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'Slate' Criticizes the 'Home-Cooked Family Dinner': Joel Salatin Responds

Tags: Joel Salatin, family dinner, home cooking, Slate

Victimhood escalates to stratospheric whining with Amanda Marcotte's recent Slate post titled Let's Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.

Joel SalatinThe piece concluded more often than not family members (especially the male ones) were ingrates and, generally, home-cooked meals were too stressful, expensive, time-consuming, and utensil-dependent to be worthy of the trouble.

Marcotte's indictment of what she considers a romanticized cultural icon certainly speaks volumes about where our cultural mainstream food values reside. Indeed, the average American is probably far more interested and knowledgeable about the latest belly-button piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture than what will become flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone at 6 p.m.

In the circles I run in and market to, the home-cooked meal is revered as the ultimate expression of food integrity. The home-cooked meal indicates a reverence for our bodies' fuel, a respect for biology, and a committed remedial spirit toward all the shenanigans in our industrial, pathogen-laden, nutrient-deficient food-and-farming system.

I would imagine most of the ungrateful males in these families watch TV or see a lot of food ads on their computers. You won't find integrity food advertised on TV or pop-culture web sites. It'll be a steady brainwash of junk food, convenience, highly processed food-like materials. That we can physically chew and swallow the stuff does not make it desirable for our bodies.

Further, since when are women the only ones who are supposed to shoulder the burden for integrity food? Why doesn't Marcotte, rather than whining about unappreciated women, write instead about families who seem to think sports leagues and biggest-screen TVs are more important than health? Who think pharmaceutical companies are responsible for wellness?  Who think no difference exists between factory chickens and pastured chickens?

Here's the question I would like to ask these families: "Are you spending time or money on anything unnecessary?" Cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, lottery tickets, People Magazine, TV, cell phone, soccer games, potato chips . . . ?  Show me the household devoid of any of these luxuries, then let's talk. Otherwise, you're just unwilling to do what's more important, which is provide for the health of your family and your environment. That's a personal choice, and one that's entirely within your control.

I'm amazed at the difficult situations I hear about in which people do indeed rise to the occasion. Whether it's sprouting mung beans or alfalfa seeds in a quart jar on the windowsill or buying grain by the bushel, resourceful, can-do people committed to changing their situation figure out a way to do it.

For Marcotte to accept irresponsibility this easily underscores a profound courage deficiency. Turn off the TV, get out of the car, get off the phone and get in the kitchen — men, women and children. The most expensive potatoes in the nation are cheaper by the pound than the cheapest potato chips. Ditto healthful ground beef from pastured cattle versus fast-food burgers.  

With slow cookers, indoor plumbing, timed-bake and refrigerators, today's techno-enabled kitchens allow busy people to cook from scratch and eat with integrity far easier than during Great Grandma's time. She had to fetch water from the spring, split stove wood, start a fire and churn the butter and she still managed to feed a large family very well. If our generation can't do at least as well with our 40-hour work week and kitchen tech, then we deserve to eat adulterated pseudo food that sends us to an early grave. I don't know that anyone's children deserve this, however.

While extreme hardship does certainly exist — and my heart breaks for impoverished people who truly have no resources — let's not excuse the other 98 percent from their responsibility on that account. If everyone who could do something would do it, perhaps we would all have enough left over to help the egregious hardship cases. Soccer moms driving their kiddos half a day one way to a tournament, stopping at the drive-by for "chicken" nuggets, and then dismissing the kitchen as "too stressful" is an upside-down value system. And how many of the men whining about not liking what they're being fed spend their Saturdays on the riding mower managing a monoculture, fertilized ecological-dead-zone of a suburban lawn, rather than using their resources to grow something nutritious for their families and wholesome for the planet? When do we start talking about them? Hmmmmm?

Photo by Richard Lord: Joel Salatin raises pastured poultry and grass-fed beef at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va.



