Reason For Not Eating Out #56: Because You Can Cook Instead of Watch TV


There’s been talk about how cooking is in the elites-only club. I’ve heard plenty of this sentiment anecdotally, and I’ve seen it expressed in so-called studies—especially since last fall, when a report was released that said cooking made women (yep, just women) more stressed out. These findings created a ripple of headlines in the news, prompting many to agree with said notion that cooking at home—at least nowadays—is usually reserved for the privileged, for the wealthy, for those who simply have more spare time on their hands. Okay, time equals luxury. It’s a ages-old edict, and spare time happens to be one of the most important factors in determining when civilization went from being nomadic herds of hunter-gatherers to forming a society. In essence, to creating a culture.

I get it. When we have less time, we cook less. But that taken individually is not the reality of today’s society, or culture. We enlist practically slave-laborers to do the bruntwork of food production behind shiny facades—in the field, factory, or in the restaurant’s back of house.

So where does today’s spare time go? Increasingly, it’s not towards cooking. It’s TV.

It seems that TV-watching has never had better days for public acceptance since its inception. We’re in a golden age of television, they say. You can stream the best quality entertainment out there from a home device. Watching TV is human and almost necessary—unless you’re stern parents holding out on instilling your childrens’ habits. Why do you see satellite dishes propped on single-story shacks in the most desolate places? It may be a changing of technological guards that the Internet has recently been deemed a public utility by the FCC. Certainly, some sort of connection with news and media is a right for all.

But I’m not talking about media for the sake of civil service. I’m talking about entertainment. You’re reading entertainment right now, and we all do it anyway. Because we have the time.

Well, not all the time. Sometimes we just don’t have time to run to the grocery store. Sometimes it’s too far away, and we don’t have any leftovers or pantry goods from the last time we went there in order to make dinner with. So we order takeout because it’s easiest and saves us from stress. But I wonder about the wide accessibility of TV (or its digital successors), and if it’s all too easy to make time for it instead since all that’s involved is flipping a switch.

We might look instead at studies that show the psycholigical satisfaction of making meals to fulfill your family’s nourishment instead. Yes, there are many.

Or, before you cancel your dinner parties, hear me out a sec. I don’t own a TV and haven’t for 8 years, mostly because I didn’t want to pay for cable back when. I’ve resisted subscribing to any “prime” entertainment like Netflix or Hulu mostly because I don’t want to get sucked into spending lots of time following some series. Maybe that’s not human but I think eating is more human than entertainment, and it can serve the latter purpose for me, too.

Sure, I’m someone who shares an apartment with one dog only, and you can judge that however. But I have been writing recipes focused on practicality and economically meeting one’s dietary needs for more than eight years here and elsewhere because let’s just say I have the time to try them out. And to see the results. I want them to show that you don’t have to opt for a KFC bucket or Happy Meal when it’s a happy, quick time in which you can make a grand meal yourself. I wouldn’t be so bold as to write this if it weren’t something I’ve tested for two years of not eating out in New York.

Certainly not everyone who isn’t cooking at home is instead spending their spare time watching the telly. The debate goes much further than that. To people who work two jobs while raising kids and barely have time to flop on bed each night. Or the family featured in Food, Inc. who found that grabbing fast food on their long commute to a long day of work was the most time-efficient (and hence cost-efficient) way to feed their kids.

The act of cooking is not to blame for institutional challenges surrounding poverty.

I can’t stress that enough. And yet the logic is slipping. Along with that, farmers markets are not to blame for a dearth of time in the middle of the day to go shopping at them. But I think the association of spare time and slow foods with the upper classes who can afford to take advantage of them drives a lot of the disdain.

Taking back time from TV to the kitchen can add hours to the week, and plenty cash.

That goes for on-demand or premium cable, specialty formats like flatscreen and home theaters, or enrolling in subscription entertainment services. These popular leisure expenditures cost both money and mucho time (because after you’ve invested the money in the format, don’t you want to get its worth by watching all the time you can spare to?).

In short, there is much to talk about when it comes to wage equality, a shrinking middle class and disparity of free time. But when we do have time, I think a fulfilling (rather than stressful) way to spend it is by eating well through preparing stuff by yourself. It doesn’t even have to cost as much time as a TV drama, nor the drama therein. Perhaps the popular shortcut for cooking, “TV dinners” is somehow to blame for all of this.

4 Responses

  1. Scott Morrell

    Great Article. I love my HBO, Showtime, FX and cable news. However, you make a great point in balancing which activity one gains more pleasure in doing. I am going to split the baby and try to do both! Cooking can be very pleasurable an therapeutic as well. And finally, the rewards are delicious!

    Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

  2. Karen S.

    I love this whole series of posts…Reasons for Not Eating Out. I come back to this blog periodically and peruse them for ‘refresher inspiration’.

    This article makes a good point about how we chose to use our time. My husband and I have a TV and probably always will, but I watch less and less of it, especially as I cook more and more. I strive to cook most of our meals at home, though I wimp out a few times a month or so. The more I cook at home, the more I want to cook at home (hmmm…new idea for a new Reason?) I do doodle around on facebook and such, though. I am quite capable of wasting a fair amount of my evening on that activity! I find that whatever I start to do when I get home is where I spend the next big chunk of time, so I try to start prepping and cooking first.

  3. Cathy Erway

    Thanks @Scott: That’s an excellent point about having your cake and eating it, too – you can always turn the TV on as you cook (and especially as you eat your meal!)
    @Karen S. – So funny and true that whatever you get hooked on doing when you come home is what you ultimately end up doing for the night. Absolutely no shame in that being TV sometimes, or Internet surfing, too!

  4. Michael B.

    Hi Cathy –
    Great post! It’s funny, but as you mention in your post, I get a tremendous amout of emotional pleasure from cooking for my kids. I’m a single Dad – and don’t have a ton of time during the week to cook dinner once I pick up ‘little-people’ from daycare and after school activities – but I still put a home-cooked meal together for my girls each night (except Fridays – where we usually kick-back, give Dad the night off and do Pizza or Thai take-out!). I suppose I want them to see and understand on this ‘basic level’ how much I love them – and food can be a nice way to express that. As they grow, I also want them to remember Dad cooking for them (not to mention the greater control it gives me to ensure they’re eating well!). I started cooking for myself every night after graduating from college when I lived and worked in Manhattan when I worked in publishing – as a way of eating better and being more economical – as my budget was pretty darn tight. I’d go shopping at markets and groceries stores once a week on Saturdays (there was a grocery store about 3 blocks away on 14th street) and I’d “restock”. I remember my friends would make fun of me – with my grocery bags. But I’d walk home after work, pop open a beer, put on PBS Newshour and make dinner – Heaven! 🙂

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