"'Easy' Cooking Isn't Easy" - The Atlantic

I’d be interested to see the thoughts of others on this piece. I’ve gotta admit, it was a little work for me to empathize. I’m someone who rarely has considered how long making a “normal” meal takes - or even considered that it matters. Maybe I’m wrong and there’s something more here than run-of-the-mill, “How come nobody told me being a mommy was gonna be hard?” bitching?

She basically sounds unorganized. If all you have to feed a toddler is peanut butter the problem is poor planning and an empty pantry.


This is one of those “backlash” articles, in which a writer bravely sticks her neck out to express a contrarian view of a popular belief - usually one that’s at least a little bit sanctimonious - like “organic is good” or “meat is bad” or, in this case, “cooking is easy.” Dunn’s underlying point seems to be that not cooking is easier than cooking, and it’s hard to argue with that. But she also comes off like someone with more money than time, who dislikes both cooking and shopping. Otherwise she’d note that for most people, Sweetgreen and Munchery probably aren’t “affordable” options for every day, and she’d be able to find fish sauce in her grocery store, because she lives in New York, where fish sauce isn’t all that exotic.

Her argument would be a lot more convincing if she’d made a few of the recipes and timed herself. Although I might not put much stock in the outcome, since she says that it would take her 10 minutes to locate four items in her kitchen. Maybe the article is really about how cooking is hard if you are Elizabeth Dunn and can never remember where you keep the onions.


But I do think her point about the inflation of expectations is reasonable. At least, it resonates with me. My mom in the 80s would broil a piece of fish with seasoned italian breadcrumbs on top, microwave frozen peas, and do a side of mashed potatoes in probably 30 minutes. It was all good healthy food- she’d never dream of instant mashed potatoes, and frozen peas are quite tasty. She was into natural and organic, and had things like tahini and tamari in the pantry which made her pretty avant-guarde for a 1980’s housewife. However, if I set out to cook the same meal, I’d probably start with making my own bread crumbs, have planned some sort of sauce for the fish, and have bought the peas at a farmer’s market and need to shell them, and have some sort of garlic roasting project for the potatoes.

It’s self-inflicted in my case, and I specifically make an effort to simplify the meals on nights of the week when I work and get home at 6 and have to feed 2 hungry kids in 20 mins. We have pasta every Monday, tacos every Tuesday and pita pizza every Friday. Sometimes I get an urge to start some fancy barbacoa project for Tuesday tacos, and have to curb myself. But my point is, I do agree with the author that the media barrage of fancy meals at home did not exist when I was growing up and my mom never had that pressure, self-inflicted or not, to attempt an authentic pad thai at home.

Meanwhile, I have to go start some lentils for a poached-egg and tomato stew…

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Ten minutes to locate four items might be hyperbole, but the recipe claims that you can assemble all the ingredients and “mince garlic, chiffonade basil, de-seed and small-dice a cucumber, small-dice two onions, et cetera” in ten minutes. It would take me at least a minute just to look up “chiffonade”. :smile:

She does make the point that a lot of these recipes have ingredients that many home cooks won’t have in the house, and don’t use in enough quantity to warrant buying them. (When I have a recipe that calls for a tablespoon of chopped cilantro, am I really going to buy an entire bunch and let the rest rot?)

A lot of these recipes are based “in the practices of the professional kitchen,” where either the onions for the entire night are diced ahead of time, or the person dicing them can dice as fast as a professional, not at the speed of the average home cook.

My knife skills leave much to be desired but I could complete that prep in 10-12 minutes.

Part of being organized includes planning. Knowing your market allows one to decide if a recipes ingredients will be readily available. Menu planning takes perishables into account and can be designed to incorporate the surplus.

Part of the problem she writes about is caused when each meal is chosen in a bubble - without regard to a longer term plan. If fennel is needed for dinner #1 then it might be prudent to use it in other recipes for dinner # 3 and #5. Cilantro for the chicken can be used the next day in rice and a few days later in a salsa.

I cook for one and the only fresh herb I have trouble using up is dill unless it is pickling season.

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…when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime,
…feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes.
…Every day, when I head to my office after a nourishing breakfast of smashed blueberries or oatmeal I found stuck to the pan,

absolutely nothing to do with “cooking” is the problem here.


I don’t know this particular person, so I don’t know her circumstance. However, on average, her complaints do not ring true to me. Yes, cooking in is not like brushing teeth, but cooking-in is actually less time consuming than dining out. Dining out means you often have to drive to a restaurant, order the food, wait for the food…etc. Yes, being a mom is not easy, but she is not the only one doing it. People have been managing being a mom and cooking at home. This isn’t some crazy Afghanistan covey military missions. Again, I don’t know her situation, but most people waste a lot of time during the day. They spend time on their smart phones, Skyping with people, visiting Chowhound :), watching Game of Throne. My point is that most people are not using their time wisely. They do fun but unimportant things and then suddenly find out that they don’t really have time to cook or time to sleep.