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johnthorne
9/16/2014 11:03:06 AM
"Great Grandma ... had to fetch water from the spring, split stove wood, start a fire and churn the butter and she still managed to feed a large family very well." Yeah, she was quite a gal. She made her own dresses from flour sacks and grabbed a gun and stood side by side with the men to protect her family from marauding Indians. Too bad she died of cholera before women got the vote. But why drag her into this pile of manure? Getting every family to cook its own meals is on the whole a huge and despicable waste of time and resources and needs to be changed. New ideas are needed, not the rehashing of old and impossible ones. Calling Amanda Marcotte's essay "stratospheric whining" is a cheap shot. Read her essay yourself and make up your own mind. It's far from perfect, but her points make a lot of sense.

FraggleRock
9/15/2014 11:25:07 PM
This is my first time posting here although I've been reading for a while now. I am actually a long-time reader of Slate. I read this particular article when it first came out. I think what Marcotte was trying to say (albeit very badly) is that cooking meals from scratch at home isn't as easy as some folks make it out to be nor is it a cure-all for everything that ails the world. I could relate to some of her stories. For example I'm a newly divorced single mother of a 7 yo girl. It is extremely difficult to work a full-time job, come home, cook from scratch a healthy meal, eat dinner, help with homework, clean the kitchen, then tuck the monkey into bed in the space of 2 hours. And given that her father and his mother are from-the-box type of people it is hard to convince the monkey that real food is better. Before the divorce I also had her father complaining about the food because it wasn't from a box and loaded with salt and fat. That being said I continue to do it because I think it's best for me and my kiddo. I have taught myself to do some prep ahead of time and the slow cooker is my best friend. Where there's a will there's a way. But many people don't know how to begin cooking or don't have resources like a functional kitchen. Actually this story makes me want to donate a bunch of slow cookers to some of those folks!

FraggleRock
9/15/2014 11:24:20 PM
This is my first time posting here although I've been reading for a while now. I am actually a long-time reader of Slate. I read this particular article when it first came out. I think what Marcotte was trying to say (albeit very badly) is that cooking meals from scratch at home isn't as easy as some folks make it out to be nor is it a cure-all for everything that ails the world. I could relate to some of her stories. For example I'm a newly divorced single mother of a 7 yo girl. It is extremely difficult to work a full-time job, come home, cook from scratch a healthy meal, eat dinner, help with homework, clean the kitchen, then tuck the monkey into bed in the space of 2 hours. And given that her father and his mother are from-the-box type of people it is hard to convince the monkey that real food is better. Before the divorce I also had her father complaining about the food because it wasn't from a box and loaded with salt and fat. That being said I continue to do it because I think it's best for me and my kiddo. I have taught myself to do some prep ahead of time and the slow cooker is my best friend. Where there's a will there's a way. But many people don't know how to begin cooking or don't have resources like a functional kitchen. Actually this story makes me want to donate a bunch of slow cookers to some of those folks!

fusgeyer
9/11/2014 11:19:12 PM
Tonight we had an amazing meal of roasted chicken quarters. This was chicken that we raised and processed ourselves on our meager 1/5 acre suburban lot. The side was hashbrowned potatoes with onions and peppers. The peppers came from our garden, again on the same small lot. Huge difference in the way backyard chicken tastes from store bought. BTW - my hubby usually cooks our dinners but he had a company event so I cooked instead. We sit down to dinner as a family every night (or at least those of us who are home do). Would not change a thing.

FreedomFarms
9/11/2014 12:07:47 PM
Home cooked meals are a valuable aspect to our lives. The dinner table is where we communicate and where families talk. Lisa King wanted to share a few reasons why she believes families shouldn't give up on home cooked meals, and to thank those who haven't given up on those home cooked meals. http://bit.ly/1p7m1Gc

CHICKENK
9/9/2014 7:01:41 AM
The point that Ms. Marcotte seems to miss is that it is not either eating take out or tv dinners or cooking a gourmet meal. It is perfectly possible to make quick, easy, inexpensive healthful meals. Beans, greens, and rice, being one example. Slow cookers are a treasure for busy parents and and another way to make filling dinners cheaply and easily. Is it always the best thing we ever ate? No, but we are grateful that we can afford to eat. Is cooking meals every day the most fun I ever had? No, of course not, but neither are a lot of things we do day to day. It's called being a grown up. The second really important thing she seems to miss is that there are many studies that show a positive relationship between family dinners and improved health, school and other outcomes for kids.

