In this week's New York Times Magazine, Freakonomics authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner take on an interesting subject: why has today's middle and upper class adopted as hobbies activities that our great- or great-great-grandparents did their best to phase out. The three big ones: gardening, knitting and, of course, "cooking for fun".
The authors, of course, provide their uber-smart economists take on the subject - they decide that it comes down to personal choice. I like to cook because I can choose not to cook if I don't want to, and Cooper and Dixon and I wouldn't starve.
What the authors don't touch on, though, and maybe it's a little "soft" for them, is that one thing that knitting, cooking and gardening all have in common is an emotional benefit. I would argue (without having any research at all to back it up) that emotional benefits are more closely tied to societal perceptions than other types of benefits might be (such as economic or physical benefits). Because our emotions are influenced and created by a zillion unseen societal and personal forces, emotional benefits are likely to shift over time.
And that's almost definitely the case with cooking. The sense of satisfaction in creativity that I get when I cook is directly related to the value that society places on gourmetish cooking. Right now, society happens to consider cooking cool and trendy and creative and worthwhile (as evidenced by the development of a whole bunch of cooking-related reality shows. Just kidding. Sort of.)
Anyway, it's a worthwhile article, and a short one. I love those Freakonomics guys.