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Survey: Do we cook worse than the previous generations?

Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 03:43 PM

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. coll RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 04:04 PM

    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
      Chemicalkinetics RE: coll Oct 8, 2011 04:25 PM

      :) 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
        EWSflash RE: coll Oct 9, 2011 11:44 AM

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

      2. s
        small h RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 04:38 PM

        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. j
          jlhinwa RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 04:45 PM

          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. Veggo RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 04:51 PM

            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
              knusprig RE: Veggo Oct 8, 2011 05:23 PM

              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
                Chemicalkinetics RE: knusprig Oct 8, 2011 05:54 PM

                "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
                Fowler RE: Veggo Oct 8, 2011 06:06 PM


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

                1. re: Fowler
                  Veggo RE: Fowler Oct 8, 2011 06:15 PM

                  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
                    Fowler RE: Veggo Oct 8, 2011 06:50 PM

                    >>>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
                  sr44 RE: Veggo Oct 8, 2011 09:49 PM

                  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
                    Veggo RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 06:11 AM

                    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
                      sr44 RE: Veggo Oct 9, 2011 12:09 PM

                      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
                        Veggo RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 12:31 PM

                        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
                          rainey RE: Veggo Oct 9, 2011 12:58 PM

                          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
                            sr44 RE: rainey Oct 9, 2011 04:58 PM

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

                          2. re: Veggo
                            paulj RE: Veggo Oct 9, 2011 05:30 PM

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

                          3. re: sr44
                            cowboyardee RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 02:49 PM

                            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
                              monavano RE: cowboyardee Oct 9, 2011 03:02 PM

                              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
                            PotatoPuff RE: Veggo Oct 12, 2011 07:19 AM

                            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. Fowler RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 05:55 PM

                        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
                          roro1831 RE: Fowler Oct 8, 2011 06:11 PM

                          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.

                        2. r
                          rainey RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 06:48 PM

                          I'd say without hesitation that I'm a better cook than my mother. I'm 64 and grew up in the 50s when convenience foods started taking over the market. Altho my mother didn't resort to the things like TV dinners which cut the cook out of the loop altogether, she was still part of that generation that thought they didn't need to or didn't want to cook. They preferred to be "modern" and not be in the kitchen. Being adventurous meant stirring shredded carrots into the Jello.

                          What's more and probably even more defining, they were the generation shaped by the Great Depression so, often, and for some, the very idea that there *was* dinner was enough. There wasn't much in the way of experimentation or aspiration. And I say that from my own experience and from my memory of the food culture that existed at that time in published women's magazines and TV. There was, of course, *nothing* in the way of cooking programming until Julia Child in the mid- and late-60s but commercials spoke to not the excellence of food but the glamor of hardly being in contact with it.

                          I am *not* a better cook than my great aunt who raised my father. She was an *exceptional* cook who lived in small town Maine where they lived through some things like the Depression, epidemics (seriously, her family was quarantined with smallpox when she was small) and the hardship of extreme winter conditions that cut them off from the rest of the world for long periods.

                          She made basic food, often from ingredients grown by my grandfather in their own yard. She baked whatever breads, cookies and cakes they had. She preserved what they needed to make it through the winter. She did it with joy and love and it showed in her food. It was plain but it was unforgettable. Perhaps that was inevitable when the kitchen was probably the only warm room in the house for much of the year and people gathered there and passed their days there by the cast iron stove which was once wood-burning but which had been adapted to burn gas by the time I remember it.

                          Tho I could never claim to be a better cook -- no matter how long I live and learn -- I *do* know a lot more about food and ingredients because of the exposure to a wider world that TV and now the internet have made possible. So maybe I'd lay claim to that. But even in doing that, I'd have to give her her proper props for making that an ambition and part of the legacy she gave to me.

                          But, ultimately, I think the larger question depends on how individual cooks of each generation approach food. Are they interested in it? Do they take pleasure and pride in it? Can they see it as part of a cultural and social construct they wish to embrace? Do they prefer whatever fills the belly and releases them to get onto what *does* interest them? Is it an expression of talent or duty? Some of this stuff translates from generation to generation and some we can build on and use to achieve even more. And there's not doubt some of it is a specific repudiation of the previous values and approaches. I suspect we will always see that approach/reject model from generation to generation.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: rainey
                            Chemicalkinetics RE: rainey Oct 8, 2011 07:07 PM

                            Still, it sounds like you say your great aunt who was an exceptional cook was exception in your view (not the norm). As such, my impression is that you believe your generation understands cooking more so than the previous generation. Am I correct? I am counting you as choice (a). Let me know if I am wrong.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                              rainey RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 07:27 PM

                              I think I"m saying it's a tough question to answer because we have different resources and we all have different goals and talents whatever generation we belong to.

                              My great aunt was probably a very talented cook who would have stood out in any generation but, at the same time, my grandfather (her brother) was also a very good and willing cook and my grandmother (who lived elsewhere) was also a great cook. That's not a big sample size but they were accomplished and made an awful lot without having recourse to well stocked grocery stores and produce and provisions from outside regions around the world. They were locavores before someone invented the trend!

                              I think I"m accomplished (to the extent that I am) because I was inspired by their efforts and the quality of the home grown and locally supplied authentic food they exposed me to. But I don't even have a reliable idea of how typical I may be in my own generation. I know that a *lot* of us are pursuing the best that we can get or create. But I also know that, as the holidays approach, the stores will be full of convenience foods I wouldn't dream of serving anyone and places like Whole Foods will have lists of people they're catering side dishes and entire meals to while others will be proud to offer Mrs. Cubbison's stuffing because they "did it themselves". And that's *holiday* meals that are supposed to stand out as special.

                              Meanwhile, I'm sure I'm the previous generation to some if not most around here and yet I learn things all the time from people who are much younger like Michael Ruhlman, Jim Lahey and countless others including contributors to Chowhound.

                              Not conclusive or satisfying, I know, but I don't know how to codify it anymore specifically to the original question.

                          2. s
                            sueatmo RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 07:26 PM

                            My answer is probably 'I don't know.' My grandmother was a pretty good cook. My mother not so much. I am a far better cook than she. One of my siblings is not interested in cooking at all. (After this post I can never, never, never reveal my true identity!) My MIL was not a good cook. Like Rainey I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. I began paying attention to food before I was cooking it. I was baking before I was cooking.

                            I suspect that some cooks were always better at their craft than others. If you used a wood stove, and had to bake your bread, make your pies and cakes, can produce, there is still no guarantee that you would be especially good at it. And there were always a few who could afford to hire cooks. It is just too hard to really know.

                            I do know this though. Kitchens became really modern in the 1950s. Things got much easier with new generations of appliances. In this, we can truly say, things got better.

                            1. John E. RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 08:18 PM

                              I believe that many people posting here are better cooks than previous generations. I also know there are millions of American families that are surviving on fast food, frozen food and takeout. These must be the same people that eventually donate all the crappy cooking utensils that I see in thrift stores.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: John E.
                                Veggo RE: John E. Oct 8, 2011 08:27 PM

                                JE, you touch on a surveying bias of which Chemicalkinetics is surely aware: the CH audience is far more likely to be more accomplished cooks than their ancestors. A parallel survey of all others would yield very different results. Perhaps she is doing both?

                                1. re: Veggo
                                  John E. RE: Veggo Oct 8, 2011 08:49 PM

                                  I am aware that the people that post here are not representative of the average American in terms of food and cooking. That's why I phrased my post in the manner that I did. (I also confess to not actually reading the entire thread before posting). I would guess the way I wrote that post represents the two extremes of home cooking.