Scotth1218
9/8/2014 10:58:47 PM
I always get offended when someone talks about mothers today not having enough time, or even fathers: to cook meals or to do this or that. My sister was born in 1950, my brother 1954, my next brother in 56 and I was born in 1960. Meaning that pretty much from 1955 to 1979 my folks had someone in school. Not once did they miss a school event in town or out of town. The closest sporting even we had for out of town games was 45 miles away. Other than that they had to travel at least 90 miles. That was through 3 boys in 3 sports a year. Plus music events through all 4 of us and plays, etc... My point being? Mom always had laundry done, no dryer: dinner always cooked, breakfast ready. Dad went to work before 7. Loved his job by the way, worked at the same place for 30 years. But with my third sibling, when he got to high school, mom started to work. Still had breakfast and dinner on the table. They were both at every event. Oh, don't forget every parent teacher conference. In 79 when I graduated and went to college, they would still come to my track meets. So, 4 kids, never missed an event for 35 years, mom never missed making a meal unless she was sick or out of town, in which case dad had no problem stepping in. Amazing what having grown up when you had nothing did for you. I have cooked for my family for 30 years. Luckily my kids hung around the kitchen enough to figure it out. Now they call over and over to figure out how I made something. They have the recipe's, but like all of us it never tasted like mom's. But you know something? In 30 years, with the exception of holidays, I have never spent hours in the kitchen. And I still make a healthy meal. I'm not sure where people have gotten the idea it takes that long. I have never watched Rachael Ray. You figure it out. You learn how to do it just like mom or grandma did it. It can be done. Even today I just don't pick up the cell phone. As a matter of fact there isn't anything that important in life that I can't ignore a call. For heavens sake, we did it for how long. Someone got taken to the ER, well, we made it there eventually.

gypsygalindenver
9/8/2014 4:39:23 PM
I couldn't agree more. Reading the Slate article made me wonder if I was reading something out of The Onion. I grew up in a family that cooked our meals most every night. And it wasn't my mother cooking on those weeknights, but my father and then later my sister and me, as our parents taught us how to cook. Joel is right when he says this about choice and our values. The Slate article is a lazy and narrow perspective.

412mew
9/8/2014 11:58:06 AM
I think most people today lack the skills needed in the kitchen, either their parents didn't have the time or the inclination to teach them how to cook. More people rely on fast food, or already prepared junk at the store, not having any idea as to what's in it.

LeslieS
9/8/2014 9:29:08 AM
Preach it Joel! Maybe they should add up the cumulative amount of chemicals and non-food fillers in all that "convenient" stuff they're eating. When you consider how many mystery people, in varying stages of health, cleanliness, and actual concern, are handling what you are about to put in your mouth, how many rat hairs and droppings are okay, how old whatever that initial food product is, whether or not it was cleaned in the process (and what was used - was it rinsed off?), my decision to actually pick out healthy food (primarily from my farmers mkt and my garden) and actually prepare it myself, is pretty much a no-brainer. And it saves me money on several levels!

Christine
9/8/2014 9:11:12 AM
I have to respond a little bit. Overall, I agree with most of what folks are saying about cooking food from scratch--I do it all the time. I do not feel that Joel was "way, way, way off base." I believe he was right on target. And I agree that our food is very important (after God, of course). Consider this: for almost 6,000 years people have cooked from scratch without the convenience of convenience food. What gives us "moderns/millennials" the notion that we are doing it right and our ancestors have done it wrong? How arrogant of us! I am unlearning a lot of how I used to cook, and learning how my ancestors made meals (including growing and storing). In my house, I am in charge of the kitchen: I buy the food (organic), I plan, cook and serve the meals. No one eats freely from the pantry or the fridge without permission because I may need that item for a meal I was planning. (If you're bored, go outside and clean the coop) No complaints from the healthy, happy family. One last thing: I know too many young women who know nothing about meal planning and cooking. They don't know how to put a meal together unless it comes out of shrink-wrapped packaging. I talk to them about using food in its basic form and they're clueless. I have nothing but pity for them. As far as driving all day taking the kids here and there, my daughter does that. Baseball, piano, ballet, choir, church clubs, summer camps, etc. for 5 children. I get a headache listening to her tell me about it all. Yet, she can't see it any other way. :( -- She does cook, though!