What I do agree with her is that these so called “10 minute recipe” isn’t actually 10 min. That is true.

“… simply an average human deciding what to do with an hour on a Thursday night, if you manage to resist the urge of push-button prepared food and cook a meal for yourself, I tip my hat to you.”

I guess I like her. She has very low threshold. :smiley: She must be easy to please.

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I’m certainly not putting myself on some kind of pedestal – because I don’t think I belong there.

But when I was working 40+ hours per week, going to grad school, and traveling internationally for work, I still managed to find a way to get dinner on the table nearly every night without having to resort to fast food. Having a stash of ingredients that are easy to work with was the key – chicken breasts, rice, pasta, frozen stir-fry vegetables – it wasn’t fancy, but it was always real food.

It was hard, yes, and I lived on <6 hours of sleep for years…but still managed to do what needed to be done, and even now that it’s over, don’t really feel like I’ve earned the right to bitch about how hard it was or to whine and cry about it.


And a lot of them don’t. My point was not that there aren’t plenty of recipes that are a hassle to make (there are) or that there aren’t plenty of articles that underestimate how long it takes to make them (ditto). It was that Dunn didn’t even try. Instead, she wrote 1000 words about giving up without trying. Which would be fine if at least, say, half of those 1000 words were funny. Alas, no.


The main and simple point of the article, that many recipies marked as easy/fast indeed are not, is reasonable but the author’s attitude is rather precious and the body of the article is pretty vacuous. It does not take too much to read recipies and determine their complexity and it is absurd to be pressured by pinterest gourmets into unrealistic expectations. The author almost makes the right point but then thows the baby out with the bathwater. The bit on Pad Thai is particularly offensive. Lovely for her that she has both the means and the access to order up excellent Thai for her family at the drop of a dime but THAT is not realistic for many and franly if you know what your doing a basic noodle dish is pretty doable and cheap.

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ESPECIALLY since she says she reads recipes for a living…

I know that somewhere in that miasma of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest feeds that she says she’s subscribed to are lists for easy dinner hacks, pressure cooker recipes, slow cooker recipes, cooking for 30 days at a time, etc., etc., etc. I only subscribe to a few of the above, and I get them, so I have no doubt that she sees them.

Except for pasta with a very simple sauce (or one already made), there are very few meals that can actually be made in ten minutes, but as Kinetics says, going to fetch food at a restaurant (I don’t have a car, but I do live in an area with a lot of food offerings nearby - deliberately) takes far longer and involves getting dressed again - here in Montréal, in the wintertime, putting your boots, gloves, scarf, hat and winter coat on, walking gingerly on ice to your destination or to the métro, or, if in a car, sometimes having to dig it out again… I don’t have chidren, just a fussy old cat, but my friends who do cook for their families just about every night unless they are going out for dinner - as a change and for entertainment.

As for the chicken, you can pre-cook it. If you buy a chicken, or chicken parts (I MUCH prefer chicken on the bone, and use the carcass for stock) you cook several at once - roasted in the oven or as a braise. And yes, people will have to eat a braise or stew more than once a week, as people have always done throughout the world. For many families where both parents work, or for single-parent families, doing some food prep on the weekend (or other day off) is part of the process.

Fortunately, in my milieu, in the case of two-parent, heterosexual families, the fathers definitely do their part in terms of cooking. There is probably still a gap in terms of housekeeping. I always have fish sauce and at least one kind of soya sauce in the house, and a few staple spices.

There is nothing wrong with using pre-made croûtons. Or frozen vegetables - the quality of some brands has improved greatly, and some of the mixes come in really handy for a stir-fry or stew. I’ve also found good frozen fish - no quicker to prepare than fresh fillets, just a handy freezer staple. The Portuguese seem to freeze them best. I’m poorer than the author is, and have to watch for specials, but I was brought up eating “proper food” (my mother too was strong on “healthy ingredients”) and couldn’t imagine not cooking.

I also live in a major city with a lot of food choice, but there are also benefits to living in smaller places. Cousins in small towns in Québec and Eastern Ontario do almost all their cooking as well.

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I have not been to Montreal, but I have stayed in Toronto during one of its coldest winter. It was quiet an experience. Going out at <-20oC (-5oF) feels like some of lifetime achievements. :innocent:

That is unusually cold in Toronto and rarely lasts for long here in Montréal. Last winter was an exception. It was horrific, and I’m still behind in my Hydro (electricity) payments.

Very mild so far this end of autumn. Only a sprinkle of snow that didn’t last.