                                2. re: John E.
                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: John E. Oct 8, 2011 08:38 PM

                                  John, that is an excellent point. What about you? Do you think your generation (not you) cook better or worse than the previous generations? I appreciate your opinion.

                                  1. re: John E.
                                    Rella RE: John E. Oct 22, 2011 04:02 PM

                                    And then there are some that donate all the crappy cooking utensils to thrift stores because they have found a better way to cooking.

                                    But, of course, you are right too, maybe these donators turned around and bought more crappy cooking utensils.

                                  2. dave_c RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 09:23 PM

                                    I would say those home cooks who are interested in cooking are much better than the previous generations. We have more information on how to cook different cuisines, better ingredients and availability year round.

                                    Those who really don't care to cook/bad cooks. I think those numbers are about the same between the older generation and the current generation.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: dave_c
                                      John E. RE: dave_c Oct 8, 2011 09:28 PM

                                      I think it is much easier to be a good cook than it was in the past and I think it is also much easier to be a bad cook than it was in the past.

                                      1. re: John E.
                                        cowboyardee RE: John E. Oct 8, 2011 11:07 PM

                                        Well said.

                                        1. re: John E.
                                          dave_c RE: John E. Oct 9, 2011 09:51 AM

                                          My point exactly. The enthusiast now are better than in the past.

                                          However, the level of an average home cook that just tries to get food on the table is at the same level of proficiency. It's just that the modern home cook has more variety to cook poorly.

                                          1. re: dave_c
                                            Chemicalkinetics RE: dave_c Oct 9, 2011 10:11 AM

                                            I take your answer as (b) about the same?

                                      2. ipsedixit RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 09:48 PM

                                        I think we eat better, but are worse cooks than previous generations.

                                        Because the quality and convenience of our food (from vegetables to meats and fish) are so much better, we have to do less in the way of preparation.

                                        1. cowboyardee RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 10:41 PM

                                          Today's average person-who-cooks-a-lot is probably a better cook than the average person-who-cooks-a-lot of previous generations.

                                          But today's average person is probably a worse cook than the average person of yesteryear.

                                          Basically, today it is more feasible for people to avoid cooking entirely or almost entirely should they choose to. So generally speaking, people who have no interest in cooking and who in previous generations would do it strictly as a means to an end aren't really cooking much anymore. More of today's cooks are somewhat interested in cooking and take some pride in it. But at the same time, since cooking is no longer such a necessity, there are also more people than ever who are incapable of cooking anything more complicated than a frozen Lean Cuisine.

                                          Another consideration you didn't list is how the digital age has made it easier for an interested person to get enormous amounts of information and instruction while they're learning to cook... or do just about anything. Good (and bad) instruction was harder to come by 50 years ago.

                                          1. Chemicalkinetics RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 8, 2011 11:00 PM

                                            Thanks for your replies. Here is a preliminary summary from your answer. Please let me know if I assign you to the wrong answer. I will occasionally update the poll.

                                            a Better: small h jlhinwa Veggo Fowler roro1831 rainey
                                            b Same: Chemicalkinetics coll
                                            c Worse: ipsedixit cowboyardee

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                              jlhinwa RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 12:18 AM

                                              Just wanted to say that I love your surveys and the detailed manner in which you document results. Fascinating stuff...thanks for sharing!

                                              1. re: jlhinwa
                                                Chemicalkinetics RE: jlhinwa Oct 9, 2011 07:18 AM

                                                Thanks. I will try to update this poll from time to time. It is interesting because the initial responses were all "Better", but now a lot of "Worse" answers are coming in.

                                            2. greygarious RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 12:36 AM

                                              The general public: definitely worse. Supermarkets are full of preserved and prepared stuff that 50 yrs ago would have been made from scratch. Exhibit A: Uncrustables - a PB&J sandwich. Exhibit B - chilled/frozen mashed potatoes. I am acquainted with many people who have never experienced REALLY good cooking. They exist on convenience and junk food, and when dining out stick with national family restaurant chains. Hard as it is for Chowhounds to accept, a vast number of people don't much care about the quality or taste of their food.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: greygarious
                                                beccydinosaur RE: greygarious Oct 9, 2011 12:49 AM

                                                I'd agree with that. For the people who care to learn though, there's a lot more information, a wider variety of available ingredients, etc. For a good deal of people, convenience foods basically rule. I grew up in a family like that - though both of my grandmothers are awesome cooks, my parents pretty much eat nothing but takeaway, processed foods or junk. I'm probably the most adventurous eater in terms of both ingredients and variety of cuisines, but I wouldn't say I'm the most accomplished cook - that honour would go to my Italian nonna, a former chef and the one who taught (and is still teaching) me a good deal of what I know.

                                                1. re: greygarious
                                                  beccydinosaur RE: greygarious Oct 9, 2011 12:53 AM

                                                  Also, premade PB&J? Now THAT is a new height in laziness! I'm honestly astounded. Do people actually buy those? (I'm not from the US... I'd say the existence of such a thing proves your contention.)

                                                  1. re: greygarious
                                                    rainey RE: greygarious Oct 9, 2011 10:57 AM

                                                    When I was a preschool teacher this was a serious concern. Cooking is a very rich sensory experience and a joyful one. But, beyond even that satisfying experience, cooking provides a tremendous amount of content that develops into math & science: catalysts, process, fractions, proportions, liquids v solids, evaporation, and so on. And there's the social content of culture and sharing and the self-affirming business of creating and sustaining ourselves. It's tragic that kids aren't experiencing this in their own homes.

                                                    So we spent a *lot* of time doing it. Even my toddler class made cookies, fresh squeezed orange juice, egg salad smashed with an enormous variety of tools, applesauce, freezer jam, etc,. There were a *lot* of things they were capable of and looked forward to. The thing that was a constant revelation to me was the number of parents who were gobsmacked that applesauce didn't appear on the Periodic Table of Elements.

                                                    1. re: greygarious
                                                      sr44 RE: greygarious Oct 9, 2011 12:11 PM

                                                      Really mashed potatoes are TOO STRONG. Let's have prefab ones.

                                                    2. r
                                                      Roland Parker RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 01:21 AM

                                                      What an interesting topic.

                                                      It's too easy to romanticize the past and look at the 1900s or 1800s through rose tinted lenses. The back to nature movement and the organics movement has probably encouraged this idea that everyone was eating lots of wonderful, seasonal produces and tasty meats from local farms.

                                                      Many of you are forgetting that food was expensive in those days and for non-farm families food expenditures constituted a higher percentage of their income than it does today. Meat, for example, was very expensive, which is why "a chicken in every pot" actually meant something. In 1890s Britain a prosperous middle class family would easily spend as much money on their butcher’s bill as the annual wages for hiring a full time cook and maid.

                                                      Most Americans ate what we would consider to be very plain, simple diets, with lots of starches, and since the diet was seasonal, during the winters preciously few vegetables were consumed. Most of the meats would have been smoked. The dreariness of this diet is exemplified by Laura Ingalls Wilder – a farm family in the prairies, they ate mostly bread, potatoes, salted pork and what little game the father could shoot.

                                                      Then we have the genuinely poor. There’s nothing in the US today that compares to the kind of poverty that did exist in the US in the 19th century and up through the 1930s, when malnutrition was a real problem, both in rural areas, small towns and urban areas. These very poor ate bread with bacon grease and drippings, or sliced and fried cornmeal mush. Once in a blue moon they might be able to get some cheese or something sweet.