twiggysiren
9/6/2014 11:10:37 PM
I agree 100% with everything you have written! I understand how some folks might be put off by your tone, but this is a vitally important topic and folks would do well to listen to what you are actually saying and really spend some time to think about it. There is nothing more important than food (well, other than water), and don't get me started on how lazy we as a society have become. I find the two issues inextricably related. I include myself, I have a long way to go to improve. I'm consciously undoing years of training in the fast-food TV sponge lifestyle. Sports are great, but folks get a healthy, regular dose of physical activity when they produce their own food and there is a level of satisfaction that can't be beat, not to mention tangible results. If we all took ownership of our food and households, we'd have no need for gym memberships and much less time or inclination to read the drivel that comes out of publications like Slate. Besides the food issue, there is the family element. So many families are falling apart. I know that people have it hard, but there is always a way to create a healthier and more love-filled life. We just need to think outside the boxes created around us in elementary school. And if people don't hear about it, they may never take a step in that direction. Thank you for your response to that sad article.

jeanalexander
9/5/2014 10:07:37 PM
It's never a good sign when negative comments work to bring down something others value. They don't have to agree. They also don't need to knock it. I also think the trend for more cooking is popping up all over. Even, I hate to admit it, on TV cooking shows. I was impressed with The "F" Word where Gordon Ramsey wants to get people *back* in the kitchen. It's not an old fashioned concept. It's just one that got pushed back in our culture and is now pushing forward again. Thanks goodness!

SteveInNC
9/5/2014 3:47:54 PM
Your response to Marcotte is way way way off base. And that opinion comes from a man who cooks for my family almost every night, from scratch, and shares your opinion of the value of home cooking. Marcotte reported a study. She didn't conduct the study. She didn't "whine," "indict" or even express her opinion. She reported the conclusions of sociologists. So you are attacking the wrong person. But don't attack the sociologists either, or the people they studied. Maybe you could be willing to read and learn about the pressures on other folks, good folks. Most peoples' lives are different than yours and mine. Cooking from scratch is time consuming and hard for many, especially single parents, most of whom are women. It's especially hard when your kids are young, and yes, that can be stressful. I spend hours a night cooking & cleaning because I value it and love it. I don't have to work overtime, my kids are teens, and I neglect certain other things in favor of food. But people who have to work a job and a half or two because wages are so low don't have that luxury. I'm assuming the sociologists found that people struggle with this. So maybe have a little sympathy. And stop shooting the messengers. If you think 98% of people aren't struggling economically, you need to get out more. Your response was, to me, a textbook case of how zealous advocates alienate people. You've done slow food, healthy food, and healthy ecology a disservice. Save your anger for those who are marketing poison fake food - and try thinking of how to support reporters, sociologists, and poor women. You need them and they need you.

Lisa
9/5/2014 12:39:56 PM
I cringed at the comment about soccer as I believe health comes from activity too .. but the follow up with how we drive half a day one way is so true out here in Steamboat Springs, CO. And that's not for a tournament .. it's for a normal weekend league game. It's what we agree to in order to live here. However - I bring a homemade sports drink with filtered water, raw honey, raw apple cider vinegar, electrolytes & chia seeds for him to drink, a thermos with last nights leftovers (organic, pastured yadda yadda) as well as organic fruit & some raw cheese. We breeze by the fast food death holes at 75mph on I-70. ;)

