How should we feel when we step into the kitchen? Inspired? Adventurous? "Epicurious?"
According to a recent study from the American Sociological Association, more like stressed, anxious and unhappy.
As reported in The Washington Post, Slate and The New York Times among others, the report—titled "The Joy of Cooking?"—suggests that pressure on moms to prepare a home cooked meal is driving us all - in short - bananas.
The study focused on 150 low-income and middle class mothers or grandmothers and closely observed 12 working class families for a year as part of an ongoing research project for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study concluded that the process of cooking a family dinner is hectic, wrought with anxiety, and ultimately counterproductive to the pursuit of family bonding. Yikes!
“The emphasis on home cooking ignores the time pressures, financial constraints, and feeding challenges that shape the family meal. Yet this is the widely promoted standard to which all mothers are held,” the researchers wrote.
“Our conversations with mothers of young children show us that this emerging standard is a tasty illusion, one that is moralistic, and rather elitist, instead of a realistic vision of cooking today.”
While it can sound like yet another horrific setup women are destined to fail trying—think "having it all"—the study does point out some very real challenges that plague modern families. Low-income families in particular are likely to be disproportionately affected by financial constraints, hectic and unpredictable work schedules, and access to quality food.
Kelly Barkley Mane, Development Coordinator for New York City Common Pantry, told Fusion via email that healthy eating and cooking for these communities depends largely on where they live and the quality of food that's around them.
"Sometimes, it is not even a matter of the availability [of quality food] but also the time it takes to get better quality food," she says. This can, in turn, cause many families to opt for quick, cheap and easy food options that are high in availability, but lacking in nutritional value.
Organizations like New York City Common Pantry aim to provide quality foods and nutritional education, but Barkley Mane points out that availability is only part of the puzzle. Knowledge and desire play an even larger role.
"You could live in the grocery store, but that won't matter if you don't know what to do with the resources," she says.
So, overall, are millennials cooking or are we still ordering takeout?
Research seems to suggest that millennials are not only cooking, we're enjoying it, we value it, and we're striving to be as healthy and educated as possible with our food choices.
Research from YPULSE youth marketing and millennial research found that millennials are cooking, on average, 4.9 nights per week, and more than half of us would rather cook a meal at home than order takeout.
Another poll conducted by The Hartman Group suggests that when compared to our Baby Boomer parents and our Gen X older siblings, millennials are also more spontaneous and adventurous when it comes to our general interactions with food.
Millennials value the consumption of healthier, more natural/organic, less-processed and better-tasting foods and brands, and are trending towards farmer's markets and urban gardening projects all in the name of eating healthier.
And despite valiant efforts to win us over, millennials foodies are eschewing junk and fast foods, as well as casual dining chain restaurants, in favor of home-prepared meals or occasional takeout from organic-leaning, fast-casual concept brands like Chipotle and Panera Bread. (Although the perception that these brands are inherently healthy is not altogether true.)
Millennials are also more likely to be gender neutral when it comes to the role of cooking, thus alleviating some of the pressure on mom, as 61 percent of millennial aged women and 60 percent of millennial aged men reported that they enjoy cooking.
"Millennials have a basic repertoire of dishes they're able to cook without a recipe — but are interested in expanding their range of dishes," according to The Hartman Group poll. "For many millennials, the act of cooking is more performative; they enjoy cooking especially when having people over."
Our generation's relaxed approach to cooking may stem from the lack of pressure to re-create grandma's vintage recipes with their half-dozen near impossible to find ingredients. Rather, 41 percent of us figure out what to cook by surfing the web for recipes, and 19 percent get our culinary inspiration from social media.
A YouTube Partner and winner of YouTube’s NextUp contest, Vargas-Wilson provides weekly sewing, quilting, cooking and organic gardening tutorials in both English and Spanish for her more than 100,000 channel subscribers. The University of Florida law school grad and mom of two says that while she always enjoyed cooking, the organic and natural route did not cross her mind until she learned she was expecting her first child.
"I'm from Miami. My husband is from New Orleans" she says, "we didn't know sh-t about farming."
Extensive research during her pregnancy led Vargas-Wilson, like many millennials, to get serious about what and how she ate. "I decided that if [raising animals/growing and preparing my own food] is the only way to know for sure what's going into my body and what I'm feeding my family, then that's what I'm going to do."
Vargas-Wilson finds that in her household, the key to alleviating stress around the dinner table is to turn it into a family affair. The children regularly assist with meal prep and setting the table. "They love being a part of the process, it's fun for them." She says if everything is left up to mom, of course she'll find the whole experience to be stressful and overwhelming.
The study also concentrates on the pressure to try and please a variety of taste preferences, leaving stressed out parents more likely to serve meals they know the family will eat, even if it means shirking on nutritional value.
To this, Vargas-Wilson's straight forward approach is: "If that sh-t isn't in my house, how are you going to eat it?"
After all, the one who controls the purse controls what foods will and will not make it into the house.
Vargas-Wilson also employs a try it once policy. "If they don't like it, I say OK you don't have it eat it, but you'll just be hungry. Then, I'll reintroduce it maybe a few weeks later, seasoned or prepared differently. Nine times out of 10, they'll say mommy this is good."
As millennials seem to care more and more about what we eat and how we eat, that mentality appears to be trickling down to what and how we feed our children. Perhaps we're the ones who will rediscover the joy of cooking.
"It's about the desire, it's about priorities," says Vargas-Wilson of food and cooking choices. "If healthy eating is important enough to you, you'll find a way. If it's not, you'll find excuses."