Written and photos by Kelsey Hale
Cooking to me is a therapy—an art form—as well as a social asset in today’s world. For me, handling food and cooking is something that I love to do because you can only focus on one thing: making the dish. You do not have time to play on your phone, get distracted by emails, or work on your next assignment. This is why I appreciate cooking so much—it is the ultimate distraction from your everyday life, as well as an aspect of every person’s day-to-day agenda.
The connection of food from generation to generation, as well as the importance of cooking, knowing techniques, and the simplicity of ingredients provokes my thoughts. The appreciation for food, and all the culture that comes along with it has changed over time. The millennial generation has grown to consider food as a fuel, or even just a chore; they have lost the culture, taste and art of what it means to know how to cook good food.
Food and flavor in this generation has turned from culture and taste, to a need to eat and continue the day. With lunch breaks decreasing down to almost an average of 30 minutes in the U.S., it is no wonder that millennials have not had the opportunity to value food. Of course, there are far more frustrating issues the millennial generation faces; climate change, unequal pay for women, and issues within mental health. But, to be honest, cooking is a major skill most millennials lack, topping off the highest rate at 60% of millennials not knowing how to fry chicken—not to mention cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Where are they getting their fuel from? ChicK-Fil-a, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Jimmy John’s! Millennials eat out more than any other generation in history.
My argument, though, is not to blame their lack of knowledge on laziness or disregard to an appreciation of cooking. There is simply less opportunity to learn to cook, cook well, and be able to savor the taste in the ways it should be appreciated. For example, to make a pizza from scratch, you need a minimum of three hours on your hands. You must create the dough, let it rise for at least an hour, then knead the dough, let it rise again for 30 minutes, prepare sauce, shred cheese, and, the hardest part; not messing it all up. In the millennial lunch break, individuals hardly have enough time to phone Domino’s, let alone cook from scratch. One of my favorite cooking inspirations, Stephen Cusato from Not Another Cooking Show on YouTube, posted this quote; “Why I do what I do: I do think the idea of basic cooking skills are a virtue, that the ability to feed yourself and a few others with proficiency should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill, should become as vital to growing up as learning to wipe one’s own ass, cross the street by oneself, or be trusted with money – Bourdain.” Millennials today do not have this fundamental skill. They have access to quick bites, machinery, and technology that all ruin the cooking experience.
Technology and access to food has affected the way the millennial generation has chosen to eat. With being able to order a burger through an app, or even get any sort of food delivered at your door, you hardly have to face the terrifying ingredients list McDonald’s has in your McNuggets. Access to healthy foods, and time to cook them does not always come so easily either. Around 17.6 million Americans still lack access to healthy food, while nearly 39% of adults with low income said the cost of healthy food is what has deterred them from eating right. Living on a college budget for the largest generation with college students is tough as it is, but to then put on a hefty bill of nutritious or delicious food on top just does not fly for this generation.
But, cooking is not all about healthy eating either. It is developed taste that goes beyond just feeling full; you want to feel good, satisfied, and accomplished. This is how I feel when I cook. Even when cooking something as simple as fettuccini alfredo—of course it is not the healthiest meal—showcases how a dish that comes with background, flavor, and ingredients you can pronounce is so satisfying to cook. Its ingredients include pasta, parmesan cheese, butter, and that’s right, no cream. Alfredo della Scrofa in Rome, the birthplace of this famous dish, does not use cream, instead using the starchy leftover pasta water as an excellent combining ingredient. The knowledge of the origins as well as the cultural knowledge for something as simple as excluding cream from a recipe is something I have come to appreciate. Many recipes for alfredo sauces use cream, and I feel that this mimics the fast-paced cooking environment our world has created today. There is no value today in using ingredients that are fresh and simple, as well as creating simple dishes that are done well.
Fundamental cooking skills are traditionally passed down from generation to generation via culture and growing up. Everyone has a classic dish—some fancier than others—that bring a nostalgic feel to their life. For me, I grew up cooking crepes with my Gramper. He taught me the order in which you put egg, flour, and milk, to make sure the batter was completely smooth to create an almost translucent pancake. Keeping in mind when it was finally my turn to make them for my family had motivated me to get into cooking other items. I loved the feel of a piping hot pan, and flipping the crepes on-and-off the pan as fast as my family called for them. This breakfast treat was not like eating Poptarts in the morning on the way to school—it was an event celebrated by my family. We ate them as fast as we could roll them up and topped them with maple syrup, racing to call out “NEXT!” for another serving.
I have taken the skills from my three ingredient crepe lessons with me to the kitchen. Knowing when to put oil in a pan, heat it well, and drop down whatever I was cooking. These fundamental skills motivated me to do more research on my own into cooking.
My research has taught me a lot about cooking. Some of my favorite cooking “rules” come from Sam the Cooking Guy on YouTube, who taught me “fat means flavor,” and the color on food from charring, actually creates and brightens flavor. I have also learned a lot about salt, an essential aspect in cooking. Salt is not for flavor—it is a mineral to enhance food’s natural flavors. The internet has provided millennials with so much access to learning about food, and how to cook really great dishes. And yet, there are people who still stop at Sweetgreen’s for a salad daily. I think that millennials lack the motivation to cook because of higher expectations for other things in life. Whether you are getting a degree, working to make enough money to buy a house, or just trying to be a good parent, it can be really hard to make yourself available to be “self-taught,” unless you have a passion for food.
In my opinion, everyone should have a passion for food. It is something that affects your body in so many different ways. Even eating a good meal that you appreciate can affect how your mood is. I am not saying it has to be something that is uber healthy, but it should be something that is tasty, and that you love. You won’t love your food without the effort and hard work that goes into making it. There is a sincere gratification in sitting down and eating a meal that took you time, effort, and a little bit of learning to make. Along with the presentation of the food, with a clean plate, extra sauce, or fresh basil atop your dish, you could be feeling like the best version of yourself. Cooking is a stress reliever for me, and I hope to motivate millennials to take a chance on choosing simple, but really strong dishes, and try making them at home. Having so much access to information on what to cook and how to cook it now, should give you some motivation to try it for yourself. Taking time out of your weekend could be an excellent stress reliever to the millennial, fast-paced lifestyle people live in. With fresh ingredients, and some focus, you could learn so much about what you eat, and yourself.