Kirsten
9/5/2014 9:06:57 AM
It is certainly part of any parent's job to introduce the fundamentals of cooking to their children. As a farmers market manager, I would go even further to say that it's a parent's job to teach their children--regardless of home circumstances--about who grows their food and how. However, as a suburban soccer mom of four, wife, gardener, and one-share CSA operator I am continually discouraged and angered by the overtones of the "foodosphere." The food evangelists promote the idea that you're all in or you're a McNugget-eating slob. The truth is that a lot of us live (by choice or by circumstance) in the suburbs. A lot of us received little food education growing up. The vast majority of us have NEVER ONCE PAUSED TO THINK about where food comes from. We need engage in a constructive campaign of re-education. Folks have to be brought along incrementally--sustainably--or they will crash and burn along the learning curve of sourcing and preparing whole foods. Further, the role of parents in introducing and enforcing healthy eating habits--and I'll just say it--MOTHERS--is not supported. I love whole foods. I grow my own and buy what I don't grow from local farmers. I still find that cooking is often a thankless chore and a burden of parenthood. That's just a reality that might not be experienced daily by those who think and write about food in a philosophical or evangelical manner. We're not going to help working families connect to the source of their food by hating their monoculture lawns, denigrating their interest in football, or talking "about" them. We must talk "to" them. Here are some things we can say: 1. Start easy--bring your kids to a farmers market or farm stand. Have them help you to choose and cut whole fresh carrots and other veggies to pack in school lunches next week. Ask for their feedback. 2. Try this recipe--it includes several whole food ingredients. You can do it! 3. You'll feel good when you give yourself and your kids food boundaries. Your kids will complain. That's OK. Stay positive. 4. Read this article or watch this movie about industrial food. What do you think? 5. Hey Mom--you're doing a good job. Your work in the kitchen is important. Thanks for supporting local agriculture.

MTNester
9/5/2014 12:37:55 AM
I like this article it made me think and really should make others thinkbabout how to try and get meals back to basics, made from simple ingredients, meats vegetables and other staples. Of course home cooked meals are healthier For 25 years as a housewife in the suburbs, during the 80s and 90s I did make basic simple homemade suppers. But it wasn't easy, my own mother was no into teaching us to cook, she made spartan meals and kept us kids out of the kitchen. Once married at 21 I had only high school home ec class to fall back on, and luckily got some lessons from my mother in law who was a good scratch cook (she grew up on a farm). Re: Weekday suppers: I can honestly estimate the average time it took:. To wash and prepare 3 or 4 different types of raw ingredients, cook them all usually separately (husband liked individual vegetables separate), serve the meal at the table, dine quickly, remove and load dishes in dishwasher, scrub rinse and dry and put away the pots and pans, wipe table counters and perhaps sweep kitchen floor, was around 3 hrs for a one- course, non-gourmet supper meal made from scratch ingredients. This is might have taken less time if husband or kids helped, but they almost never did. Being a stayhome mom I felt guilty to ask my husband to help as soon as he walked in the door at 5pm. (He helps more since the kids moved out 10 yrs ago) . Kitchen cleanup especially interests no one, and if cook joins the family to relax after supper, the mess just sits till morning. But I was happy we were all eating homemade suppers, even if they werent fancy, and not highly salted or greasy, there was no deep fryer in my house -eg nobody got fat in those years! I also had to do all the housework, shopping, laundry and help my husband run his business from home (answering phone, bookeeping, mailouts, banking, tax remittances), deal with all the kids birthday parties, family birthdays, christmas etc. and organize our sparse social life. Weekdays were long, beginning of course with performing the early morning routine myself, eg wake kids, make breakfast, make school lunches, and sometimes after school take kids to organized activities like swim lessons. Today's working parents have nobody at home to do all those extra things, both often both work outside the home 8 till 5, so no wonder they cut corners by purchasing premade meals, it would be almost the only time saving strategy available on weekdays.

linda.dicks1
9/4/2014 6:10:51 PM
well said. Of course I grew up on a farm and currently have my little piece of paradise where I grow veggies, fruit, chickens and each year the "yard" gets smaller. It only receives natural fertilizer and I have a dairy I can buy raw milk at. People do not know what they are missing.










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