                                                      Even for people who lived on fertile middle class farms in settled areas and raised what they ate, or townspeople of means who had access to a wider range of healthier foodstuff, the physical toil and labor that a typical American family had to endure - around the clock - to put food on the table in the days without timesaving machines and when everything was cooked from scratch, meant that what was cooked was often simple and straightforward (and certainly tasty at times). Everyone hired servants as soon as they could afford it because at least it saved them from the dreary troublesome task of having to churn out three meals three times a day. But even with a cook the typical dinner table would resemble a typical Thanksgiving meal – a roast or fried meat, boiled vegetables with cream, spoon bread or raised bread, the ubiquitous potato in some form and pies or simple cakes. Multiple meats at one sitting was common, served with a variety of pickles. Fruit would be seasonal; during much of the year dried apples would have been what were available. People away from the coast or rivers ate very little seafood. And the meals were served in very large quantities, for to prosperous Victorian family the quantity of food was a status symbol . A modern time traveller probably would have enjoyed his first day of “home cooked” meal but after a few days he’d find it tiresome and tedious – the lack of flavourings, lack of spices, far fewer sweet ingredients and the lack of variety, the persistent savory flavours and the reliance on vinegary pickles and relishes would prove cumbersome at the end.

                                                      Last but not least, is the actual quality of food. Farm people who ate what they raised were largely protected from unscrupulous business practices in the days of few or little regulations. But it’s widely documented by historians that much of the food consumed by the urban working classes were contaminated by chemicals or fouled by animal and human excrement. In England, it’s estimated that half of the commercially made bread was full of alum, which inhibits digestion, and the list of poisonous additives included strychnine in rum and beer, sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine and preserves and lead chromate in mustard and snuff. Cheap butcher’s meat frequently came from animals that were diseased or who had already died. Cheap milk and dairy products contained excessive water and filler, including chalk.

                                                      As a consequence fatal food poisoning was far more common in the past than today. We may complain about the filler junk in processed food, but at least it doesn’t kill us. Our poor are more likely to be obese and fat, which while nothing to encourage, is at least an improvement over malnutrition.

                                                      I may have drifted off topic a bit here, but to answer the OP’s initial question – there are more “better” cooks today because access to quality food and the know-how, as well as the leisure time, has never been greater.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Roland Parker
                                                        rainey RE: Roland Parker Oct 9, 2011 11:00 AM

                                                        Off topic or not, I'm so glad you reflected on that!

                                                      2. mattstolz RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 05:56 AM

                                                        I would say that the average american that CLAIMS to be a proficient cook makes much better food than in any generation before this moment in time. maybe not because of more skill, but because of the abundance of better ingredients and easy availability of knowledge and education. as well as the loss of popularity of things like tv dinners and cream of mushroom soup.

                                                        i think that MY generation however, cannot yet cook as well as my parents (although i personally cook mine under the table). but this is because i'm only 23, so my generation still has a lot of learning and growing up to do (since a great deal of us are still in school and surviving on ramen!)

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: mattstolz
                                                          Chemicalkinetics RE: mattstolz Oct 9, 2011 07:16 AM

                                                          Good point, so obviously it is a bit unfair that your generation (age 20-30's) is to directly compare to your parents generation or your grandparent generation because of the lack of experience. However, if you wish, you can imagine and compare your generation at age 20-30 (that is now) to your parent generation when they were age 20-30.

                                                          Of course, it is entirely up to you how you want to compare. From my point of view, I am just trying to conduct a poll, so everyone can get a sense of how others feel, just like say a poll of the president approval rate. It is not meant to answer who is right and who is wrong. It is simply a reflection of people's opinion.

                                                          Thus far, I have put your down for Worse -- We are worse than the previous generations, but let me know if you want me to change. Thanks.


                                                          1. re: mattstolz
                                                            rainey RE: mattstolz Oct 9, 2011 11:09 AM

                                                            Yes, indeed! Add a ready inventory of sophisticated and reasonably affordable tools like computerized slow cookers, small appliances of every kind, home ovens that are capable of injecting steam, laminated metal cookware, silicone providing incredible heat resistance and non-stick properties. Bakeware choices like stoneware, non-stick, a variety of metals. Probably dozens more things I'm not thinking of.

                                                          2. blue room RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 07:46 AM

                                                            Yikes, if we "cook worse" than past generations there is an awful huge lot of bandwidth, broadcasting, and books going to waste!

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: blue room
                                                              Chemicalkinetics RE: blue room Oct 9, 2011 07:54 AM

                                                              So your opinion is "better"?

                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                blue room RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 08:20 AM

                                                                Sorry, I should have answered the question/participated in the survey. Yes, better.

                                                            2. Glencora RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 08:37 AM

                                                              My husband and I both are better cooks than our parents, but THEY are also better cooks than they were when we were kids living at home. They use more fresh produce and rely less on prepared foods. (My MIL supposedly used to coat fish in mayo and crushed crackers, something she denies, now.) I think restaurant food around here is vastly better than it was 20 years ago, and we all eat out enough that our home cooking has evolved as well. We're lucky, though, and probably not typical.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Glencora
                                                                Chemicalkinetics RE: Glencora Oct 9, 2011 10:10 AM

                                                                Can I take that as "Better" or not necessary?

                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                  Glencora RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 10:32 AM

                                                                  I guess you can take it as "better." That's certainly been my experience, though as someone pointed out up thread a lot of people still eat fast food and packaged junk.

                                                                  I was just thinking about how my grandparents lived in a poor part of Oakland with limited access to grocery stores with fresh food. That's still the case there. However, my grandfather supplemented their diet with the fish he caught in a local lake and the vegetables he grew in a friend's back yard. And -- when he was younger -- he even hunted. I'm not sure how many people in his situation would do that today. It's a complicated question!

                                                                  edited to add: and even though my grandmother was a terrible cook, she knew what to do with the fish he caught.

                                                              2. monavano RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 11:21 AM

                                                                I'm in the better camp. We have greatly improved sanitation, terrific abundance, availability and food tv that's off the charts.

                                                                8 Replies
                                                                1. re: monavano
                                                                  sr44 RE: monavano Oct 9, 2011 12:13 PM

                                                                  Sanitation? Not so much. The fact that foods are shipped long distances allow bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels.

                                                                  1. re: sr44
                                                                    monavano RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 12:15 PM

                                                                    Disagree. Stores are amazingly clean. Foods are washed and wrapped. You could eat off the floor in most places. Oh, and then there's refrigeration.

                                                                    1. re: monavano
                                                                      sr44 RE: monavano Oct 9, 2011 12:28 PM

                                                                      Yes, but what about getting to the store?

                                                                      1. re: sr44
                                                                        monavano RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 12:52 PM

                                                                        See above-- refrigeration. I'm trying to think of one outbreak that has had anything to do with transport. None.
                                                                        Not to even mention how obsessed we are with cross contamination. We are, as a whole, more sanitary.

                                                                        1. re: monavano
                                                                          sr44 RE: monavano Oct 9, 2011 04:59 PM

                                                                          And a lot more sensitive to infections.

                                                                          Sorry, but I'm on a tear here.

                                                                          1. re: sr44
                                                                            monavano RE: sr44 Oct 9, 2011 05:52 PM

                                                                            and way off topic. Wow!

                                                                            1. re: monavano
                                                                              sr44 RE: monavano Oct 9, 2011 08:21 PM

                                                                              Eaten canteloupe recently?

                                                                              1. re: sr44
                                                                                monavano RE: sr44 Oct 10, 2011 07:25 AM

                                                                                Does it have anything at all to do with transport? You know what? I don't care. I just can't be this polemic.
                                                                                btw... no, I haven't, just in case you were truly asking and not being snotty.

