The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Can you cook?

Posted in
Eat better

Friday, Mar 02, 2012

"Save America's cooking skills!" "Improving food literacy!" Everyone from nutritionists and obesity researchers to chefs are starting to shouting these slogans. Why? Because many Americans can't cook, resulting in a dinner choice of either eating out (often fast food) or packaged, convenience food (often high in fat, salt, and calories).

Researchers in Australia (Queensland University of Technology) are leading a research project to study food literacy in young adults (16-26 years old) and how to improve them. Specifically, they're defining food literacy as a "combination of food choices, shopping, and cooking" and looking at what food skills people need to be healthy and how measure and influence them.

While the results of this project are pending, other studies have shown that Americans' cooking skills have declined over the past few decades. Here are a few questions from a cooking test put out by the National Pork Producers Council1:

  1. How many ounces are in a cup - 4 ounces, 6 ounces, 8 ounces, or 16 ounces?
  2. True or False? To retain the vitamins when cooking vegetables, use little water.
  3. Marbling in meat indicates: tenderness, fat content, freshness, or aging?
Answers: 8 ounces; true; fat content.

How did you score? When 735 adults were asked these and other cooking knowledge questions nearly three-quarters flunked. The survey found that 50 percent didn't know how to thicken gravy correctly, 75 percent didn't know that broccoli should be cooked uncovered to maintain its color, and only 55 percent knew there are three teaspoons in a tablespoon.

Some argue that Americans are cooking less today because food companies have persuaded people it's faster and easier (no shopping, prep, or clean-up) to buy prepared food; Americans see cooking as a weekend recreation rather than an everyday occurrence; and lack of parental cooking over the years has led to more people who don't have the know-how or confidence to cook. Others, however, argue that more Americans are cooking today to save money and enrollment in cooking classes (including online cooking classes) and purchases of cookbooks has increased.

Either way, it's probably worthwhile for all of us to reflect on whether we know how to dredge, braise, and butterfly or when to add a little thyme or cumin to a meal. By cooking at home we can ensure healthful foods are served to our families, can save money, and can put on a tea or dinner party, if needed.

The most recent champion of keeping Americans' cooking skills alive is Jamie Oliver, British chef and star of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution recently broadcast on ABC. He asks Americans to "start a food revolution in your own home, all you need to do is cook something. From scratch. With fresh and raw ingredients - no packets, no cheating!" and pledge to do it once or more each week with family and friends. To get started, his website provides a variety of recipes, how-to videos, and listings of equipment and cupboard basics.

What do you think? Is it time to stop watching others cook (in restaurants, on The Food Network) and do it ourselves?

1National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines, IA; the test was contained in a mailed questionnaire sent out for the council by National Family Opinion Research, Inc. in Toledo, OH.