Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Technological progress in cookery

There’s a been a blogospherical discussion about the level of recent technological progress in home cooking. Krugman and Cowen have written on the topic, but I found Megan McArdle’s contribution to be most interesting thus far, perhaps because she’s an avid home cook. Most of her post rings true to me, especially this:

Then there is the food.  I simply don't believe that either Tyler or Paul Krugman have ever, as adults, cooked the way that a 1954 cook did in the most meaningful sense.  I don't believe that they have gone without fresh produce for six to eight months at a time, as my mother did in her childhood--and was told to be grateful for the frozen vegetables which hadn't been available when her mother was young. And this was not some urban food desert; my mother grew up in a farm town where the produce, during the summer and early autumn months, is some of the best I've ever had.

McArdle also notes how cheap ingredients have become relative to incomes:

[It] was expected that the average housewife would be anxiously counting the cost of the eggs and milk used in her baked goods, and looking for ways to stretch out even cheap cuts of meat at the end of the month.  Now, I'm sure there are still people in this country who worry about the price of adding an extra egg to their cakes--but they are not the average, or even close to the average.

Reading this passage reminded me of a sentence from Karl Smith that I previously featured here:

Our intuition places a really high value of materials and a comparably low value on human time.

When I cook, I view my time and effort as the main cost, and spend money freely on ingredients. The idea of laboring over a dish, and letting it come up short due to the ingredients, is depressing to me. This viewpoint reflects not only the relatively low cost of ingredients these days, but also the tendency of chores to become hobbies as technology improves. I don’t have to cook, so I cook to develop and test my talent, and produce dishes that “beat” the mass-produced alternatives.

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