                                                                2. jmcarthur8 RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 11:44 AM

                                                                  I think that fewer people cook at home, but those that do, cook better.

                                                                  My mother was a pretty adventurous cook back in the 60's, even though her mom was Slovak and cooked exclusively Eastern European. We had tacos. stroganoff and lasagna, stuffed cabbages (and tuna casserole). The difference was, Chinese back then in mid-Ohio was LaChoy from a double can. Asparagus was from the tall can that my sons now think is the strangest can at the store. Parmesan cheese only came in a plastic can. There wasn't nearly the selection in the produce department that we have now. My mother didn't use a lot of processed foods, but the ingredients were more limited.
                                                                  I meet so many non-cooks in my line of work (kitchen design), but I also meet more and more cooking enthusiasts these days. If they do cook at home, it's not just a chore like it was to the housewives of the 60's, it's for fun, for therapy, and for the taste of good food.

                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                  1. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                    Chemicalkinetics RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 11:53 AM

                                                                    So the final answer is ?

                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                      jmcarthur8 RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 12:06 PM


                                                                      But fewer.

                                                                      1. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                        Chemicalkinetics RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 12:08 PM

                                                                        Thanks. I will include your opinion in the next update.

                                                                    2. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                      rainey RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 11:54 AM

                                                                      Too funny! When I redid my kitchen I passed over 4 designers because, altho they claimed to cook, it was evident that they didn't. I ended up designing for myself because I wanted functionality first and didn't want to waste time on distractions.

                                                                      Lucky homeowners who get someone who can design AND cook!

                                                                      1. re: rainey
                                                                        jmcarthur8 RE: rainey Oct 9, 2011 12:18 PM

                                                                        Rainey, you did the right thing.
                                                                        I used to work with a guy who made absolutely beautiful and creative kitchen designs - but when I asked him once where the pots or whatever were going to go, he said, " I don't know, they can figure that out when the kitchen is done".
                                                                        That was so far from my outlook on kitchen design...polar opposites. Since I have cooked dinner almost every day for almost 40 years, I know how a kitchen needs to work, and I design every kitchen as if it were mine, and I were going to be cooking in it.
                                                                        And I do get some very happy clients who have been through a non-cook or two before finding me. We have a lot of fun making a great kitchen that works.

                                                                        1. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                          monavano RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 12:25 PM

                                                                          I set up my mom's kitchen when she downsized to an apartment. It had a small galley kitchen and I got her set up to make it at least functional.
                                                                          I tell you, I don't know how people cook in those things. More power to them!

                                                                          1. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                            rainey RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 12:26 PM

                                                                            Oh! I wish I had known you then. But, truth is, it was my 40 years of using a kitchen that got me the kitchen that *I* wanted to use. I made a few mistakes and omissions but then not biggies and I would always have had to make compromises between what I could wish for now and what was practically possible then.

                                                                            I also had a *gem* of a general contractor who was creative and got into a challenge and was a real partner in getting it done.

                                                                            Most of all, I admire that spirit of "we have a lot of fun making a great kitchen that works". I really *did* find the whole process fun and satisfying despite a cabinet maker who went up one side of my nerves and down the other and slowed the whole process to 4-6 months (can't remember now but it was incredibly *slow*). No matter, it was fun, I got the kitchen I wanted which is still a joy 3 years later and the GC is still one of my treasured friends.

                                                                            I bet *we* could have had some fun together!

                                                                            1. re: rainey
                                                                              jmcarthur8 RE: rainey Oct 9, 2011 01:47 PM

                                                                              Yes, we could have!

                                                                            2. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                              John E. RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 04:36 PM

                                                                              I grew up in a house where the front door was almost never used. The back door and the door to the garage were placed in such a way that with the exception of going down to the basement you had to walk through the large kitchen to get to any other room in the house. My mother never did like that kitchen.

                                                                          2. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                            monavano RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 9, 2011 11:57 AM

                                                                            I know that right now, unemployment is high and the economy isn't the best, but I think our generation looks at food not a a chore, or a source of worry. We have that luxury vs. depression-era generations.

                                                                          3. Chemicalkinetics RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 12:06 PM

                                                                            Thank you for your active participation. We have more than doubled the numbers of responses in half a day. Here is a quick update.

                                                                            ***Please pick one of the above choices: (a) Better, (b) About the same, (c) Worse, and then you can make your arguments if you desire. ***

                                                                            If you don't clearly pick a choice, then it can difficult for me to understand your vote. As you can see, I have followed up with half of the responses.

                                                                            Here are the raw data, please let me know if there is any error and I will correct it:

                                                                            a Better
                                                                            small h jlhinwa Veggo Fowler roro1831 rainey Roland Parker blue room Glencora monavano

                                                                            b Same
                                                                            Chemicalkinetics coll dave_c

                                                                            c Worse
                                                                            ipsedixit cowboyardee gregarious mattstolz

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                              rainey RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 12:16 PM

                                                                              I know I haven't made it easy but, on reflection, I think I'd have to say b) about the same when you account for individual talents/interests/resources/technology.

                                                                              Meanwhile, fascinating question and thoughtful discussion!

                                                                              1. re: rainey
                                                                                Chemicalkinetics RE: rainey Oct 9, 2011 12:18 PM


                                                                                No problem I will switch you from "better" to "same", and this will be reflected in the next update. Thanks for the correction.

                                                                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                beccydinosaur RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 06:20 PM

                                                                                I'd put myself in the "worse" category as per my response to greygarious earlier. Thanks!

                                                                                1. re: beccydinosaur
                                                                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: beccydinosaur Oct 9, 2011 07:55 PM

                                                                                  Thanks beccydinosaur

                                                                              3. tcamp RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 02:09 PM

                                                                                A. Better.

                                                                                For many of the reasons already articulated: More variety, exposure to the larger world, more heterogenity in the population (U.S.), more interest in food, better distribution methods, etc.

                                                                                On a personal note, none of my grandparents cooked worth a darn. Maternal g'mother hated food, resented eating, and did the absolute bare minimum to keep her family from starving. Paternal g'mother had servants until WW2, then limped along on boiled or roasted meat, potatoes, and canned soup. Both my parents cooked and are interested in food - living in LA we had access to diverse restaurants and ingredients in the 60's and 70's when I was growing up. But on camping trips across the midwest, my dad would bitch nonstop about the supermarket food available - no bread other than wonder, nothing asian, limited fresh veggies. I'm as good a cook or better than my parents but I have less time to do it.

                                                                                1. The Professor RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 05:02 PM

                                                                                  When I was growing up, our house was full of really good cooks...mn grandmother, my mother, and my father were all brilliant at the eastern European foods they grew up on (Hungarian, specifically).

                                                                                  I've kept those traditions alive, but I have to admit that my cooking is probably better than any of my parents/grandparents (and theirs was pretty damned good)...maybe I just have better materials to work with, maybe the dishes have evolved more to my taste, or maybe the research and reading I've done on some of the foods has opened my eyes to slightly different techniques. If nothing else, I've kept an open mind about those "sacred" family favorites and realized that sometimes a bit of enhancement from an alternate recipe or method is not always such a bad thing.

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: The Professor
                                                                                    Veggo RE: The Professor Oct 9, 2011 05:23 PM

                                                                                    Prof, you touched a tender chord I wrestle with on this one. My mother provided the best meals she could with what she had to work with, which wasn't much. To say I am a "better" cook, is just not right, and I would never say it.
                                                                                    Let's compare cooking with horseracing. Bear with me. Today we have extraordinary ingredients and kitchen equipment to use. Let's say we as cooks are the jockey on a horse named Secretariat, who ran the Derby in a course record 1:59.04. An incompetent jockey could have been strapped to that horse, and won the race. That doesn't make him a better jockey. It was more the luck of the draw at the time.
                                                                                    CK' s question is quite thought provoking.

