New Yorker Magazine cartoonist-illustrator John Donohue took a few moments to chat with this reporter by phone to talk about his new book "Man with a Pan - Culinary Adventures of Fathers who cook for their families."
The book is anthology comprising of memoirs and recipes Donohue collected from his circle of writer friends.The entire project took three years from idea-inception to finished draft. What all the submissions to the book share in common is appetite, food and the need to feed a family. But from various points of view. All share their unique perspectives as a father that cooks, such as their histories, ideas and how their family gathers to enjoy food.
"I had a lot of anxiety becoming a parent, I dealt with that anxiety by cooking," said Donohue who has been a parent for more than six years now. Before it was just he and his wife Sarah. When their first child was born, a major change required some important adjustments. Donohue realized that cooking meals at home allowed him to stay in tune with his family.
"Kids grow right before your eyes," he said, we all have choices of what we do with our time and money, he said. "A home-cooked meal is one of life's pleasures," Donohue said. He mentioned the on-going external pressures that working parents face these days is "24 hours, seven days a week." The time spent at the dinner table sharing a meal, getting together is precious and vital for family life.
"It's all about lifestyle choices," he said. "Eating out is easy, he said, yet providing for the family is also the quality time spent as family. He admitted that he acquired his skills as a self-taught cook. Growing up in Westchester, NY he said he did not learn to cook from his mother or father. "In college I worked in a fish market and then was a short order cook working the late night shift at a seaside dive in New England."
With that background and his enjoyment of food, he took to cooking all on his own initiative without any particular influence or instruction. Yet he did say that when he and Sarah started a family the expanded efforts to cook for a growing family had a sharp learning curve.
Donohue found out quickly which dishes and foods appealed to his family and which ones did not. He also mentioned that when parents cook at home, they can monitor what ingredients go into the meal - watching the amount of sugar, salt, etc.
According the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than one-third of adults and almost 17% of youth were obese in 2009–2010. That statistic translates to about 78 million adults and over 12 million children nationwide.
While he briefly talked about the growing national waistline, increase in diabetes and its connection to the reliance on process food, with regards to frozen dinners, he said, "I don't (do prepackaged frozen meals). Yet he did say that "the freezer is my best friend."
Donohue pointed out that the freezer can be a great time-saver and families should make better use of the freezer for their own food creations. Preparing fresh vegetables, sauces, or stews and then freezing them at home, keeps prep time for a quick meal at short notice to a minimum. One of his family's favorite dishes that Donohue makes from scratch is his Bolognese sauce. "It is easy to make, keeps well in the freezer and it makes for a good meal at a moment's notice," he said. "It is like a culinary anti-anxiety prescription; it calms everybody down, it's our comfort food," he said.
When people say they don't have time or that the price of groceries gets expensive, Donohue points out that it is always more economical to shop and make meals at home then to rely on prepared meals or processed foods. The CDC recommends cooking at home as a great way to plan meals ahead of time and this helps a family to have more control regarding what they eat.
In the August 22, 2011 issue of People Magazine, in an article entitled "Getting Healthy in America, One Step at a Time," on page 85, three areas of the nation were featured, Mississippi, Colorado and California. In a joint effort with the University of Wisconsin, The Robert Wood Foundation has been compiling data to measure the overall health of America. The RWJ Foundation considers obesity one of the most challenging health concerns facing the future of America. This places people at risk for at least 20 other major diseases like heart-disease and type 2 diabetes.
Education about food choices play a role as hospitals, schools and outreach programs are making more effort to help families understand the importance of good eating habits. The subject of obesity and its relationship to healthy eating habits was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle this past February 22.
The array of food choices are all around. Yet the convenience of prepared foods is more available than in times past. Donohue noted that when parents are working the temptation to grab something on the way home is much greater than taking a bit more effort to plan a meal at home. Researchers at U of W School of Medicine and Public Health consider preparing meals at home as vital not only to health but to quality time for a child's growth and development.
As for time, Donohue said, "cook when you are not tired, the time spent watching TV, that can be cooking time," he said. "In fact, if TV helps you to relax, move the TV into the kitchen," he said.
Donohue reiterated it is all about the choices one makes with time and money. He is pleased with the book and the possibility for a sequel is hopeful. For more information about "Man with a Pan" and John Donohue visit his web site and blog; Stay at Stove Dad.