Disclaimer:This is one persons mostly humorous opinion, not a scientific study (yet).
Did you ever notice that they never show people washing dishes on cooking shows? On shows like Chopped, or Top Chef, after contestants destroy a kitchen during a challenge, they never have a follow up scene with them doing the dishes. When the contest begins again after a commercial, the kitchen is spotless.
Even a seemingly simple 30 minute meals by Rachel Ray creates a huge pile of dirty dishes. She throws pans in the oven to roast, has one pot for a sauce, another for veggies, a saute pan to brown meat, bowls to mix salad, and pots for boiling pasta. She uses a blender, a food processor, and chops raw chicken on a cutting board. There are serving platters for presenting her food, more dishes for dessert, utensils for serving, silverware to eat with and glasses for drinks. “Yumm-o” Rachel says with a smile after tasting her food. Then the credits role. The meal may takes 30 minutes to cook, but cleaning the dishes will take much longer. Is Rachel going to wash all of those dishes?
American’s are spending less time in the kitchen these days, about 27 minutes a day. This is down from an hour in the late seventies. And the time we do spend in the kitchen is more about opening a package and reheating then taking out a pan or a cutting board. There are many reasons for our move out of the kitchen. We can point to the fact that more woman are working outside the home, or the increase of fast, and package foods. But I feel that the unspoken reason why American’s are cooking less is the fear of dishpan hands.
I cook home made meals for my family and I create a lot of dirty dishes in the process. Take tonight’s meal of black bean and shrimp tacos with fresh salsa, home made tortillas, and a cabbage slaw for example. There is the pot for the beans, a broiler pan for the shrimp, bowls for the salsa, the cabbage salad and another for the tortilla dough.
I used the salad spinner to wash the cilantro and then there are the plates and bowls to serve the meal. By the time dinner is ready, and served there is a pile of dishes to do. On a good night someone from the family steps up and the dishes get done.
But on a low energy, lazy, let’s do them tomorrow and watch our favorite cooking shows night, the dishes are left. The laziness from last night continues to the next day and the dishes are still not done. Instead of tackling them, I grab from what is left of the clean pots and pans to make dinner. This adds to the pile.
One or two meals of not doing the dishes and the whole system breaks down. The kitchen is a mess and even the simplest of cooking tasks like making a grilled cheese sandwich is a pain. The kitchen is a dish nightmare. Suddenly take-out menus are starting to look really good.
Packaged, fast food and/or hot bar meals solve for the dish nightmare, and there is no fear getting dishpan hands. This a all too common reality for busy parents these days.
But what has my pursuit of freeing myself from dish duty cost me?
The fear of or lack of will to wash dirty dishes in part is keeping millions of Americans out of the kitchen in my opinion. The desire, skill, and energy to cook is certainly a factor, but so is the desire and energy to tackle clean up too. How many of us have grabbed for the phone to order a pizza for example instead of making a meal from scratch, which include dish duty? I know I have many times. Less time cooking has meant a steady decline of healthy, home-cooked meals.
Most people do not want to wash dishes. After all, our cherished food memories are about grandma’s roasted chicken, but not the dirty roasting pan. But if we want to create a culture around healthy, home-cooked meals again to counter a fast food driven, and obesity burdened society, clean up has to be apart of the conversation. The simple truth is that washing dishes is a part of a home-cooked meal. And behind every Top Chef, 30 Minute Meal, or a health providing, home-cooked dinner is a pile of dirty dishes. The famed chef, author, and cooking show host Julia Child once encouraged us to be fearless in the kitchen. I would take that a step further and say that we have to be fearless at the dish sink as well.