                                                                                    1. re: The Professor
                                                                                      Chemicalkinetics RE: The Professor Oct 9, 2011 05:25 PM

                                                                                      How will you specifically answer the original question for this poll?

                                                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                        Veggo RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 05:33 PM

                                                                                        CK is too polite to say this, so I will
                                                                                        ALL RESPONDERS SHOULD SAY A, B, OR C, IN THEIR FIRST LINE.
                                                                                        then ramble.

                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                          The Professor RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 07:29 PM

                                                                                          I guess I _can't _specifically answer the poll question...because I really don't know how people "in general" think or cook. I know plenty of people who clearly cook better than their previous generations (whether because of better ingredients or just learning better technique). And I probably know just as many others who (sadly) could live on fast food or stuff out of a can, and as a result can't (or won't) even make a simple pot of home made soup.

                                                                                          I shouldn't have responded at all, really, since after re-reading the original post, I'm not so sure there even _is_ a "general" answer. Neither "A", "B" nor "C" really cut it.

                                                                                          Maybe it all just depends on who watches which cooking show. LOL.

                                                                                      2. o
                                                                                        ola RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 9, 2011 07:02 PM

                                                                                        I don't even understand what you mean by "this generation." The 20-30 year olds? The 30-40year olds? The 50-60 year olds?

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: ola
                                                                                          Chemicalkinetics RE: ola Oct 9, 2011 07:50 PM

                                                                                          Whatever your own generation may be. It is similar to a question like "Do you think you have a better career opportunity than your parents?"

                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                            ola RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 11:12 AM

                                                                                            Using chemicalkinetics definition...I am 62 and definitely a better cook than my parents were. My kids (20, 23 and 26) have the palate,the food instincts, the experience in the kitchen but not yet the budget to really test their culinary wings.

                                                                                            1. re: ola
                                                                                              Chemicalkinetics RE: ola Oct 10, 2011 12:27 PM

                                                                                              I will put you as (a) Better.

                                                                                        2. alliegator RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 06:43 AM

                                                                                          I vote "better". I am 36 years old, convenience foods were widely available when I was a kid, and they are largely what I was fed growing up. My mother can not cook anything, really, that it palatable. My dad was always the cook. My grandmother can make a few basic recipes, but her and my grandfather love to go out for dinner and they always did most night of the week.
                                                                                          I don't really have any memories of being blown away by home cooked meals at friends houses. In the area I grew up in, most were of German or Eastern European heritage, and the meals were mainly of the meat and potatoes variety. I think this generation has expanded their palates to included a great variety of flavors, especially international ones, so the home cook have a greater range of knowledge when it cooking techniques, and use of ingredients that ingredients that would be deemed "exotic" by our families.

                                                                                          1. scubadoo97 RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 09:26 AM

                                                                                            No science to back it up but I say those that cook cook better. Better equipment, better access to ingredients. Sure some of the ingredients may not be as good as they were in the old days but some are better.

                                                                                            1. r
                                                                                              ratgirlagogo RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 09:45 AM

                                                                                              First, I'm not sure who "we" is. Here in the US? Globally? And I don't know what people do "generally." I'll just answer from my own family.

                                                                                              My father's mother started out working as a kitchen servant on my great-grandfather's farm in Minnesota, and ended up marrying my grandfather and moving to North Dakota. She spent her adult life cooking for 15-18 immediate family members and whatever hired hands were around for the season (about 40 people during the heavy work season). Most things were made from scratch - making bread occupied most of a day. This was done of course using a wood-burning stove. Much of what they ate they grew on the farm, but they did use some store-bought ingredients, like baking powder and corn syrup. The children helped, including the boys who were too young to work outside. (My father, now in his 80's, still gets a kind of glazed look in his eyes when he talks about the crushing boredom of being stuck with the job of cranking the butter churn.) Her kids ( she had 15) tend to reminisce more fondly of her baking than her cooking, but she was apparently considered a good cook in the Finnish tradition - if she or anyone else in the family was interested in exploring other cuisines, I haven't heard of it. The family also tends to talk more nostalgically about the ingredients, especially the game and wild berries, than about the preparation of them.

                                                                                              Are the cooks of my father's generation or my generation better cooks than my grandmother? It's kind of hard to say - we're not doing the same thing. We're not cooking in those large amounts, we don't have an army of kids helping, we're not using the same equipment. I think we're all pretty good, but we're not engaged in the same task.

                                                                                              On my mother's side of the family it's easy. Her mother also worked as a household servant, but in much less pleasant conditions, in NYC - as a live-in servant, every other Thursday afternoon off - to work off her passage from Ireland. She ended up getting secretly married to one of the other servants and running off. Although she had cooked "professionally" so to speak, or more likely because of it, she really hated to cook and her bad cooking was legendary - everything boiled to death, no seasoning other than too much salt. The next two generations are a mixed bag - (my mother and her sisters were good cooks, her brothers didn't cook - my brother and I are both pretty good), but I suppose anyone would have been a better cook than her.

                                                                                              So that's my answer: hard to say on one side, better on the other.

                                                                                              1. flourgirl RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 10:32 AM

                                                                                                I know I cook better than my mom does - mostly because I am a lot more passionate about it than she is and I enjoy a wider range of foods as well. She tends to dismiss entire cuisines such as Mexican and Indian, because she doesn't like the dominant flavor profiles. But I still learned a lot from her & at least had a base from which to get started on my own. I cook a lot, have done so for the past 20 yrs or more, I cook mostly from scratch and I try hard to prepare healthy meals as well.

                                                                                                But I can tell you that I also know a lot of families where no one cooks & they live off of frozen food & take out. So their children aren't being raised seeing anyone cook either. That's not a good trend.

                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: flourgirl
                                                                                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: flourgirl Oct 10, 2011 11:01 AM

                                                                                                  So what is your overall imporession for people of today vs say 50 years ago or 100 years ago? You think people in today society are worse than those in the past?

                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                    flourgirl RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 02:20 PM

                                                                                                    What I'm seeing is that the better are a lot better, but the low end of the spectrum is getting worse. Many people just have little interest in learning how to cook properly and with all the options available today that weren't readily available in the past, it gets easier every day to be able to avoid cooking almost entirely if one so chooses. So I guess it all evens out and it's about the same?

                                                                                                  2. re: flourgirl
                                                                                                    alliegator RE: flourgirl Oct 10, 2011 11:12 AM

                                                                                                    I will agree that families where nobody can cook is a trend that is just pretty unfortunate.
                                                                                                    But, those kids could go the opposite way. I know I did. With the huge boom of cooking shows on the tube and magazines everywhere, I wanted to know more about food and how I could make the dishes I saw in the media or enjoyed while traveling.
                                                                                                    While I was definitely a take out, frozen food and restaurant kid, I am an adult who could not even imagine a life without cooking and enjoing time alone or with friends in the kitchen.

                                                                                                    1. re: alliegator
                                                                                                      flourgirl RE: alliegator Oct 10, 2011 02:15 PM

                                                                                                      There's always hope. :)

                                                                                                  3. invinotheresverde RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 12:51 PM

                                                                                                    B, 33f.

                                                                                                    I think the good cooks cook better and the bad cooks cook worse, so it even out.

