The myth of easy cooking

Quick and easy cioppino 

Elizabeth G. Dunn writes about food for a living, so she sees more cooking advice and recipes than most people. Many of the articles she reads promise gourmet meals that are simple and easy to prepare. Those articles are lying to us, says Dunn in a recent story in The Atlantic.

She notes that Amazon’s ‘quick and easy’ section contains over 8,000 titles,  cookbooks promising artisanal breads in minutes are bestsellers, and Jamie Oliver’s most recent cookbook shaved the time commitment for his recipes from 30 minutes to just 15.  Says Dunn, “Everywhere, there are magazine features proclaiming that making and freezing my own chicken stock is a “no-brainer”; homemade Calabrian chili oil is an “easy” way to add big flavor; the secret to making effortless breakfast granola is to simply do it in big batches. The problem is that none of this actually easy.” Not only are the preparation times unworkable, says Dunn, many of the recipes require exotic ingredients that take time to find and get home.

Why, then, do we keep getting innundated with the promise of ease and simplicity? Dunn believes that these concepts continue to be promoted because real “easy” cooking cannot sustain the cookbook and magazine industry. Books, magazines, and websites tell people fanciful tales – that a truly gourmet meal can hit the table in minutes – because that’s what sells.

So what does Dunn think should be done about this deception? She posits that “we should talk more realistically about what’s involved in from-scratch cooking, the sacrifices it entails, and the fact that little of the complexity offered by today’s published recipes is really essential to cooking a delicious meal.” Do you agree with Dunn that today’s recipes over promise (and under deliver) on speed and ease?

Photo of Quick and easy cioppino from Gourmet Magazine, October 2007: The Restaurant Issue by Ian Knauer

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  • ellabee  on  December 1, 2015

    The most irritating aspect of the article is that the author writes completely from the p.o.v. of someone who has never cooked regularly, so treats as nonexistent the the structures that make it manageable: a pantry (so that you don't have to run out at lunch to pick up fish sauce) or meal planning (which among other things can cut down on the amount of time spent shopping, or at least use the same time more efficiently) or basic organized food storage (it takes 10 minutes to locate onion, garlic, and two crisper veg in your kitchen, Ms Dunn? Ur doin it wrong). She also ignores the existence of that marvelous convenience online shopping, which makes ingredients from asafoetida to za'atar as accessible to me as to urbanites. She treats stripping a few leaves off a stem of thyme as incompatible with a weeknight meal. Frankly, she seems a little in need of that home-ecs curriculum herself.

  • veronicafrance  on  December 2, 2015

    You're so right, ellabee! That annoyed me too. If you cook regularly, you are bound to know a handful of easy, quick dishes that can be made from pantry ingredients without needing to consult a cookbook.

  • BethNH  on  December 2, 2015

    I wrote a nice long comment that somehow never posted but, basically, I agree with ellabee that this author is out of touch with reality. She finds a personal chef affordable and regularly orders take-out but can't find the time to cook a simple meal? Ludicrous.

    Where I live there are no deliver services, personal chefs or even take out (except the one pizza place). We have one small grocery store. My husband and I both work yet somehow are able to get a meal on the table every night that sustains three teenage boy athletes. It's not that complicated.

    Sure, I use my cookbooks, but most often we fall back on trusty recipes that we all love. Sometimes this means pulling out the same old cookbook and sometimes it's something simple enough that doesn't require a recipe. It's ridiculous to think that one has to feed their child peanut butter toast each night.

  • darcie_b  on  December 2, 2015

    My take on the article is a bit different. I don't think the author is saying that cooking a simple meal is out of the question, just that a *gourmet* meal isn't going to be an *easy* weeknight option. When she says "little of the complexity offered by today's published recipes is really essential to cooking a delicious meal," to me that means we should be wary of recipes that promise a gourmet experience in under 30 minutes. YMMV

  • BethNH  on  December 2, 2015

    Except the author also bemoans the time involved in making a breakfast smoothie which is something that an organized person could get together the night before. She also congratulates anyone who manages to cook a meal at night instead of ordering take-out. She clearly lives a very different life than anyone I know who manages to have food in their house for breakfast. lunch and dinner every day. It's not rocket science.

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