A cookbook conundrum


“So many cookbooks, so little time,” laments Glenda Cooper of The Telegraph. EYB Members reading this headline might bob their heads in agreement at the phrase. After all, we love cookbooks and wish we had more time to try all of the delicious recipes found in their glossy pages. But Cooper isn’t talking about that cookbook conundrum–rather, she is discussing the phenomenon of people buying cookbooks and watching cooking programmes but not actually cooking.

A recent survey of 2,000 Britons revealed that despite owning on average six cookbooks, most people tend to make the same meals over and over. Most EYB members are far above the six cookbook average and likely have in excess of nine dishes in their repetoire. But even though cooking shows and books are more popular than ever, many people still rely on takeaway, prepared meals, and a few tried-and-true dishes. Another UK study found that not only are people cooking fewer meals, they’re spending less time in the kitchen. The research concluded that the amount of time spent preparing the evening meal has been cut in half over the last 30 years.

What are the causes behind this change? Cooper notes that people may be intimidated to cook because they were never properly taught basic cooking skills. She also notes the role of the food industry, which for decades has worked to convince people (mainly women) that cooking is difficult so they should use the food companies’ shortcut processed products instead. Additionally, she posits that food contamination stories scare people out of the kitchen.

To combat the trend of cooking less (which Cooper believes is at least partly to blame for the obesity epidemic), she says “we have to rethink how to eat, as well as what to eat.” Cooper believes we should “stop thinking of sustenance as another multitasking opportunity. Much as we love those brand-new recipe books and those seductive food programmes, it’s time to switch off Bake Off – and go back to the kitchen table.” Thankfully, she does not advocate having fewer cookbooks.

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  • BethNH  on  March 1, 2015

    I don't know anyone who doesn't cook. I have three boys and talk to the parents of their friends on the sidelines of games and the one thing that comes up over and over is what to cook for dinner. There's nothing wrong with cooking the same meals over and over – we all want to feed our family food they'll happily eat. My family has a pretty wide repertoire and we still tend to eat the same meals often.

    This past week my college age son and his girlfriend were here for the week. One night when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed they offered to cook. They leafed through a favorite cookbook, made a list, went up to the store to buy ingredients and cooked the family a delicious meal. Cooking is not hard.

  • pattidoyle  on  March 1, 2015

    I am a chef and I make a different dinner & lunch 5 times week and 48 weeks a year.

    I do not buy cookbooks for recipes. I buy them for enjoyment, originality, personality and to get ideas and to keep up with new trends. I go to restaurants and know where the chef got ideas because I read cookbooks every day.

    Cookbooks have changed so much since I was a teenager and I still own and use my teenage collection from 30 plus years ago.

    I check out new recipes all of the time and I usually adapt them based on my experience. That said, it is more time consuming to use a recipe than to invent on the fly.

    Love Patti

  • hillsboroks  on  March 1, 2015

    I agree with everything Ms. Cooper states in her article. In our area the home economics courses in junior high and high school have been cut back and the curriculum so dumbed down that the 13 year-old daughter of a friend of ours asked to spend a day cooking with me just to learn the basics she weren't being taught at school. Her mother didn't cook much so she looked around for another adult who did. She said all the things they made in the school class started with a boxed mix of something! My son who grew up in a cooking home and learned basic skills now cooks for himself and his girlfriend who grew up with a mother who does not cook. Like mother like daughter his girlfriend is pretty clueless in the kitchen. But it is never too late to learn. I have a friend in her 50s who was grossly overweight after a lifetime of fast food and prepared mixes who as part of her weight loss plan started doing simple cooking and found that 1. It wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as she thought it would be, 2. The food tasted much better and was much healthier and 3. Her family loved her new cooking efforts. I think we need to go back to teaching children about food and how to cook from an early age. Since so many of their parents are unwilling or unable to do this the schools would be the logical place to provide these basic life skills. Cooking classes in the schools should not be viewed as a needless luxury but rather as essential life skills classes that can tie with other classes like math, science and reading. The way I really cemented my understanding of fractions when I was young was doubling or cutting recipes in half.

  • sir_ken_g  on  March 1, 2015

    Every year the amount of prepared stuff in the supermarkets goes up and the amount of basic ingredients goes down. Sad.

    I'm pleased that our love of cooking rubbed off on our younger generation.

  • darcie_b  on  March 1, 2015

    sir_ken_g – the trend of eating prepared and processed foods may be reversing. Sales of processed foods are declining as consumers look toward fresh ingredients.



  • FJT  on  March 3, 2015

    People like the idea of cooking their own food, but I'm not sure they're equipped with the skills to be confident in the kitchen (it's a bit like me and the fitness centre – I want to go there and work out how to use all those machines, but I never make it as I lack confidence). I wasn't confident in the kitchen (I loved baking but couldn't cook much and didn't enjoy it) until I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and had to get serious about food. Now I love to cook, have 80 cookbooks and my confidence has soared – so much so that my husband has hung up his apron!

    This year I'm motivating myself to better utilise those 80 cookbooks and have challenged myself to cook a new-to-me recipe each week … I'm actually ahead of that target the moment and am really enjoying the challenge!

  • nicolthepickle  on  March 5, 2015

    Since the average number of cookbooks is 6. There must be quite a few that own none. I own about 40 so that throws the balance off a bit. I'm in Canada, I wonder if it's much different here.

  • Thredbende  on  March 27, 2015

    Follow the money. The prepared food industry works hard to keep us convinced that cooking is hard.

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