Costs Could Thwart Home-Cooking Trend

November 22, 2008 08:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
More Americans have been cooking at home to save money, but now they'll have to contend with higher prices on basic Thanksgiving dinner items.

Hold the Turkey?

U.S. consumers will pay 6 percent more this year to prepare a classic Thanksgiving dinner, reports United Press International (UPI). In a news release, Purdue University agricultural economist Corinne Alexander told UPI that higher food prices reflect the higher energy costs being absorbed by retailers.

While market research firms noticed a national trend of people preparing food at home to save money in recent months, home cooks could be deterred by higher prices on even the most basic of Thanksgiving Day dinner items. The Washington Post provides an item-by-item breakdown; a pound of peas is 12 cents more than last year, and a 16-pound turkey is up $1.46, for example.

CNN has an interactive Thanksgiving dinner plate, showing the cost of each item in 1998, 2007 and 2008, for a quick, visual comparison. Due to "rising commodity prices and inflation," CNN reports, "The average price for a feast for 10 is $44.61, up $2.35 from last year."

But some items have dropped in price, according to a survey by the Alabama Farmers Federation. Little things, like "pecans, oranges and pre-packaged stuffing" are a bit less expensive than last year. In which case, creativity and ingenuity should carry budding home cooks through the holiday season.

Background: Food and home-cooking in America

Market research firms have noticed a national trend of people preparing food at home to save money. But many have been eating in restaurants for years, leaving their kitchen cabinets devoid of the proper utensils and cookbooks. According to the Associated Press, "sales of cookbooks, inexpensive cookware and the basic foods needed to concoct a meal" are up, while magazines and Web sites devoted to cooking are thriving as new home cooks scramble to stock their kitchen shelves.

The numbers speak for themselves: nearly 12 percent more Americans are dining out less to save money in 2008 than in 2007; in May 2008, Bon Appetit magazine newsstand sales were up 39 percent from the previous year; and Borders Group Inc. and Amazon have both seen growth in cooking and wine book sales this year.

The San Francisco Chronicle  has been onto the home-cooking trend since 2006. The newspaper's food writer Michael Bauer wrote that his section's Thanksgiving coverage had "become more basic over the years" because readers were not "as familiar with or comfortable in the kitchen."

But Bauer also mentioned a meeting he'd had with Cook's Illustrated founder and PBS cooking show host Chris Kimball, who said he felt a change coming as he toured the country. Among 20 and 30-somethings, Kimball noticed a resurging interest in learning about cooking techniques.

Americans’ eating and cooking habits have undergone several transformations over the past four decades, according to Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper The News & Observer. In the 1960s, Julia Child emerged as a TV cooking show star, and “the first celebrity chef to champion cooking from scratch,” says cookbook author Jean Anderson, who was interviewed for the article.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Americans tried international fare, vegetarianism and classic French dishes popularized by a new generation of culinary school graduates. The 1980s and ’90s saw the popularization of home cooking with “high-end kitchen appliances and other gourmet kitchen features.”

Today, says Anderson, Americans are “conflicted” over food, and influenced by a battalion of celebrity chefs. Home cooks are still learning, for example, how to eat fresh and local, while integrating prepared foods like frozen vegetables and dry pasta.

Furthermore, Americans are doing their best to cope with the recession, whether it means driving less to save money on gas, or cooking at home more often to avoid the expense of eating out.

Related Topic: More Americans growing their own food

Reference: Guides to cooking, food and gardening


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