Monday, May 07, 2007

"Cooking for Fun"

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.


Tracy Miller Quinn said...

Besides the emotional gratification that one gets from cooking for fun, isn't it also noteworthy that homecooking can be healthier for the individual as one has more control over the amounts of oils, fats, and salt can be controlled by the cook?

Kit Pollard said...

I think that's true, but it's a rational response to cooking more so than an emotional one - and I think it's the emotional that makes cooking a hobby as opposed to a chore.

As far as I can tell, people fall into a handful of different groups (segments, if I'm going to be researchy about it) with respect to their relationship with food. There are people who, at their core, just love food and love to eat and then there are people who are somewhat indifferent to food and who really just eat to get through the day.

I think the second group - the eat to live people - are more likely to cook at home for rational reasons, like health or cost.

Within the other group, though, the people who are into food to some degree, I think there are a bunch of subgroups. There are the people who really like to go out to dinner, but don't really care about eating at home. Then there are people who love to sit around the table and eat and hang out with their family and friends. Then there are the people who really, really get into their time actually cooking.

My best guess is that the people who listed "cooking" as a hobby in this study come from the last two groups - the people who cook for the fun of relationships and the people who cook because they just love the process of cooking.

I also think that my combination of research analyst and food blogger means that I think about this stuff way more than is probably normal.


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