"The Lost Art of Real Cooking" and numerous other food and cooking related books. I'd told Ken that I was initially taken aback by the title. I've been cooking since I was a teenager. Most of my closest friends cook all the time, and I spend my days immersed in thinking about and practicing cooking. How can anyone assert that real or -I assume he means- scratch cooking is a lost art?
Well duh, if you want to get sense of how quickly scratch cooking is disappearing from industrial and post-industrial society enter "home meal replacement" into a search engine and you will be quickly disabused of any notion that anything more complicated than thawing and button pushing is happening in most kitchens.
Of course, the title over-reaches: real cooking is not a lost art -not yet anyway. However, reason tells me that unless the world economy and infrastructure collapse, the population of home cooks will continue to shrink while the amount of precooked food consumed will grow apace. The question is, what happens to the hold outs?
Are we looking at a future where job security is taken for granted? Everyone needs to eat, and if most people don't want to cook, well then we will do it for them (for a fee, of course!). But what happens if the processed food industry continues to refine its practices and products to the point where a potential customer for handmade food cannot tell the difference between something that was spit out of a machine and "slow food?"
I preemptively reject the notion that food technologists will never be capable of creating manufactured foods that match the visual and flavor profiles of handmade food. If the market is there, they will eventually find a ways to mimic hand crafted meals. I have no doubt about that.
And if that happens and the market for hand made food shrivels to the point where there is little reason to cook at home and no hope of cooks finding cooking jobs, what happens then?
I suppose what I'm asking has an answer that depends on whether or not "cooking" is an activity that is an expression of a set of autonomous genes that do not require epigenetic, cultural or environmental "triggers" to express cooking "behavior," or if cooking is an activity that is learned, and therefore "erasable" from memory.
I suspect that the answer is an affirmation of the latter and as machine-made food increases in quality and availability, after a couple of generations the practice of cooking will become extinct and the art will exist as data.
Note: I have not read Ken Albala's book yet. So this post should not in any way be construed as a review or criticism of its content. However, if his earlier work is any indication of the quality of future effort, I'll bet it's worth a read through.