He does give an oblique nod to these factors that encourage us to substitute McNuggets for real food, but then never follows up on his own observation. Here's the bit that seems about right to me:
I wish he'd followed up on that, but he jumps right back to charging fast food companies with working (as I am ready to believe they have) at getting us addicted. There's much more going on here.
This potholder is part of my inheritance from my mother. She graduated from college in 1930, she was proud of her intellectual accomplishments, and she thought the expectation that as a proper wife she would be put food on the table for her husband every night was an unwelcome burden. She thought cooking was drudgery. It also never occurred to her that anyone else would do it, even to the extent of going out to dine more than three times a year. So she soldiered through the task unhappily almost every day of a more than 60 year marriage.
Bittman would have approved of her understanding of what constituted edible food; she didn't believe you could buy vegetables and fruits out of season; she even made her own jam and pickled peaches. But she hated all kitchen tasks and the food she cooked showed it. She was probably one of the most atrocious cooks who ever lived; some of the stuff she thrust at us nightly was pretty awful. She had no conception of cooking as an art form -- and it wasn't anything she aspired to improve in.
We're only a generation away from women whose relationship to food was this kind of visceral resentment, a stand-in for their general sense that women's allotted roles constrained their potential. That's certainly part of what enabled the fast food marketers to gain their ascendancy.
Resentful women who thought of food prep as part of their oppression are not the only ones who've looked to reduce the amount of time people spend cooking. Part of the vision of nineteenth century socialism was that food prep would be moved outside the home, in a word, "socialized." No longer would individuals (women) be mired in putting food on the table. Soviet Russian industrial enterprises actualized this in what are described as dreary, low-quality cafeterias. Real human beings most likely weren't so grateful to have every last speck of their private lives taken over by what amounted to their employers.
Yet the most imaginative among contemporary U.S. capitalist enterprises also go in for moving the feeding of their workforces to the worksite. Google is famous for its free gourmet restaurants for employees. During a recent civic argument about giving tax abatements to encourage Twitter to locate in a blighted area of central San Francisco, opponents pointed out that Twitter's workers weren't likely to be a boon for neighboring businesses since they could eat for free inside the company compound.
Clearly some people besides McDonalds think they get some benefit from moving eating away from the home.
And nonetheless, the "daily dinner discussion," the preclude to shopping, still feels burdensome. Even where good food is the rule, thinking about it comes to feel arduous.
The truth is, we don't cook much. We come home from work tired and frequently default to the cheap urban take-out readily available within blocks of here: tacos, burritos, chili, chicken caesar salads, pupusas, falafel, less often Chinese or pizza. These come from small enterprises that cook their foods in-house -- we are fortunate not to live in middle-America.
What we do in a kitchen is often just "assembling." Several times a week we create a big salad out of vegetables from the excellent fruit stand around the corner. I don't think Bittman would consider our diet that bad. I consider it a vast improvement on the the diet of my youth or what I see many of my neighbors eat. But we don't really cook much.
Perhaps the new kitchen will inspire us with more enthusiasm. It certainly will be somewhat more functional and cleaner than its antiquated predecessor. But there will still be the thinking ahead and procuring hurdles to jump. Will we be willing to do that?