The Arts Gotta Get Cookin’

In a piece in on the Harvard Business Review site, food industry consultant Eddie Yoon notes that even as audiences show interest in cooking shows, the desire to cook is waning.

Early in my career I gathered some data for a client on cooking…At the time, the sizes of the three respective groups were about 15% who love to cook, 50% who hate to cook, and 35% who are so-so on the idea.

Nearly 15 years later I did a similar study for a different client. This time, the numbers had shifted: Only 10% of consumers now love to cook, while 45% hate it and 45% are lukewarm about it. That means that the percentage of Americans who really love to cook has dropped by about one-third in a fairly short period of time.

Beyond the numbers, it also suggests that our fondness for Food TV has inspired us to watch more Food TV, and to want to eat more, but hasn’t increased our desire to cook. In part, Food TV has raised our standards to discouragingly high levels: How many of us really feel confident in our cooking skills after watching Iron Chef? (My high school chemistry teacher quit the cello in college after playing a semester next to Yo-Yo Ma.)

He goes on to talk about how consumption trends and technology may force grocers to abandon whole categories of foodstuff that are aligned to the practice of home cooking. The article is worth reading if only for its discussion of food preparation technologies that will retain the fresh taste without preservatives or need for refrigeration, providing greater opportunities to fight hunger around the world.

The article raised a number of questions for me in terms of efforts to increasingly engage communities in creative expression.

We are told people would rather do something creative and participatory than to sit passively. Does the fact that people would rather watch cooking shows than to cook themselves belie that? Is this a situation that applies differently for cooking than for other creative pursuits? Is Yoon correct in suggesting that people are intimidated by cooking shows?

The intimidation factor is something to keep in mind when trying to engage people in creative activities and help them understand their capacity to do so.  The equivalent of a cooking practice as an egg wash that seems simple to insiders may intimidate people. (If just reading “egg wash” caused slight anxiety, you know what I am talking about.)

The other thing to consider is that cooking may suffer from the same problem as other artistic and cultural pursuits. It may be perceived as something other people skilled in secret techniques do that is outside personal ability.  By pursuing a goal of empowering creative expression in others, the arts and culture community could help revive an interest in home cooking.

Consider, while the percentage of those in Yoon’s survey who love to cook has dropped 5% in 15 years, there are also 5% fewer people who hate it.  Presumably both groups have moved toward lukewarm impression given that has increased by 10%. There may be a potential to move the dial closer to love again.

On the other hand, Yoon says cold cereal consumption is shrinking and buying breakfast at Taco Bell is growing, so it may almost be too late for some people.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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