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Is cooking a dying art?

Are we witnessing the slow death of cooking?

Home economics courses have disappeared from curriculum and some might argue we have lost at least one generation of cooks. Though some reports suggest more people are eating at home, restaurant revenues were up more than 3% in 2016 and the sector is only growing.

What we eat is changing, but how and where we eat is too. Frankly, technology has a lot to do with it and is altering the concept of going out and eating in. Choices for consumers have never been so abundant: fast food, fine dining, food trucks, ready-to-eat products and so forth. Eating at home can be equally as confusing. You can “dine out” at home and you can cook a meal that has been ordered in.

Canadians are obsessed with cooking shows and celebrity chefs and have access to nearly 200 hours of food-related shows per week. Shows on food in general have gone mainstream and are attracting a different generation of viewers and sponsors. Almost anyone can have or be involved in a cooking show, from reality competitions to saving restaurants from going out of business. Some shows are incredibly well produced and should entice anyone to go into the kitchen and cook an exquisite meal. Yet, evidence shows this is not happening.

Recent surveys suggest the average adult spends more time watching cooking shows than cooking. Even more fascinating is how these shows inspire some people. One recent study in England hinted that 20% of adults who cooked a full meal only did it to post a picture on social media. It is not about learning cooking skills, but about showing off. Though it would appear many adults are wanting to cook more because they are spending time watching cooking shows, the fact is they aren't.

One reason is the surge of women in the workforce. As women continue to spend more time outside the household, less time is being spent cooking. Seeing more women actively engaged in our economy is critical to moving forward. As our pursuit for socio-economic equality continues, we need to find ways to encourage everyone to invest more time in the kitchen. All of us have different values and cultures to share and there is no better way to share than through food and cooking.

Cooking has become optional for most of us, which causes us to relinquish control of what we eat to corporations wanting to provide us with conveniently served and prepared healthy and not-so healthy products. However, for many years the meaning of good and proper eating was imposed and not driven by consumers. That of course is changing. More companies are responding to our collective desire to see more transparency and an increasing number of consumers are taking ownership of food systems.

But, taking control of our food systems cannot be fully achieved unless some is cooking. Cooking makes our food tastier, more tender and digestible. More importantly, consumers can add their own touch to the food they eat and make it theirs. The relationship we have with food is so precious, however, modern life has caused most of us to forget it.

As the food service industry prospers, food retailing is almost at a stalemate. Sales were up barely 0.7% in food retailing in Canada in 2016. We may want to stop thinking that cooking is too challenging, that it's too time-consuming and too costly. Not only are we spending less time cooking, but less time eating. According to the OECD, the average Canadian spends less than an hour and fifteen minutes per day eating.

To put it more succinctly, we cook less and eat faster while the obesity rate is at worrying levels. If Canadians can get back in the kitchen, at the very least, we should take more time to enjoy our food.

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