Nobody Cooks Anymore, and Maybe That’s Not So Bad

Highlights

  • Five percent 5 percent U.S. food spending goes to Cranberries and sweet potatoes.
  • The patterns of food spending are derived from the Census Bureau’s data on retail sales
  • 48 percent of dinners bought from restaurants are takeaway meals

Most Americans are expected to sit at a huge dinner, usually home-cooked, this Thursday. This is the perfect time to remind people that these food items have become rare. Simple ingredients like turkey, cranberries, and sweet potatoes account for just five percent of U.S. food spending. Essential components also comprised 5 percent of all spending in 1999, a growing trend. However, according to the July 2016 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, from which I gathered these figures, prices climbed more quickly from 1999 to 2010 for the essential ingredients than other food categories. Therefore, consumers were getting less for their cost. It’s likely that fifty and 100 years earlier, essential ingredients comprised a more significant portion of food spending. Another look at the pattern of food spending is based on the Census Bureau’s daily sales figures. Sooner or later, the spending in bars and restaurants will exceed the amount spent at food and drink stores. This doesn’t mean that more customers will be dining out rather than staying at home: According to market research business NPD Group, 48 percent of meals bought from restaurants are consumed at home and eaten as takeout. NPD also states that sales of prepared food at supermarkets are up by 30 percent from the year 2008. Americans are increasingly outsourcing the food preparation process. Powered By 

Play UnmuteLoaded: 0.32%Fullscreen I’m a cook-from-scratch guy, and I will attack you right now with a long rant that will ultimately lead to me claiming the moral superiority of my lifestyle. But there’s apparent economic logic to putting food preparation in the hands of experts and letting those who don’t get actual pleasure from cooking do other things with their time — and their kitchen space. Take it from Rob Rhinehart, co-founder and chief executive officer of the venture-capital-backed California startup that makes meal-replacement drink Soylent: “I think it was a bit presumptuous for the architect to assume I wanted a kitchen with my apartment and make me pay for it. My home is a place of peace. I don’t want to live with red hot heating elements and razor sharp knives. That sounds like a torture chamber. However, it’s not a total loss. I was able to use the cabinets to store part of my book collection. “The big problem with leaving food preparation to the experts, though, has been that up to now, the experts in food preparation in the U.S. have mainly been experts in making unhealthy food addictive. The shift away from cooking from scratch has resulted in a rise in obesity that’s not coincidental. So the problem is creating and maintaining a food preparation industry that doesn’t cause us to become sick. I think that Rhinehart’s Soylent is a first step in the right direction by offering a healthier alternative to protein drinks that are high in sugar -however, the fact that it caused people to get sick earlier in the year indicates it’s probably not the ideal instance. However, many new players in the food industry are funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who are working hard to make health and wholesomeness an attractive point of differentiation.

Some have been having trouble! The story of Bloomberg’s Eric Youngcomer on the difficulties at Munchery is a San Francisco startup that cooks and serves meals in various U.S. cities. This inspired me to think about this subject. I wanted to criticize Silicon Valley and its arrogant belief that it can revolutionize every industry, even one low-margin with a small capacity for digitization.

Furthermore, who would want to buy their food from a venture capitalist company called Munchery? Then I spoke with my father, who is 94, and discovered that both my mother and stepfather have had a go at Munchery and have now purchased three meals per week from a competitor called Thistle that claims to offer (and according to what my father says, provides) “simple, clean, whole foods made with loving hands and organic, seasonal ingredients.” The aging in the U.S. population is one more reason to believe that the current trend of not cooking our meals will likely last for quite a while. 

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