                                                                                                    1. phDuh RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 03:18 PM

                                                                                                      One of my favorite 'cookbooks' is the "Ellis Island Immigration Cookbook" by Tom Bernardin. He collected recipes of a generation of immigrants that created sustenance with a minimal amount of ingredients. The entire book is a story of our past - created through food.
                                                                                                      So, I would say that we use entirely too many ingredients, because we are not hungry. 100 years ago, we were grateful for the concoctions our mother made out of flour, water, salt, meat, and vegetables.
                                                                                                      They were forced to be creative with what they had. Now, we have too many choices. As cooks, we have a choice...which our relatives did not have.

                                                                                                      1. i
                                                                                                        Isolda RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 04:32 PM

                                                                                                        We may have better ingredients and better equipment, as well as more knowledge about health and hygiene, but I don't think we (as a general population, chowhounds excluded) have better knowledge. I base this on the directions given in my multiple generations of cookbooks. I have a couple of 1930s cookbooks, as well as a book of family recipes dating back to the 19th century and these almost never contain cooking temps, exact times, or even step-by-step instructions. Calibrated ovens and timer just didn't exist. Many will say something like: "make a thin white sauce" and "bake in a moderate oven until done." Obviously, the average person (and these were average people, not just those who loved to cook) using these recipes had the skills to do so.

                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Isolda
                                                                                                          Roland Parker RE: Isolda Oct 10, 2011 10:00 PM

                                                                                                          There does seem to be two ways to answer the original question: do we cook better, or do we eat better?

                                                                                                          It's a valid point that more people in the past, however long ago that may be, knew how to cook as opposed to today, but that was largely because they had no choice.

                                                                                                          But did people 100 years ago eat better than today? On the whole I would say no.

                                                                                                          1. re: Isolda
                                                                                                            paulj RE: Isolda Oct 11, 2011 09:59 AM

                                                                                                            Though those cookbook differences may say more about expectations of the editors than the skills of the readers.

                                                                                                            1. re: paulj
                                                                                                              Isolda RE: paulj Oct 14, 2011 02:03 PM

                                                                                                              But the cookbooks I'm talking about are those community-published books, you know, the kind with 5 similar recipes for date cake submitted by 5 different women. They had no editors, just typists. Since these are home cooks submitting recipes they have used successfully and presumably enjoy, I think it can be assumed that most home cooks in those days didn't need recipes for basic things like making bechamel and caramelizing sugar.

                                                                                                              And my family cookbook was dictated by my grandmother and typed by my grandfather. It had no editor either and it is quite full of errors, as well as hilariously spiteful comments about certain family members. I have had fun trying to figure out what my grandmother meant by "cook it until it is the right color."

                                                                                                              1. re: Isolda
                                                                                                                paulj RE: Isolda Oct 14, 2011 02:59 PM

                                                                                                                Are you comparing a lightly edited community cookbook with a modern professionally edited cookbook? One is produced for sale in a community, the other to a mass market that can include new brides as well as seasoned grandmothers. If a recipe in a community cookbook is incomplete, a novice user can always ask a neighbor or older relative. Bad recipes in a modern cookbook can lead to it being panned in reviews, and will affect sales. So a modern editor is likely to be more proactive, making sure recipes cover all bases.

                                                                                                                The oldest cookbook I have is a tiny 'selections from 1896 Fannie Farmer'. It includes a cream sauce recipe. Under helpful hints are caramelizing sugar, and chopping parsley.

                                                                                                                The 1970s edition of Joy of Cooking has extensive chapters on ingredients and methods.

                                                                                                          2. t
                                                                                                            TheFoodEater RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 10, 2011 08:55 PM

                                                                                                            a. better.

                                                                                                            i'm in my 20s. I cook good food. my mom cooks regularly makes the same mistakes. (won't season things before cooking, overcooked dry meat, etc). Edible, sometimes it's quite good (stir fry especially) but most of the time, meh. My grandma cooks horrible food (cream of mushroom soup, can of green beens, fried onion pieces from a can). I hate big family dinners. (no, great aunt, your jello with canned fruit is not a speciality). gag.

                                                                                                            I'd guess that it's easier to be a good cook now than at any other point in time.

                                                                                                            1. josquared RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 11, 2011 02:05 PM

                                                                                                              I'd say better, simply because there's a lot more general culinary knowledge out there (especially with the world of the Internet now a given), the equipment and techniques are more refined, food variety is greater, and the types of cuisine willing to be taken on by the average home cook is a lot more diversified.

                                                                                                              Anecdotally, however, YMMV. For example, in my home, my dad and mom are better cooks than I. It's been a slow process related to getting my weight back in order, but now I have more and more desire to branch out on my own beyond what can be had eating out and my parents' tried and true. My dad kinda' ribs me a bit when I cook up something "gourmet" as he calls it, but he's still the much better cook.

                                                                                                              1. s
                                                                                                                soupkitten RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 11, 2011 05:39 PM

                                                                                                                i think overall people are worse cooks, even while access to better and more varied ingredients, equipment, and information has made the *products* contemporary people cook much, much better.

                                                                                                                i teach cooking classes and always seem to have to demonstrate dicing an onion-- to a family cook in middle age.

                                                                                                                people used to scratch cook from very basic hardscrabble ingredients, now many "recipes" are more like assemblages of colorful ingredients. some cookbooks even call for people to get ingredients pre-cut off of a salad bar etc.

                                                                                                                there are basic holes in knowledge/technique. at one time before individual serving yogurt containers and cold cereals existed, people could cook breakfast foods. they could bake a simple cake and make the most basic of sauces. they canned and broke down whole animals proficiently. it's now possible for people to eat meat without ever touching it with their hands. . . preserves and condiments appear on store shelves. now the phrase "soft boiled egg" can lead to a lot of blank looks or even real terror-- people have never cooked simple foundational techniques/foods in their lives. contemporary people use a lot of crutches-- convenience foods and specialized equipment, etc. to get a meal on the table. yank away the microwave or a bottled salad dressing and a lot of today's dinners wouldn't make it to the table. foods used to be simpler, but cooks would be able to execute a cohesive meal from scratch, with very simple equipment.

                                                                                                                if the cooks of yesteryear were confronted with today's ingredients, chances are they would be able to adapt their recipes/experience and cook the new ingredients successfully. contemporary cooks rely on epicurious rather than their own experience-- despite successfully cooking a plum tart, they may believe they need an entirely new/different recipe to cook nectarines.

                                                                                                                finally i will cite the recent survey in which a third of (american) people admit to not being able to cook-- presumably this means cook anything, anything at all. before ready made foods and fast foods, i would extrapolate that a much greater percentage of people would claim to be able to put together a simple skillet meal or some flapjacks or biscuits or some rice or a simple stew or soup-- if they couldn't, they couldn't eat. now it's possible to eat cold cereal for every meal for years on end and unfortunately i know people who do just that. there are others who eat fast food once a day or more. obviously these folks are not teaching their kids how to cook, so i would argue that "common knowledge" of cooking is probably diminishing.

                                                                                                                11 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: soupkitten
                                                                                                                  scubadoo97 RE: soupkitten Oct 11, 2011 06:19 PM

                                                                                                                  Really sad SK.

                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten
                                                                                                                    beccydinosaur RE: soupkitten Oct 12, 2011 06:46 AM

                                                                                                                    Agreed, very sad. (This seems to be my experience for the most part too. I'd say I know very few people in either my generation or my parents' generation (I'm in my early 20s) who can scratch cook or know a lot of basic technique.)

