Knowledge for better food systems

Why home cooking won't solve our problems

This book uses nine case studies to argue that promoting home-cooked meals as a solution to social and environmental food system problems risks placing a disproportionate burden on individual families, in particular mothers.

Publisher’s summary

Food is at the centre of national debates about how Americans live and the future of the planet. Not everyone agrees about how to reform our relationship to food, but one suggestion rises above the din: home-cooked meals. Amid concerns about obesity and diabetes, unpronounceable ingredients, and the environmental footprint of industrial agriculture, food reformers implore parents to slow down, cook from scratch, and gather around the dinner table. Voting with your fork, they argue, will lead to happier and healthier families. But is it really that simple?

Informed by extensive interviews and observations with families, Pressure Cooker examines how deep-seated differences shape the work done in kitchens across America. Conversations about family meals are dominated by a relentless focus on what individuals can better do to improve their own health and the health of their families and the nation. This book looks closely at the lives of nine diverse families to demonstrate how family meals are profoundly shaped by what happens inside and outside people's homes.

The scenes contained in this book contrast with the joyful images we see on cooking shows or read about in cookbooks. Romantic images of family meals are inviting. But they create a food fiction that does little to fix the problems in the food system. Even worse, they contribute to the pressure on families - and in particular, mothers - to strive for an ideal that has never been simple to achieve. A day of food reckoning cannot come without considering how class inequality, racism, sexism, and xenophobia pass through the kitchen. To ensure a food system that is fair and equitable, we must move the conversation out of the kitchen.



Bowen, S., Brenton, J. and Elliott, S. (2020). Pressure Cooker: Why Home Cooking Won't Solve Our Problems and What We Can Do About It. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Read more here. See also the Foodsource chapter How are food systems, diets, and health connected?

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North America

North America is the northern subcontinent of the Americas covering about 16.5% of the Earth's land area. This large continent has a range of climates spanning Greenland’s permanent ice sheet and the dry deserts of Arizona. Both Canada and the USA are major food producers and some of the largest food exporters in the world. Industrial farms are the norm in North America, with high yields relative to other regions and only 2% of the population involved in agriculture.

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