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Can't cook

10/26/05 12:00AM By
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(Host) October is a time when many Vermonters are thinking about food; we're harvesting the last produce before winter and Thanksgiving is not far away. Commentator Helen Labun Jordan is thinking about her generation's own relationship with food.

(Jordan) When my husband and I first started dating, I brought him a fresh-baked loaf of my double dark chocolate bread as a gift. He was making scrambled eggs when I arrived, and showed his appreciation by immediately cutting two thick slices for a scrambled egg sandwich that oozed melted chocolate. A sacrifice in the name of love? Maybe. More likely it was further proof of a fact that I've been hearing for a long time: when it comes to food, I'm part of a lost generation.

You probably know us. We're twenty-some-things, old enough that, by now, we should be comfortable preparing our own meals. But many of us aren't. For some of my college friends, ignoring basic cooking skills is a symbol of their professional status. They have careers and no time for household chores. Other friends simply aren't interested. Others had families where no one cooked and they don't know where to begin.

These days, it's easy to let someone else make your meals. Offices in New York City greet new recruits with a four inch thick directory of take out options. DC law firms will give their interns a full $60 every day in lunch money - I'm guessing it's not so they can bring their own. And the problem doesn't only affect urbanites. Just last month a Vermont friend called me up to recite the contents of her refrigerator so that I could tell her what they meant in terms of dinner options.

Not learning how to cook has serious drawbacks. For starters, eating out every meal is expensive - even when it's mediocre food. Plus, we'll spend more on a frozen dinner from who-knows-where and never consider fresh products from the farmer down the road. We regularly eat meals without knowing either their ingredients or their nutritional content at a time when one in five U.S. children is overweight and we are the ones raising the next generation.

Our health, pocketbooks, and communities are all affected by not knowing the first steps in preparing our own food. Ironically, as fewer young people know how to cook, this ability has become more highly prized.

Some chefs hold celebrity status and a growing number of people want to learn their secrets. So, as fledgling Iron Chefs wonder if maybe they are ready to flambe, bringing Americans back to the kitchen has become big business. We have access to an unprecedented array of ingredients, we get inspiration everywhere from cookbooks to classes to prime time TV shows, and we've gained an honest respect for those who know their way around food.

It's a trend that points towards true gains, that helps us manage our health and our money, know about our place in the food system, and enjoy restaurants for their own value, not just because we're desperate.

I haven't given up on my generation. Not yet. And if anyone needs a recipe for a chocolate and egg sandwich, I've got a great one.

This is Helen Labun Jordan from East Montpelier.

Helen Labun Jordan is a graduate student in community development and applied economics at the University of Vermont.
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