I can’t stop thinking about the comments that I received after a blog I wrote a few months ago about how menu labeling was not having the desired effect on some restaurants in low income areas. A lot of you brought up some really good points about consumer responsibility and education, but I was really intrigued by the comments that I got about lack of cooking skills and less in-home food preparation. I was a bit shocked to hear restaurant industry professionals advocating meals eaten away from their restaurants, but the points are valid, and from recent statistics it looks like restaurants don’t have much to worry about in regards to competition with I current day home economists.
Once upon a time Home Economics was taught in schools (so my mother tells me), not only in high schools, but you could get a college degree in the subject. What was once the Home Ec cooking classroom at my University had been converted into a “cooking lab” by the time I got there. Where students once learned to master the kitchen in aspirations of creating well-run household, we learned the effects that different food chemicals had on each other in hopes of someday making enough money to support 50% of a modern-day life.
With most households having two working parents these days, going out to eat is much more common than it was back in the days of home economists. Picking something up or going out to eat is just easier for many families after a full day of work than trying to prepare nightly meals, not to mention many people in generations X and Y haven’t a clue how to cook more than toast, we were never taught.
In 2008 the National Restaurant Association reported that 48% of the average household food budget went to restaurants (up from 25% in 1995). Another study from The U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2001 reports major decreases in home meal preparation as compared to the early 1990’s. This movement away from the kitchen and into restaurant dining rooms is said to be partially to blame for our current obesity epidemic.
Even though restaurants are beginning to offer more health conscious choices, consumers will never have the control over what goes into their meals that they do by preparing meals themselves. By preparing meals at home consumers can prioritize their dietary needs (i.e. low sodium, limited carbohydrates, gluten free, …etc) in their meals by modifying their ingredients, whereas in restaurants priority will always lean towards flavor.
People seem to have more specialized dietary needs than ever before (diabetes, hypertension/salt sensitivity, gluten intolerance, allergies…etc), and are consequently putting their health in the hands of strangers when it comes to dining out. As a result restaurants are more responsive than ever to accommodate special orders based on their demands.
I wonder if American society will ever return to cooking most meals at home. What do you think?