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Oct 8, 2011 03:43 PM

Survey: Do we cook worse than the previous generations?

Do you believe people in this generation, on average, are worse cooks than previous generations?

Please summarize your opinion in:
a) Better
b) About the same
c) Worse
and give your detail explanations if you wish, but you don't have to. You can just write a), b) or c) and done with it if you are busy.

My inclination was “Yes, we are worse”, but I am not so sure anymore. Maybe this notion is just sometime repeated enough that now we think is real, but is it really true?

Some signs which support the idea that this generation is worse:
i) we eat out a lot more
ii) tons of prepared foods in supermarket, probably more so than the fresh produce section.
iii) people work more and have less time to focus on cooking. One example, the percentage of women works almost double since 1960

Yet, here are some things to take into account:
iv) women use to do most of the cooking, men didn't, so not everyone in the previous generations can cook. Today men may cook better than men in 1900's.
v) wealthy people used to hire maids and cooks.
vi) maybe more women work than before, but our averaged work hours (per person) have been declining, so we have more free time to cook.
vi) we are a more ethnically aware society with vast easily accessible information on internet. It is not unimaginable that your neighbor cooked Vietnamese Pho last night, will cook Indian dals tonight, and Mexican fajitas tomorrow. This would have been unlikely just two generations ago. So while your grandmother may make slightly better mashed potato than you, she cannot touch your Jamaican jerk pork.
vii) while people in 1900's didn't have microwavable food, they probably cook very simple foods on a regular basis.

So what do you think? Do you think people on average are better or worse cooks than previous generations? Again, on average. There is no right and wrong answer.

Thanks for your participation

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  1. I'd say the high end is much higher while the low end is much lower, so probably averages out the same. Please don't ask me to prove it though!

    2 Replies
    1. re: coll

      :) Don't worry. I won't ask you or anyone to proof it. So I take it that it is (b) about the same.

      1. re: coll

        After much thinking about it, I think coll has nailed it

      2. I'm a better cook than my mother, who is a better cook than my grandmother (was). So I'm going to extrapolate ridiculously and say things are improving. Further, the recent-ish explosion of food-themed television and journalism points toward a growing interest in home cooking. And as you mentioned, we have easy access to information about methods and recipes and cuisines, which helps us up our game.

        1. Hmmm, what an interesting question and you have thought through the possibilities far more thoroughly than I. Absent solid data about how many people cooked themselves historically vs current generation, my gut response is the current generation are better cooks in general. Here are my off-the-cuff reasons:

          1) More knowledge of nutrition and better access to healthy foods for more people. In the 60's, 70's, and 80's, organic food was for "health nuts" who were thought to have odd ideas about eating. Now organic foods are widely accepted and available and is very mainstream.

          2) Overall, I have a perception that Sandra Lee-type semi-homemade cooking was more prevalent in the 60's, 70's and 80's. Isn't that the era that gave us rice-a-roni, hamburger helper, top ramen, etc.?

          3) Exposure to (via media and food industry) to vast array of cuisines, food options, etc., has given people the motivation to be more creative and varied in their cooking.

          I could be way off base...just my two cents.

          1. A - better. We have air freight, better refrigeration, ingredients from around the world, and hardly anything is strictly seasonal anymore. We have better equipped kitchens, and more money for groceries and better stocked stores. These factors more than offset the declines in meat quality, farmed fish, and other mass market accomodations. And I think enough people take advantage of these better conditions.

            15 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              I am partial in saying that I cook better than my mother or my grandmother. For example for current health standard we use less saturated fat. However, the dish not necessarily taste better.
              Our produce, meat, poultry etc have also evolved. I cannot produce comfort' food like my mom/grandma - the meat can be too lean or unsuitable for prolong cooking.
              Another example is the availability of food colouring & chemicals. Previous generations used natural or real plants/fruits/vegs to colour or give flavour.
              Baking simple yellow cake now requires an effort to find organic/free range eggs or we ought to rename - ivory or white cake.

              1. re: knusprig

                "I am partial in saying that I cook better than my mother or my grandmother."

