Why We Cook

January 9, 2015

Why do we cook?

Anthropologists tell us that cooking is what ultimately makes us human, differentiating us from other species in that cooking created community. We gathered around the fire…cooking and eating together.

They also tell us that cooking helped us to pre-digest food, fueling our brains more efficiently, allowing us to evolve into having larger brains with a capacity for creativity and smaller guts since we could spend less time (actual hours) chewing. Once our brains evolved, we became the community of humans we are today.

All of this is very insightful thinking and theorizing (the result of big, well-nourished brains) that helps us to understand the very wide and diverse ramifications of cooking.

Cooking is so much more than abstract theory. I have cooked for most of my life, since discovering the joys of the kitchen as a young child. The impact of cooking on my life is without measure, from working side by side with my mother at the stove, learning the art of cooperation to literally saving my own life in my tiny apartment kitchen with what I cooked when I was diagnosed with cancer at age 26.

My connection to food (some say obsession with…) drives my every waking breath…but not in the way you might think. Food is primal and visceral. I know, in my soul that the food we choose creates the people that we are and the planet we live on.

There is so much more to food than what’s on your plate.

Growing up, there was no question about the food we ate. My mother cooked it. There was no question where we would eat dinner. We gathered around the table daily to eat, talk about our days and stay connected as a family, creating our own personal micro-community.

Research tells us that about two-thirds of American families say they eat most dinners together, but what does that mean? According to Mark Hyman, MD, research released in 2010 showed that 50% of our meals were eaten outside the home; most family meals take place about three times a week with a duration of about 20 minutes and consist of packaged, microwaved dinners eaten while we watch television, text, work on computers…or drive in cars.

Hardly the stuff of hearth and home that many of us grew up with…

We say we don’t have time to cook. We’re too busy and stressed to create meals from scratch in the same manner as our mothers. Yet, we seem to find the time to watch other people cook. Cooking has become a Coliseum sport, a spectator event, rather than a nourishing act of comfort and love.

Dinner has been hijacked by the food industry, openly and consciously, as they worked to convince women everywhere that they had no moral imperative to cook. ‘Let us do it for you’ was the seductive call. And we followed, glad to pass on the drudgery of the kitchen (cooking is work, after all…) to someone who could, by virtue of chemicals and flavor enhancement make cherry products that taste more like cherries than cherries…and can make anything taste like chicken.

We left the dinner table for dinner in a bucket.

The result is that after millennia of surviving by knowing what and how to eat, we now need experts to tell us how to be healthy, communal humans. What foods to choose, how to prepare them and why we share them as a family and a community have been part of our hardwiring since the dawn of human society and yet, our modern life has left us unable to feed ourselves without the advice and counsel of a nutritionist.

As recently as one hundred years ago, we ate locally-produced, natural foods…what we now call organic. There was no junk food, no drive-through windows, no frozen food. There was only what your mother or grandmother cooked. We gathered around the fire, socializing as meals filled the house with the perfumes of nourishment.  

No one gathers around the microwave watching our frozen dinner heat.

So for me, the most important tool we have to change our health…and change the world is cooking and eating real food…together. We have the collective ability to create social change that will rock this world. It’s time to reclaim the hearth fire that drew us together and created civilization. It’s time to rebuild our human family, one meal at a time.

It all begins in the kitchen and it’s why we cook.