Cultural Differences In Cooking

Image by Monika from Pixabay

I am not talking about the differences in ingredients, spices, flavors, textures of food from different cultures, but rather I am talking about a different kind of cultural differences–human behavior. Many Asians, especially Asian women, are shocked to discover that American women can choose between cooking or not cooking–some women just choose not to cook at all.

Long ago, I discovered this when I went to a Thanksgiving dinner at one of my professors’ house. During the conversation, I heard that Dr. Hoffee, who’s a female professor and who’s about to retire, had never cooked in her life. At first I couldn’t believe my ears and thought I heard it wrong. I was too embarrassed to ask her to clarify, because asking the question would reveal my lack of confidence in my English listening skills.

Since then, I’ve encountered more women who never cook. I’ve never dared to ask them how they deal with family meals without busying themselves in the kitchen, for fear that it’s a culturally or politically incorrect question to ask. However I have my observations and guesses. They can take advantage of cooked food in grocery stores. And I have to say many grocery stores do offer a great variety of cooked food; they can buy frozen food packages which can be thrown into oven or microwave; they can order food delivery; they can get a multi-cooker for easy meals; they can get meal kits from companies who design and deliver weekly meal plans.

Despite all of these methods of helping women with meal planning, I have to say it is pricey. And if one is not cooking oneself, one’s grocery bills (or food costs) can easily double or even triple. For a three to four people family, it can be a three hundred dollar extra expense, if not more.

And Let’s do a calculation. The three to four hundred dollar extra expense every month saves the woman one to two hours of labor in kitchen every day. And often that extra one or two hours can make a difference in a woman’s life. Let’s just suppose the benefit is only one extra hour, although I know usually cooking takes way more than one hour, considering the fact that one has to shop, to clean, to chop, to think about recipes, to worry about tastes etc. With one hour each day, a woman with a little gift in language can learn Spanish in two years if she is already fluent in English. 600 hours are what is needed to be fluent in Spanish for English speakers. 1200 hours are what is needed to be fluent in a language unrelated with English, like Thai, or Japanese. With one extra hour each day, this woman can be fluent in two European languages and two Asian languages in 12 years; with two extra hours each day, it will take 6 years. This means this woman who cooks loses the opportunity to learn 4 new languages in 6 to 12 years. She loses the chance to get a better job, move to a better city, get promoted, travel for more interesting projects, which can all come with her skills in different languages.

I only use language as an example. It can be applied to other areas as well. And I have to say American women really understand how to calculate and how to put herself in a better position, while we Asian women are not so good at calculation at all. And living in the multi-cultured region like New Jersey, I understand that learning the good things from another culture is usually difficult while learning the bad things from another culture is relatively easy. And so far we have not been able to learn from American women as far as cooking is concerned. I’ve never met one Asian woman who is truly Americanized to the point that she can choose not to cook. We all labor in the kitchen every day and most of us complain incessantly about it, but see no way out.

There’s always hope. I hope that younger generations or zoomers can really fight for women’s choices. I hope zoomers will save womanhood, save the planet, save democracy…

31 thoughts on “Cultural Differences In Cooking

  1. What an interesting post! Even though occasionally I like to get takeout … the cooking process is also pleasurable. To create something from what’s in the fridge, recreate recipes, adapting them to one’s own taste … and homecooked meals are not only cheaper, they don’t have to take up much time. Especially when cooking larger quantities to freeze. The effort is the same … I think people are missing out on something great and creative by not cooking.

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    1. I am going to practice your way of cooking once and freezing down. I haven’t been able to do that due to my lack or organizing skills. You are so right that cooking is an interesting process and people really should do it when they have the time and the interest. I only wish that women are given more choices. I mean for women who dislike cooking, the society can give them a choice of not cooking. I am so glad to see that American women do have that choice and I hope Aisan women can have that choice too. This is what we should fight for–women need choices.

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    1. So true. Traditional women and traditional cooking are becoming quite rare nowadays. We all love good food and good cooking, but for the sake of giving women more choices, I hope the world is willing to sacrifice good food and good cooking. Justice is more important than taste.

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  2. I remember in Korea I told some older men that I can cook a few recipes and they were surprised. Growing up, it’s usually their moms cooking. Then later it’s their wives. The whole idea of men cooking is considered ludicrous, especially in the older generation. Thankfully this is changing and now younger men share the cooking duties with the women.