                                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten
                                                                                                                      mattstolz RE: soupkitten Oct 13, 2011 05:36 AM

                                                                                                                      this last part reminds me of a conversation i had with a friend (24 years old) yesterday in which she claimed she "destroyed her slow cooker recipe"

                                                                                                                      the recipe was 4 ingredients (chicken, cream of chicken soup, spices, and cheese), placed in a slow cooker, and cooked for a few hours. 1) gross. 2) how do you mess that recipe up?? i was amazed

                                                                                                                      1. re: mattstolz
                                                                                                                        rainey RE: mattstolz Oct 15, 2011 11:15 AM

                                                                                                                        Let's face it, if it were chicken, not browned, and thrown in a slow cooker with gloppy condensed soup + cheese it's possible it was *designed* to be gross in the first place. But then anyone who knew how to cook would probably diagnose that from reading the recipe so perhaps that makes your point. ;>

                                                                                                                      2. re: soupkitten
                                                                                                                        Isolda RE: soupkitten Oct 14, 2011 02:06 PM

                                                                                                                        This is what I was trying to say in my post (above). We've definitely lost skills. And when I look at those beautiful pictures of modern, well-equipped kitchens in shelter magazines, I often think, "no one is actually going to cook in that kitchen." They are beautiful, but so badly laid out that no person who likes cooking would put up with them.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Isolda
                                                                                                                          jmcarthur8 RE: Isolda Oct 16, 2011 10:20 AM

                                                                                                                          On a similar note... several years ago I was working on a kitchen design with a client in her mid- 30's who was building an 800k house in the country. Nice home, and we made an absolutely beautiful and very functional kitchen in her home. (if you've read some of my posts, you may know that form follows function in my designs). She insisted on a Five Star range, SubZero fridge, furniture-like cabinets...anyway, while we were going through all the details of the accessories inside the cabinets, I asked her if she wanted a knife storage drawer in the island. She asked me what knives would go in there, and I answered, "Your chef knives..." Her response was, "What's a chef knife?"

                                                                                                                          1. re: jmcarthur8
                                                                                                                            flourgirl RE: jmcarthur8 Oct 17, 2011 07:36 AM

                                                                                                                            I live in a very high income area and I have more than a few friends who own very elaborate homes with very elaborate kitchens, some well laid out, some not so much - but the majority of them hate to cook and liken it to cleaning toilets. It amuses me that I, who live in one of the more modest homes in the area, with a fairly humble kitchen, give my kitchen more of a workout in one week than most of those high end kitchens get in 6 months, if not longer. And while I don't have tons of counter space, what I do have is a great layout with the stove, sink, DW, pots, pans, utensils and refrigerator/pantry all within easy reach of each other.

                                                                                                                            1. re: flourgirl
                                                                                                                              soupkitten RE: flourgirl Oct 18, 2011 02:28 PM

                                                                                                                              agreed, it's the skill of the cook that matters, not the state-of-the-art kitchen. that said, some of those state of the art toys are mighty nice, and ^ this type of situation breaks my heart-- a few times a year, for special catering or benefits i end up as part of a team going into one of these expensive and gorgeous, unused kitchens. the folks living there eat all meals out of the home and don't even brew coffee in their kitchen to keep it mess-free at all times. maids come in and polish the unused copper pots and dust the immaculate marble counters. it is funny sometimes to ask for a tool, like a veg peeler or wood spoon-- because the home owner won't own one or if they do, they haven't used it in years and they can't find it. some folks even have a second kitchen for the caterers to work out of while they use the immaculate "gourmet" kitchen purely as a staging area. among the pro cooks, there is much grumbling about how we'd drive these hot rods, were they ours!

                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten
                                                                                                                                flourgirl RE: soupkitten Oct 20, 2011 11:12 AM

                                                                                                                                I know exactly how you feel. For starters, I definitely admit to having island envy. It would be great to have such a large workspace at the right height for me. I could always use a little more cabinet space too. My DW is about 20 yrs old - wouldn't mind having a new one. And I wouldn't say no to a range with 6 burners and a little more oomph.
                                                                                                                                Oh, and while we're at it, a couple of wall ovens sure would be nice. A walk in pantry would be sheer heaven - a place where I could easily see and store all my non-perishables, my serving pieces, glassware, less-used small appliances., etc.

                                                                                                                                Yep, it drives me a little crazy sometimes thinking about some of the gorgeous unused kitchens I see that I would have an absolute blast cooking and baking in if it were mine. Sigh. But than I think about my happy little kitchen, the great meals I prepare for my little family and the great times we have together as we enjoy them. So I figure, in the end, I am still a very lucky girl - even without the big fancy state of the art kitchen. And I can keep dreaming - 'cause that's still free.

                                                                                                                                1. re: flourgirl
                                                                                                                                  Alicat24 RE: flourgirl Oct 21, 2011 09:17 PM

                                                                                                                                  "My DW is about 20 yrs old - wouldn't mind having a new one."

                                                                                                                                  Crawling out of the woodwork because this caused me to do a re-read and almost choke laughing. I didn't look at who's posting it was and took DW as "Dear Wife" until it dawned on me it was "Dish Washer". Brain fart overall, the context didn't even fit. Been awhile since I literally LOL! Time to go to bed methinks.

                                                                                                                                  For CK's poll, without elaborating because others have said much what I would have, I will say B) About the same.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Alicat24
                                                                                                                                    flourgirl RE: Alicat24 Oct 22, 2011 07:13 AM

                                                                                                                                    And your post made ME laugh out loud! That's hilarious. No, I have a DH, we've been married almost 20 yrs - and I'm gonna keep him. :)

                                                                                                                      3. goodhealthgourmet RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 11, 2011 06:15 PM

                                                                                                                        i don't think it's as simple as "better or worse." i suspect a smaller *proportion* of today's population cooks when compared to past generations, but i also think that the majority of people within that smaller proportion (those who DO cook nowadays) are probably more knowledgeable & skilled than previous generations.

                                                                                                                        does that make sense?

                                                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                                                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                                                                                          flourgirl RE: goodhealthgourmet Oct 12, 2011 06:46 AM

                                                                                                                          It makes sense to me.

                                                                                                                        2. s
                                                                                                                          small h RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 11, 2011 06:28 PM

                                                                                                                          Mazel Tov, Chemicalkinetics. You done made the NYT "What We're Reading" list:


                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: small h
                                                                                                                            Chemicalkinetics RE: small h Oct 11, 2011 07:00 PM

                                                                                                                            Wow, that is pretty cool. Thanks, small h. How did you find out? Mazel Tov to all!

                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                              small h RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 11, 2011 07:12 PM

                                                                                                                              I found out 'cause I obsessively read that stupid blog, while scolding myself for not working. Similar to what I'm doing right now. And yes! it is pretty cool.

                                                                                                                              1. re: small h
                                                                                                                                mattstolz RE: small h Oct 13, 2011 05:37 AM

                                                                                                                                <that stupid blog>

                                                                                                                                shhhhh theyre watching!!

                                                                                                                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                alliegator RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 06:29 AM

                                                                                                                                Well done. Congrats :)

                                                                                                                            2. o
                                                                                                                              odkaty RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 07:25 AM

                                                                                                                              Echoing several other posters, I'm going to say that as a whole the American public's cooking is declining. The advent of food products and convenience of restaurants has made it easier for people who don't enjoy cooking to have a semblance of food.

                                                                                                                              Personally, I will say my cooking is about the same as my mother's, better than my father's. I grew up in a, for lack of a better term, "cook from scratch" house. Our pantry/fridge contained ingredients like onions, potatoes, rice, flour, etc. I was in high school before I had store bought bread. And I've never had many of the food products that many of my peers consider iconic — peeps, twinkies, ho-hos, etc. With one glaring exception, Mom's mother, all of their extended families cook (well) too, as does my generation.

