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USA Today says 90% of Americans don’t like to cook. A Harris poll says 80% do. Harvard Business Review says 10% love to cook and 45% hate it.

Why the disparity?

Some is due to samples and methods, and some is due to using terms that are closely related but not the same. Liking is not loving and disliking is not hating. The biggest reason for these inconsistencies, though, is our definitions of what actually constitute cooking.

So what do we mean by “cooking?”

In addition to the heating method (baking, frying, grilling, etc), “cooking” has for a very long time meant the entire process of everything that comes before: washing, trimming, chopping, measuring,  stirring, etc.  Ask anyone who runs a restaurant, and they’ll tell you most of the labor of cooking is in the preparation activities that begin early every morning and go on all day long.

Today, people who microwave frozen dinners, heat cans of soup, or make sandwiches say they are “cooking.”

Eating at home doesn’t mean cooking, either.

Among meals eaten at home, few of them involve even the remotest definition of cooking. More of them than ever before are takeout, home delivery, and prepared meals bought at the grocery. According to Consumer Reports, prepared meals are a $29 billion-a-year business, growing twice as fast as overall grocery store sales.

Cooking as a spectator sport.

As Americans cook less, they watch people cooking on television more. A Harris poll says eight out of ten adults watch cooking shows. The Telegraph says UK residents spend more time watching cooking shows than they do actually cooking.

The doyenne of television cooking, Julia Child, was not interested in making cooking fast or easy. For her, it was a matter of deep personal enjoyment.

Today, however, cooking shows are less about the pleasure of cooking and more about selling stuff.

The New York Times says these shows encourage home cooks to take all manner of shortcuts, each of which involves buying another product. More than four in ten viewers have bought kitchen gadgets or appliances as a direct result of something they saw on a cooking show.

People who watch cooking shows on television gain more weight.

According to a Cornell University study, of the 14 ways cooking habits are influenced (magazines, blogs, YouTube, etc), watching cooking shows was the only one associated with significant weight gains. The Washington Post says what is mainly learned from television is not cooking, but culinary fashion, which takes the form of cooks preparing rich foods with high butter and fat contents. The study’s author, Lizzy Pope, said “Because many cooking shows normalize overconsumption and gratification, it comes as no surprise that viewers’ culinary habits are negatively influenced.”

Negatively influenced, indeed. Those who cook using recipes from television are likely to weigh 11 pounds more than those who don’t. Or is it heavier people watch more cooking shows?

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