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    1. Hmm, you make me think. Probably because older Korean men don’t cook, many Korean stores have ready made food. I think Japan too. I heard it is a haven of snacks, vending machine food and other convenient options. I mean in other Asian countries, it is not so prevalent. So I heard.

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      1. Korean does not have vending machines but they do have many options for instant noodles and even instant rice. Of course there are these two chain restaurants called “Kimbap Heaven” and “Kimbap Country” that usually open 24 hours and serve many different items for a very very cheap price.

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        1. Oh, are those convenient restaurants for drivers, which are featured in the movie “Parasite”? Love Kdramas but dare not touch them right now since I would just go crazy and forget about work or everything else. LOL.

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        2. I haven’t seen Parasite, but I am sure many drivers go to those places. Again, they are open 24 hours and the food is both cheap and very delicious. It’s my favorite places to eat as well.

          I agree about K-dramas. They make me lose interest in everything else in life, haha.

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        3. Wow, it is a very interesting movie and you would love it I am sure. Korean Wave can kill me since once I almost killed myself by starvation and no shower just watching ‘Dae Jang Geum’.

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        4. I’m surprised how strong the Korean wave has been for the past couple of decades. In fact, I became popular with my female students in Thailand once they found I am somewhat conversant in the language and have been there.

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    1. I mean cooking for a family every day for years and years is such a chore and only a very small portion of women can do it with pleasure. Or probably zero of us can do it for pleasure, but a small portion manages not to complain.

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        1. Yes, I have to say most don’t like the menial unpaying job. I know love is a lofty word and women are supposed to sacrifice everything for it, but when one has to do it for years and years, one just can’t help wondering … I mean I know women who have existential crisis about being cooks and nannies all their life.

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        2. Yes, just considering some of the most ardent foes of abortion are women, and some of the most fierce people who are against Hillary Clinton are women. Actually I will say most rather than some. I think women are very much the most passionate enemy of women. I guess it is because of limited resources and very narrow minded upbringing have forced women to do what they do. It is very sad.

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        3. I always find that so baffling. Why would anyone want to continue to remain victims of the patriarchy. From what I have studied it seems these women who I would say are anti-women are often women that benefit from the patriarchy and have very privileged lives compared to other women.

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        4. Hahaha, you are sooooo right, but most women do stay in unhappy situations while rage builds up in them which will probably never be released. I have to say these privileged women are upset that their men are not willing to share power with them. So they take out their frustration on others.

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  3. I love your honesty and unique viewpoint in this one. If I could avoid cooking, I would. And utilize my time somewhere better. Your analysis is a good one, Haoyan. However, homecooked food would probably be healthier. Would have to find someone to cook for me. Haha.

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    1. I replied to this comment, but I guess the WP Ghost in residence just ate it. I am glad to reply it again since it is something worth repeating. I’ve really witnessed Asian women (myself included) toiling in the kitchen as their extra hour or two of unpaid job, only to be frustrated and unhappy afterwards. Or they will ask their parents and in-laws to come to live with them to share the cooking etc. I mean I know some people are happy to do that, but I also know that a lot are not so happy but don’t see a way out.

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    1. Haha, so true. Cooking is a skill that takes time to develop and takes years to perfect. Yes, you are right. One should have some basic cooking skills in order to take care of oneself and others. However probably not cooking every day…

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  4. I’m can’t speak for US culture, but UK culture is similar I think. It has deep roots. The old English attitude to food was that it was just fuel – not something to pay a lot of attention to or talk about. (Leave that to the French!) It was OK go on about how much you drank (how many pints etc) but not food. This combined with a wartime situation in the 1940s when good ingredients were scarce. People became de-skilled in the postwar world having had to make do with tinned and processed food during the War. My mother still cooked, but she was born in 1918. Recently there has been a revival in interest in food but it is often food made by somebody else – a restaurant, a takeaway etc.

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    1. “leave that to the French”. That’s funny. I think I like the old English attitude towards food, which will make women’s work a lot less. I mean cooking is such a big responsibility, with all the shopping, preparing, seasoning, cleaning. It is such a tedious and time consuming responsibility, especially for women who don’t even enjoy cooking.

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