                                                                                                                              My husband's family is in the "better" camp. He and the elder sibling learned to cook well, and a nephew is really showing an interest in cooking. He already makes better crepes than I can. My MIL is not a very good home cook. Apparently she's declined over the years, but I really doubt that.

                                                                                                                              1. Chemicalkinetics RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 06:27 PM

                                                                                                                                Here is another update. I tried to assign as many as I could, but I couldn't assign some.
                                                                                                                                ***Please let me know if I didn't count your vote or assigned you to the wrong category*** Thank for your participation. Here are the data:

                                                                                                                                a Better:
                                                                                                                                small h, jlhinwa, Veggo, Fowler, roro1831, Roland Parker, blue room, Glencora, monavano, jmcarthur, tcamp, ola, alliegator, scubadoo97, TheFoodEater, josquared,

                                                                                                                                b Same:
                                                                                                                                Chemicalkinetics, coll, dave_c, rainey, flourgirl, invinothereverde

                                                                                                                                c Worse:
                                                                                                                                ipsedixit, cowboyardee, gregarious, mattstolz, beccydinosaur, soupkitten, odkaty,

                                                                                                                                Again, please feel free to tell me if I made a mistake of your choice.

                                                                                                                                The chart is here:

                                                                                                                                6 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                  goodhealthgourmet RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 06:59 PM

                                                                                                                                  I tried to assign as many as I could, but I couldn't assign some.
                                                                                                                                  mine was one of those - sorry about that. after all your hard work i hate to be noncommittal, i just don't know if my answer quite qualifies as "better." i can definitely say i don't fall in the "worse" camp.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                                                                                                    Chemicalkinetics RE: goodhealthgourmet Oct 12, 2011 07:12 PM

                                                                                                                                    "i just don't know if my answer quite qualifies as "better." i can definitely say i don't fall in the "worse" camp."

                                                                                                                                    So which choice would you prefer me to assign you to? I read your response and didn't know how to assign you, so I didn't assign at all, but I would be more than happy to add you in the next update. Please let me know if you have a preference choice.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                      goodhealthgourmet RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 07:49 PM

                                                                                                                                      i just went back and read your OP. based on this:

                                                                                                                                      "Do you think people on average are better or worse cooks than previous generations? Again, on average."

                                                                                                                                      i'm sayin'...a) better.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                                                                                                                                        Chemicalkinetics RE: goodhealthgourmet Oct 12, 2011 07:54 PM

                                                                                                                                        Thanks. I will include your vote in the next update.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                          The Professor RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 12, 2011 08:43 PM

                                                                                                                                          ...and though I rambled around the original intent of the original query, I guess I fall in the "better" group as well.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: The Professor
                                                                                                                                            Chemicalkinetics RE: The Professor Oct 12, 2011 08:45 PM

                                                                                                                                            Got it. I have updated it and it will show in the next (probably final) report.

                                                                                                                                2. John E. RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 14, 2011 08:23 AM

                                                                                                                                  I had a thought (not too stressful) I think people do not put as much time into cooking as in generations past, but when we do cook, the results are better. When I say cooking I am not including macaroni and cheese from a box or Hamburger Helper or any 'recipe' from Sandra Lee (did you know that Lee is her middle name and that her surname is Christensen. All you Danes out the must be so proud ; ).

                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: John E.
                                                                                                                                    Veggo RE: John E. Oct 14, 2011 08:27 AM

                                                                                                                                    I'm danish, and my cooking probably cancels hers out....

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Veggo
                                                                                                                                      goodhealthgourmet RE: Veggo Oct 14, 2011 02:18 PM

                                                                                                                                      LOL! Veggo, i'm sure Danes everywhere are grateful.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: John E.
                                                                                                                                      pamf RE: John E. Oct 14, 2011 10:25 AM

                                                                                                                                      Christensen was just her stepfather, you Danes are safe.

                                                                                                                                    3. Kat RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 14, 2011 11:02 AM

                                                                                                                                      I grew up in the 70s on Tuna Helper, Hamburger Helper, Campbell's soup, frozen dinners and grilled cheese. My mom claimed she worked full time and couldn't cook, but I work full time and I cook fresh food for my family. She just couldn't be bothered, although she loved it when other people cooked for her. My grandparents were great cooks, they could make something delicious from very simple ingredients. So, I vote "better".

                                                                                                                                      1. Chemicalkinetics RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 14, 2011 11:03 PM

                                                                                                                                        Thanks all for your participation. I am closing the poll. There were many truly great conversations with interesting and deep thoughts. This is also why Julia Moskin cited you guys on her entry in the New York Time:


                                                                                                                                        Final raw data:
                                                                                                                                        a Better:
                                                                                                                                        small h, jlhinwa, Veggo, Fowler, roro1831, Roland Parker, blue room, Glencora, monavano, jmcarthur, tcamp, ola, alliegator, scubadoo97, TheFoodEater, josquared, goodhealthgourmet, The Professor, John R., Kat,

                                                                                                                                        b Same:
                                                                                                                                        Chemicalkinetics, coll, dave_c, rainey, flourgirl, invinothereverde

                                                                                                                                        c Worse:
                                                                                                                                        ipsedixit, cowboyardee, gregarious, mattstolz, beccydinosaur, soupkitten, odkaty,

                                                                                                                                        Final poll results:
                                                                                                                                        61% of you believe we are better cooks than generations ago (50, 100... years ago).
                                                                                                                                        18% think we are about the same as our ancestors -- on average
                                                                                                                                        21% believe we are getting worse

                                                                                                                                        Thanks for your time and efforts. It is truly enjoyable to read your detailed entries and had the opportunity to summarize the final poll.

                                                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                          cowboyardee RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 15, 2011 01:44 AM

                                                                                                                                          Fascinating poll, Chem. Thanks for taking the time. Congrats on being cited in the NYT.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                            flourgirl RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 15, 2011 03:53 PM

                                                                                                                                            I agree with cowboy. It was interesting to think about this subject and to read other people's thoughts on the issue. Thank you!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                              monavano RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 17, 2011 08:45 AM

                                                                                                                                              Thank you for the pie chart! It's great to see the results aggregated.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                                coll RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 22, 2011 02:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                Hoping the results weren't skewed by the Lake Woebegone effect! Although the final results are overwhelming, I must say. Great fun to read, thanks.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: coll
                                                                                                                                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: coll Oct 22, 2011 05:17 AM

                                                                                                                                                  "Hoping the results weren't skewed by the Lake Woebegone effect!"

                                                                                                                                                  :) A good point. Nevertheless, the poll is not meant to find out the actual truth of our cooking ability compared to our ancestors, rather to understand our perceptions. Let's take this Gallup poll for example:


                                                                                                                                                  The Gallup is about the perception of Chinese and American about their respective markets, and not about the actual Chinese market vs the US market.

                                                                                                                                                  This limited and unofficial poll surprised me because I was expecting the majority of the people would have rated the current US population are worse cooks than our previous generations (say 50 or 100 years). This is because I always hear statements like "People cannot cook these days".

                                                                                                                                              2. tommy RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 22, 2011 08:28 AM

                                                                                                                                                I don't think I'm in any position to make generalizations about others or past generations, but I know personally I cook better.

                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                  Chemicalkinetics RE: tommy Oct 22, 2011 11:30 AM

                                                                                                                                                  "I know personally I cook better."

                                                                                                                                                  Cook better than 'what'?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                                                                                                                                    tommy RE: Chemicalkinetics Oct 22, 2011 11:52 AM


                                                                                                                                                    1. re: tommy
                                                                                                                                                      Chemicalkinetics RE: tommy Oct 22, 2011 11:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                      'what' is broader than 'who'. inclusive.

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