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Garten’s frozen meals inspire the question: What does it mean to cook?

Addie Broyles

Even Ina Garten doesn’t always have time to cook a meal from scratch.

I was surprised to learn this during a chat with the bestselling cookbook author last month. We were officially meeting to talk about her new line of Barefoot Contessa frozen meals that you “cook” in a skillet instead of a microwave (Garten’s personal line between “cooking” and “reheating”), but I knew I wanted to use the product as a launching point to talk about the state of cooking today.

It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, especially after reading Michael Pollan’s new book, “Cooked,” and several people on Twitter mentioned that this frozen food business seems out of line with Garten’s well-crafted brand, which until now has revolved around her cozy East Hamptons kitchen and her “foolproof” recipes.

Their point: Cooking must be doomed if even Ina Garten is giving it up.

Garten would argue that she’s absolutely not giving up cooking (her ninth cookbook is coming out next year), but that it’s unrealistic to expect that everyone have time to prepare one of her from-scratch meals every night of the week. We all need shortcuts and helpers in the kitchen, and her frozen meals, because they are only partially cooked and need to be finished on an actual stove in an actual pan, still qualify as “cooking.”

In tomorrow’s Statesman (or online at today), you can read the full column based on my interview with Garten and my first attempt to make one of her frozen meals , but I wanted to continue the conversation here because I’d like to hear your thoughts on what it means “to cook.” Where do you draw the line between “cooking” and “reheating” or “assembling”? How many nights a week do you have time to “cook”? What do you eat on the nights when you don’t? Do you feel guilty about it?

I’ll be gathering responses here and on for an upcoming post.