                What do you think of the people in your generation? (not just your family line) Do you think people in this era are better cooks than say 50 years ago or 100 years ago? What is your opinion? Thanks for your input.

              2. re: Veggo


                I do not think better ingredients or better equipment make a better cook. :-)

                1. re: Fowler

                  I agree completely, but they provide a good running start to those who try, and I think more do try when the materials are so much better.
                  To your point, one could argue that in days of old it required a "better" cook to make a tasty meal with lesser ingredients. Some things today, like a huge fresh artichoke, are so close to perfect that not even I can screw it up.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    >>>To your point, one could argue that in days of old it required a "better" cook to make a tasty meal with lesser ingredients<<<

                    Excellent point, Veggo and thanks for the reminder that many of us had ancestors who made the best of humble ingredients.

                2. re: Veggo

                  I don't think the availability of any food from anywhere at any time is a plus. Do you really think asparagus in October is as delicious as asparagus from a local source in May or June?

                  1. re: sr44

                    No, I don't, but if we consider that some veggies have an "A" and a "B" season, I would rather have the "B" than not have it.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      And I wouldn't. The vegetables that mark the turn of the seasons are at their very best without excessive transport costs. Do you eat butternut squash in summer?

                      1. re: sr44

                        I can't recall seeing butternut squash for sale in the summer, but nor have I looked for it. I have lived in warm climates for decades, and I don't do much baking in summers, so butternut squash is for later in the year. There are items such as sweet corn and tomatoes that I like being able to buy outside of what is often a fairly short local season. I acknowlege it is "B", not "A", but often passable.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          You probably *could* get butternut squash in the summer if you knew where to go to get it because winter squashes store incredibly well. And, uniquely enough, winter squash could be as delicious as it was fresh the previous Fall. But the thing is, it's starchy and heavy and it's doubtful anyone would *want* winter squash in the summer. It's just not a good fit and that's a different question than seasonality or locality.

                          1. re: rainey

                            Maybe we could get it from South America. Or Chile.

                          2. re: Veggo

                            I've been able to buy my favorite hard squash, kabocha, year around (mainly in Asian markets).

                          3. re: sr44

                            There's a sort of fallacy at the heart of radical locovorism. While I agree that local seasonal foods are often overlooked, underproduced, and of high quality, I must also ask - should those of us outside the tropics forgo citrus fruit? Or seafood for those of us who don't live on the coast? Olive oil for those of us in an environment unsuitable for olive trees? Wine? Spices? Heck - there are places that cannot produce their own salt.

                            I'm all for the differentiation of foods from different regions and environmental concerns, but there are so many high quality foodstuffs available from outside ones region that strict, uncompromising locovorism becomes an exercise in making a point rather than one strictly concerned with improving the quality of your diet. To say that these things have improved our culinary lives is to speak with blinders on. So much so that I can't say I've ever met anyone who actually subsists entirely on locally grown, raised, and produced foods.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              I could never be a true locavore, although I support local producers quite a bit. I'm not going to forgo citrus and spices for it thought. No way.
                              Ship that good stuff my way.

                          4. re: Veggo

                            Also, having veggies year round, IMO, helps people be better cooks - if you only get a veggie for a few weeks a year, it might take years to master how to cook it. Now we have more practice time! And we need to have better cooking skills to compensate for the lack of quality vegetables.

                      2. Hi Chem,

                        Good question and I look forward to reading the replies.

                        It is hard to say just because of the changes in both technology and attitudes. For example, the advent of the gas grill with a precisely controlled temperature has probably made some people better cooks than in the olden days when gramps cooked over hardwood with a wildly inconsistent temperature. But also, a number of cooks today are better cooks than their moms or grandmoms that overcooked the heck out of food because they falsely assumed that a pink pork loin would sicken their family.

                        If forced to say one way or the other...I would say this generation is better. More knowledge and lessons learned from previous generation's mistakes.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Fowler

                          I would say we cook better. Now I do 90% of the cooking at home while my wife does ten. My cooking is different than my mothers or grandmothers as they stayed home and cook do a lot of slow cook type stuff with cheaper cuts of meat. I wish I had the time to cook like they did.