Comment: Home cooking back in vogue now that we’re stuck at home

Generations have seen much less home cooking, but that could change with COVID-19

With COVID-19 measures forcing us to spend more time at home, the opportunity to learn new things in our kitchen has never been so good.
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These are unprecedented times for all of us. And frankly, we are all trying to figure out how to deal with our new lives, even if we know it will only last for a while.

Strange days have found us, as normalcy is just not an option, for the safety of society, for us all. Public health officials and political leaders in Canada have been outstanding thus far. The media and reporters have been miracle workers, keeping the Canadian public well informed, even making some content open access. Thank goodness for them.

The not-so-graceful display of our collective journey to cope with this global threat has been the panic buying we have seen everywhere. People have been impulsively emptying shelves, everywhere, irrationally. We are all complicated human beings, and it’s hard to judge anyone since we are in unchartered waters.

People manage anxiety and risks differently, in their own way. As a society, we will go through cycles of emotions, compulsions and foolishness. We are in the worst of it, but it will end eventually.

With quarantines, cancellations, closures, and social distancing, home is, more than ever, the safest place for anyone to be. One positive thing coming out of this unfortunate episode could be to have everyone spending more time in the kitchen, a place in which fewer Canadians have spent time in recent years.

Evidence that suggests Canadians are spending less time in the kitchen is mounting, despite record cookbook sales. Canadians buy almost $100 million worth of cookbooks and food-related literature every year, but sales of tools and appliances used for cooking, like spatulas, mixers, and cooking bowls, have dropped steadily every year over the last five years. In 2019, sales for appliances and other items normally used in private kitchens dropped by two per cent. The average Canadian can now watch more than 250 hours of cooking or food related shows a week on television. A few networks are solely devoted to food. Still, cooking is just a fantasy for a growing number of Canadians.

Time has been unkind to kitchens. In a recent survey by Dalhousie University, for people born before 1946, 95 per cent ate meals prepared by parents or a caregiver at home when growing up. That percentage dropped significantly over the years. Millennials were not exposed to home cooked meals as much, and neither was Generation Z. About 64 per cent of Millennials regularly ate home-cooked meals when growing up, compared to 55 per cent for Gen Z. Compared to the older generation, that’s a whopping drop of 31 per cent and 40 per cent.

In other words, younger generations have a different appreciation for the kitchen and how food is prepared and consumed at home. The COVID-19 pandemic could potentially make younger generations more familiar with a space that seems like a fable to them.

More time at home can be a benefit for all of us. In that same survey conducted by Dalhousie University, 68.4 per cent of Canadians would like to spend more time preparing food at home. With the current public safety measures, many will be getting their wish.

Buying and reading a cookbook is like watching a good movie. We can project ourselves into the story, imagine we can do things we never thought possible, making us dream. Some cookbooks these days are masterpieces, works of art. But most cookbooks have been used as coffee table books or regifted. Such a shame. But COVID-19 could change everything.

As we are forced to spend more time at home, and with provisions safely nestled in cupboards and freezers, the opportunity to revisit our kitchens daily has never been so good. Equipped with unread cookbooks and underused kitchen tools, Canadians can now see some action in the kitchen.

We will get through this by sticking together and listening to our competent public health officials. In the meantime, let’s dust off our cookbooks and get reacquainted with the one room that can truly be considered the heart of anyone’s home: the kitchen.

– Sylvain Charlebois is the Senior Director/Directeur Principal Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

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