Does this mean that the ideal of joyful cooking is an excessively idealized illusion? That’s what Amanda Marcotte suggests, riffing off a recent sociology study of how people incorporate Mark Bittmanesque ideals into their everyday lives. It turns out that the women who cook find kids and husbands more difficult to deal with than do the folks in loving magazine articles about growing your own lima beans and making fresh succotash. Fresh produce tends to rot if you shop only once a month. Hectic schedules make it difficult to get everyone sitting at the table. Preparing new things on a tight food budget is risky when they might end up rotting in the refrigerator, uneaten.
And to be sure, those articles can be extremely annoying, not to mention unrealistic. Michael Pollan’s riff about his family trying McDonald’s for the first time and finding it gross struck me as a fine bit of elitist mythmaking: I mean, maybe it’s true of the Pollans, but I find it hard to believe that neither he nor his children had ever encountered a Quarter Pounder before. And even harder to believe that no one liked it; the chain is wildly successful in all sorts of places that have stellar reputations for lovingly home-prepared food. My mother, who made her own croissants, also loves Sausage McMuffins. It’s OK to extoll the joys of taking the time to prepare some complicated dish and to reassure people that cooking high-quality food is not necessarily as difficult as they think. It’s also OK to grab the occasional bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.