The best conversations I can remember having with my mother were while shelling peas and beans. Keeping the hands busy, and having a reason not to make eye contact, is a great way of taking conversation into areas that you would normally skirt around. If you need to have a potentially difficult chat with adolescent children, a pile of beans is a great way to bridge the silences.
When Riverford delivered its first veg box in 1993, before the current media frenzy around local and seasonal, our typical customer ordered a weekly box of seasonal vegetables and cooked them with little fuss, probably much as their parents had, perhaps with the addition of the occasional curry or stir-fry. For generations, we learned from our parents how to make the best use of local ingredients, and cooking from scratch continues to be the norm for most veg box customers. They appear to be in the minority however; changes in home cooking have been historically slow, but in the last 40 years it has rapidly moved in the wrong direction, aided by the advertising budgets of food manufacturers and supermarkets. We’re now raising a generation many of whom will rarely see their parents cooking and even more rarely with local, unprocessed ingredients.
I am convinced that a lack of skills, time and confidence in the kitchen is the main issue. Cookery programmes are a poor substitute for assimilating skills over years of growing up in an active kitchen, and in some circumstances have made cooking seem unattainably distant. I know what a struggle it can be to cook a stress-free meal among the chaos that is real family life, especially when both parents are working. Though there are signs of change that should be credited to those food writers, bloggers and celebrity chefs who champion accessible home cooking, there is a real danger that, as the gap widens between what is on television and the reality in our kitchens, cooking will become a spectator activity. The nation will slump back with a takeaway and watch it on TV instead.