And the Economist Says…

Down Graph …Wake up your kitchen!! Plug in the blender, dust-off the mixing bowls, and GET COOKING!

Today’s lead story in at least two of the nation’s best food sections is enough to make restaurateurs, butchers, and gourmet artisans cringe:

From Dining Out to Cold Turkey“, headlines the New York Times. “Food Lessons from the Great Depression,” writes Mary MacVean for the LA Times.

In the LA Times, we read about depression-era recipes that encouraged families to make do with the little they had. Nothing says government bailout like sour grass soup and water cocoa. In the NY Times, we learn that 60% of Americans are cooking at home more and dining out less. And Ball canning supplies are up a whopping 92% from this time last year. It was also bleak a month ago, when the Times reported that the packers at a Minnesota Spam factory were practically working 8-days a week to keep up with demand for the infamous recession meat. Meanwhile, grocery stores continue to see double-digit increases in sales of inexpensive mainstays like rice and beans.

Okay, so Americans might have made some mistakes when they signed up for those variable rate loans, but it seems like they might be on the right track when it comes to nourishment. The one glaring difference between the Great Depression (1.0) and our current economic crisis? The role children play in the family meal.

Take, for example, Hattie Adkins, now 76, who recalls being a locavore before it was cool. Her family ate whatever was cheapest and closest, including wild rabbits from the nearby woods. As MacVean reminds us, this was a few generations back when “cooking was a family affair, with children sent to pick food from the garden or shell peas. With SAT prep classes or soccer or ballet, many families are lucky to get their kids to the dinner table at all.”

(AGH. PLEASE don’t get me started.)

Fast forward to 2008. Meet Tracey Gist, the Pennsylvania resident quoted in the NY Times article. She used to take her family to restaurants for dinner most nights of the week. But with the economy as it is, she’s cutting back. And her kids are not pleased. In fact, they actually complained about a recent home-cooked roast chicken their mom served, and opted for canned ravioli instead! (I’m sure Ms. Adkins would have been delighted at the mere prospect of such a feast.) Ms. Gist mimics her daughters’ fickle tastes: “it doesn’t matter what it is [I make] if it doesn’t come on a menu.” Well you know what I have to say to this mom? TOO BAD. Get a menu. Put dinner on it. And if they don’t eat it, well, that’s what we call depression-era cutbacks.

In these uncertain economic times, it seems one thing is certain. Your kids will probably starve before they skin a wild rabbit or eat sour grass soup. (“Is that real grass? EWWW!!!”)

But cooking at home is healthier, and it is cheaper than going out. (Barbara Kingsolver proves it on every page in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) And does it really take that much more time? Many say no. Before economists turn cooking into a depression-era-only activity, let’s also remember all the joys that come from a home-cooked meal. And it gets even better when kids actually help with the cooking. Schedule cooking dinner into your kids’ lives — right before SAT class and after soccer practice — and teach them the kitchen skills they need.

That way, when they are parents themselves, and Depression 3.0 hits, they won’t be one of the millions trading take-out for a nice can of Spam.

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