at least once or twice a week to have left overs! Use a crock pot! Your kids need to grow up on fresh, non-processed, non-overly-preserved food! I have on occasion gotten looks of varying interpretations when I (a 20-something) go through the line – and most of my stuff is fresh! I’ve even stumped a number of cashiers who can’t recognize their own produce!

    It wasn’t always this way. Throughout college, the time available to cook and my kitchen know-how were limited. Never a fan of a frozen dinner diet, there were basic things I could make on my own. I also wasn’t afraid of trying recipes I’d find, and I had at 5 yummy recipes that were uniquely my own.

    But the same stuff gets boring and I wanted to expand my cooking repertoire and eating horizons, so I, a 20-something, invested in Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home cookbook, and have been cooking my way through the book. I haven’t been able to cook EVERY week, but I’ve challenged myself to keep to the book’s timing, and for that we have discovered new favorite foods and ingredients I otherwise would have never heard of or tried; we can say from experience whether or not we like something, and my skills as a cook have definitely increased and there’s not much that I can’t make.

    Initially, it was expensive – but over time, it’s gotten increasingly and very noticeably cheaper as I’ve developed a nice, usable pantry. Once you have your supply of staples, produce is quite cheap! The recipes use a lot of seasonal fresh fruits and veggies (often fruit is the dessert) and despite how indulgent the meals look and taste – I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn just how healthy they are!

    Not only that, but it feels SO GOOD to hear my spouse brag about my cooking abilities to others and ask me to make this or that for him because he loves my cooking. And I love that even though I got the recipe from Martha, I get all the credit from making it!

    • January 25, 2011 at 10:11 am

      I love feeding others fresh, healthy food too!

      I’ve been the recipient of looks myself, although generally that’s because I have no meat in among my things 😉

  10. January 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    I don’t cook as much as I used to when it wasn’t just me, so it’s good that I have weekly dinners with Rachel to keep me making things from scratch. I don’t think my parents really ever gave us anything frozen (meal-wise, perhaps some of the side dishes or ingredients) and I’ve already fallen down on that trying to feed Baby G at the end of a long day. Whenever my dad and I get together we also cook; it’s one of the ways we communicate.

    • January 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

      It is a bit of a challenge to cook for one with fresh ingredients. I always find myself with leftovers. Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It makes for good lunch the next day.

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