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    What does cooking mean to you?

    Abstract

    Despite the importance of cooking in American life and evidence suggesting that meals cooked at home are healthier, little is known about perceptions of what it means to cook in the United States. The objective of this study was to describe perceptions of cooking and factors important to how cooking is perceived and practiced among American adults. Seven focus groups (N = 53; 39 female; 35 Black, 16 White, 2 Asian) were conducted from November 2014 to January 2015 in Baltimore City, Maryland. Participants were recruited from two neighborhoods; one with higher median income and access to healthy food and the other with lower income and low access to healthy food. Focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Participants’ perceptions of cooking varied considerably, regardless of neighborhood income or food access, and spanned a continuum from all scratch cooking to anything made at home. Perceptions of cooking incorporated considerations of whether or how food was heated and the degree of time, effort and love involved if convenience foods were used. Key barriers to cooking included affordability, lack of time, and lack of enjoyment. Key facilitators of frequent cooking included extensive organization and time management to enable participants to incorporate cooking into their daily lives. Cooking is a complex concept and not uniformly understood. Efforts to encourage healthy cooking at home should consider the broad spectrum of activities Americans recognize as cooking as well as the barriers and facilitators to preparing food at home. Public health messages to encourage more frequent cooking should account for the heterogeneity in perspectives about cooking. More research should explore differences in perceptions about cooking in other diverse populations.

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