EASTON, PA - What goes into making a meal? Dr. David Livert and Roblyn Rawlins say, a lot more than cutting carrots, garlic and garnish.
“We set out to see how people go about deciding what they are going to cook and what’s important to them in their cooking,” says Dr. Roblyn Rawlins, “Were they looking to cook something that the family liked, was it comfort food, was it something traditional, was it something quick and easy? What were their goals that particular day?”
Their new book, “Making Dinner,” How American Home Cooks Produce and Make Meaning Out of the Evening Meal” explores how we think and feel about ourselves, our food and our cooking. After interviewing more than 50 cooks and documenting over 300 home-cooked dinners, what ends up on the plate is actually a demonstration of personal identity, family relationships, ideologies of gender, parenthood and more. Dr. Livert explains, “It means a lot to them. It’s a central way in which the household is organized. It may be the only time that everyone is literally around the table and able to communicate.”
Dr. Livert is an associate professor of psychology at Penn State university, Lehigh Valley, his wife, Dr. Roblyn Rawlins, a professor of sociology at the College of New Rochelle. The couple found that cooking a healthy meal that everybody liked were the two most motivating factors for home cooks. But day to day practices for the at-home chef don’t always follow those two requirements.“They know their customers in a sense, they know their likes and dislikes. It’s a challenge to keep up with them in a household with divergent tastes and diets, but they know how to do it, they know their equipment and they know what to expect,” explains Livert, “All of our cooks long to have more time to develop their skills or to play around or just to produce the meal in a relaxed way.”
Their further research allowed the authors to place most cooks into three specific types; the family-first cook, the traditional cook and the keen cook; with some tiptoeing into more than one type. So PBS39 came to the Easton Public Market to find out how these different categories of cooks make dinner and what it says about us.
For Amy Fowler, a keen cook; trying something new and challenging is always a motivator to roll up her sleeves and get cookin’. “I’ll have two or three things going so that I can meal prep for the week. I’m very into weight loss right now, the healthy cooking, so it depends whether I’m feeding others or myself,” she says, “I do receive a box of organic produce every other Saturday. It arrives on my doorstep so I’m basically working with whatever that would be.”
But for the keen slash family-first cook, Heather Nutting, trying something new while providing nutritious, healthy meals for her husband and two teen sons is crucial. “I’m one of those people that tears recipes out of magazines and copies them down from the Internet, prints them up and then uses them as a sort of guideline,” says Nutting, “Yes, it’s got to have protein in it, obviously! But I’m looking for fresh flavor and something different!”
Meanwhile, for traditional cooks like Paolo and Laura Diliello, getting in the kitchen means bridging the gap between Paul’s home country and culture of Italy to their married life here in the states. For Paolo, it’s a chance to show Laura what it was liking growing up in Italy. “It’s that comfort food and the memories it brings back of being back when my mom was making it…having the whole family over,” Paolo explains.
While for Laura it’s the tradition of baking homemade cookies with her mother that brings her closer to her husband, especially around the holidays, and keeps her grandmother’s legacy alive. “My mom has all the handwritten recipes from my grandmother of her cookies from Christmas time. It’s that feeling that you have that connects you back to the people before you,” says Laura, “You know that your grandmother was making that thing almost a hundred years ago [and so] cooking for the people that you love is really how you show them that you care for them. You’re caring for yourself and for them at the same time.”
But for all cooks, Livert and Rawlins find, each time we step into the kitchen we are showing our care and our love for our family. Rawlins explains, “We don’t heal our families anymore through medicine, we don’t build houses for them, we don’t make their clothes, most of us, but most of us still do cook for them.” While Livert says, “We tend to criticize the modern cook as using too many conveniences, as not knowing how to do anything, as not caring to have dinner. But one of the basic messages that we found from all of our research, is that they do! They do understand how important it is to have dinner, they do have a goal of healthy eating. They do have a goal of providing food that everyone likes in the house hold but time restraints are very significant now.”