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Why so many men are cooking


Today's at-home chefs are more likely to cook with an iPhone instead of a recipe book. They're more likely to draw their inspirations from a Facebook video. And they're more likely to post a photo of what they cook on Instagram or Pinterest.

One other big change: They're more likely to be men. A higher proportion of American men — 43 percent — are cooking these days than at any point in the past 30 years. Meanwhile, they're spending more time than ever before — 49 minutes a day — doing so. Those are up from 38 percent and 40 minutes two decades ago.

By contrast, 70 percent of women cook these days, a bump from the 67 percent that cooked two decades ago but a definite decline from the 88 percent of women who cooked 40 years ago. And they're spending 71 minutes a day cooking, also a small increase from 20 years ago but less than the 101 minutes they spent 40 years ago.

You can see these trends in the following two charts, which come from a 2013 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina who used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey.

What's driving the trends? The higher level of cooking overall among men and women may be driven by an era of stagnant wages that makes cooking at home the more affordable option, as well as the fact that broad Internet access and the popularity of social media make it more fun and easier to do than perhaps ever before.

While women are cooking at about the same rates they have been for several decades, it's the surge in men's cooking at home that may be most noticeable. Companies that make money off food are weighing how to take advantage of the trend, deciding whether to treat cooking as a distinctly masculine activity or to show foodie-ism as a gender-neutral hobby.

Those that invoke a manly-man approach to cooking sometimes hawk bacon, burgers and brews, or else emphasize a testosterone-drizzled palate that helps craft a chiseled bod. Kevin Curry, founder of the blog Fit Men Cook, said men in the kitchen are following what men had been doing since the beginning of humanity: hunting and providing food for themselves and their families.

"It’s a masculine quality to want to physically put food on the table and make it taste good," Curry said.

The success of Curry’s blog alone suggests just how big the male cooking market is. Founded on Tumblr in 2012, it’s now a profitable website with a Facebook following of a quarter-million users.

“The first thing we do as men is make everything a competition,” Curry said. “When we get a new car, we’ll say to our friends, ‘Hey man, look at the rims on this.’ Same with food, we’ll post on Facebook like, ‘Look what I just made, this is bad y’all, I can’t believe it.’ It creates this competitive culture, and as men, we gravitate towards that.”

The most pervasive trend is reality competition cooking shows, which have taken the Food Network by storm. The number of food competition shows on the Food Network increased from two in 2005 to 16 in 2014, according to Quartz.

These shows try to demonstrate that cooking is “not for sissies,” said Daphne Kasriel Alexander, ‎a consumer trends consultant at ‎Euromonitor International. That can help explain the popularity of expletive-spewing male chefs like Gordon Ramsay, whose abrasive personality alone has become a meme.

“That's an example of brands responding to this interest,” Alexander said.

Young men are particularly attracted to these shows, said Deirdre O'Hearn, senior vice president of programming and development at the Food Network and Cooking Channel. O’Hearn said millennial men were interested in personality-driven shows, such as the popular series with Alton Brown.  

“These shows appeal to men because we are competitive by nature, coupled with the fact that we ‘see ourselves’ since a majority of the contestants are male,” Curry said.

Other companies distance themselves from gender norms, even doing away with them entirely by casting men and women as having shared family roles.

Matt Salzberg, founder and chief executive of meal-kit company Blue Apron, said his company attracts people because of the growing interest in good food and the experience of cooking. Instead of reinforcing gender roles, Blue Apron sends the message that cooking at home can strengthen relationships.

“Now that more women are not the primary caretakers of the home, families are more collaborative with household chores,” Salzberg said. “There's a lot of opportunity for men to cook as well. It’s enabling a whole new generation of folks to get into the kitchen.”

Home cook Mark Dang, a 30-something biotech employee in San Diego, said cooking has become increasingly gender-less. "Guys my age are more inclined to step foot in the kitchen thanks to gender equality and division of household responsibilities,” Dang said. “Both genders work, so cooking is not a default chore for women."

The charts below demonstrate how much millennial cooking men and women say they do at home. While men are more likely to say they don't cook, the genders are equally likely to claim responsibility for most or all of the home's meal preparation.

Experts say food companies are seeking to entice men by invoking the foodie trend — those folks that seek new eating experiences at food trucks and farm-to-table or pop-up restaurants and post their tastiest meals on Instagram. Alexander of Euromonitor suggested that young men are cooking more as millennials tend to be less bound within gender norms.

“Among millennials, gender roles are less fixed," Alexander said. "It doesn't seem so shocking to hear that men are cooking.”