Shall I cook or order-in tonight?
If you’re a 20- or 30-something living in an urban dwelling these days, odds are the answer to this question is simple: You’ll Seamless or GrubHub something.
In over 700 U.S. cities, Seamless and GrubHub—which merged in 2013—are online platforms and smartphone apps that allow customers to order food from their favorite local restaurants and have it delivered speedy-quick.
Having the world’s cuisines at your fingertips on a Tuesday night, however, is destroying the art of cooking across America’s two youngest generations: the Millennials, born roughly between 1980 and 1995, and Generation Z, born sometime in the late ‘90s.
This existential cooking crisis is very real. According to the 2015 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults spends less than 15 minutes cooking or preparing dinner on the average weekday. Catching up on Facebook news, Instagram, and dating apps take priority.
According to Tamar Adler, Brooklyn-based author of An Everlasting Meal, former cook at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, a current columnist for The New York Times Magazine, and writer for Vogue, online food ordering apps may not be the main culprit for why that we choose to order-in more often than making dinner ourselves. Rather, it’s the expectations we cast upon ourselves in large of our globalized restaurant scene—access to great food 24/7 in places like New York City.
“If I mirrored my home cooking on the restaurant scene of New York—Thai food on Monday, sushi on Tuesday, ramen Wednesday, Italian crudo on Thursday—I would find cooking really hard. A home cooked meal can still be delicious without being exceptional or exotic,” Adler says in an interview with The Daily Beast.
“We make cooking at home more complicated than it really is,” Adler says.
Putting aside the culinary expectations we cast on ourselves, Adler’s advice to cook more couldn’t be more straightforward, a recommendation to which she devotes the entirety of the first chapter of her book.
“Put a pot of water on the stove even before you know what you’re going to put in it. This is a shockingly valuable thing that has shifted people down the cooking path,” she suggests.
Another piece of advice Adler suggests is cooking your food in advance one-day a week. “Cook large batches of simple vegetables ahead of time so you always have something to eat in your fridge,” she suggests.
For those who dare to cook but lack the time to grocery shop, Blue Apron is an option many have tried. The service delivers all the needed ingredients to cooking a healthy meal to your residence, in one box, with a cantankerous assortment of plastic.
Blue Apron, however, comes with its challenges. According to 32-year-old L.A.-based tech entrepreneur Jesse Bouman, Blue Apron didn’t save him that much time.
“I used Blue Apron for about a month. I don’t cook for myself a lot but I know that I need to cook more to live a healthier life. So I was looking for a service that would easily help me accomplish that,” Bouman says.
In fact, Bouman said some meals took him up to 90-minutes to prep and cook—in one instance, husking corn was a prep-activity he couldn’t afford to do time-wise. So he decided to integrate Blue Apron into his dating life and revert back to Seamless two to four times a week for dinner, a routine he continues to this day.
“Blue Apron was a great date activity. I love cooking for people,” he says.
For a few weeks this fall, in an attempt to curb his Seamless habit and save even more time, Bouman tried something completely revelatory to his bio-physiology: Soylent, a meal replacement beverage.
The product is geared towards the tech-start-up-computer-programmer-aholics who can’t waste a moment’s time on bodily human activities like chewing. Its creators claim Soylent meets nutritional requirements for the average adult, so Bouman gave it a shot.
“Everyone in tech was talking about how easy and effective it is, so I gave it a try and bought two weeks worth of powder,” Bouman says.
“Soylent is disgusting. It’s like drinking cement. And it throws you off mentally because 10 ounces kept me full for hours,” Bouman says. “I now live off of frozen Trader Joe’s food. I get their Beijing vegetables and mix in frozen chicken. I sauté it in a sauce a pan for eight minutes, and it’s done. That’s it.”
Then there’s the act of grocery shopping itself. The art of grocery shopping, like cooking, is also going extinct for Millennials and Generation Z.
According to 28-year-old Emily Merrell, co-founder of City Society in New York City, and unlike Bouman, she steers clear of Trader Joe’s.
“Going into Trader Joe’s after a day of work is like entering into the Hunger Games,” she says.
“I’d rather order warm, pre-cooked food to the comfort of my apartment and not put myself through the high-paced grocery shopping experience. If grocery shopping was as easy as Seamless I would do it daily,” she says.
Seamless and the like save us time, protect us from the rigmarole of grocery shopping, and transport into our homes an ideal form of cuisine. The food apps scene also leaves no trace of dishes to wash, and is perfect when dining for one.
Lesson be learned, however, cooking at home doesn’t have be so exact or magnanimous—something Adler suggests our food media casts upon us. We don’t have to be Martha Stewart every night of the week. And more often than not, cooking can be quicker than a Seamless order; there’s nothing wrong with ordinary food, for it too can certainly be delicious.
“I ordered Seamless once and it took more time for the food to be delivered than it does for me to cook a quick weekday dinner, if I’m on a deadline. I can soft cook a few eggs, sauté kale, and make toast in less than 12 minutes. And that’s a peasant way of cooking,” Adler says.