Saints and Slackers : Challenging Discourses About the Decline of Domestic Cooking
Amidst growing concern about both nutrition and food safety, anxiety about a loss of everyday cooking skills is a common part of public discourse. Within both the media and academia, it is widely perceived that there has been an erosion of the skills held by previous generations with the development of convenience foods and kitchen technologies cited as culpable in 'deskilling' current and future generations. These discourses are paralleled in policy concerns, where the incidence of indigenous food-borne disease in the UK has led to the emergence of an understanding of consumer behaviour, within the food industry and among food scientists, based on assumptions about consumer 'ignorance' and poor food hygiene knowledge and cooking skills. These assumptions are accompanied by perceptions of a loss of 'common-sense' understandings about the spoilage and storage characteristics of food, supposedly characteristic of earlier generations. The complexity of cooking skills immediately invites closer attention to discourses of their assumed decline. This paper draws upon early findings from a current qualitative research project which focuses on patterns of continuity and change in families' domestic kitchen practices across three generations. Drawing mainly upon two family case studies, the data presented problematise assumptions that earlier generations were paragons of virtue in the context of both food hygiene and cooking. In taking a broader, life-course perspective, we highlight the absence of linearity in participants' engagement with cooking as they move between different transitional points throughout the life-course.