Skyrocketing prices have taken a big bite out of what Canadians are able to serve up for dinner but food economists say our ability to cope has been worsened by our collective decline in cooking skills.
"We are less able to cook than we were 30 or 40 years ago, and so it's much more difficult for us to adapt our diet," said Mike von Massow, an associate professor at the University of Guelph's Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics department.
Of course no amount of cooking prowess will help if you can't afford a basket of groceries. Nearly two million Canadians used a food bank in March, according to an annual report by Food Banks Canada.
But even for those fortunate enough to still afford their weekly grocery run, a lack of skills to improvise in the kitchen makes it harder to work around higher prices, such as by swapping ingredients for less-expensive alternates.
"If I'm not able to prepare beans or lentils, then it's difficult for me to make that adjustment," von Massow told Cost of Living. Same goes for knowing how to tenderize a cheaper cut of meat.
During the pandemic, Canadians did more cooking at home, making meals themselves when they couldn't dine out at restaurants or pick up food court meals at work.
"But the question is, did they cook the variety of things that they might have?" said von Massow.
"All of us have sort of a core three or four go-to recipes. [But] are you able to adapt those recipes as the ingredients that you use become more expensive?"
A report from Dalhousie University's Faculty of Agriculture in February 2021 found that only 35 per cent of Canadians surveyed learned at least one new recipe between the start of the pandemic and January 2021.
Von Massow said it's not just how often we cook that matters. "It's the ability to expand the range of things we can cook so that we can adjust to some of these high prices."
He said the decline in cooking skills has a number of origins. One of them is changes to school curriculum requirements.
"When I was a high school student, every high school student was required to take two courses in basic cooking. That doesn't happen now."
Some schools have excellent culinary programs, but they're optional — and that's had a big impact on cooking skills, he said.
Mairlyn Smith, a professional home economist and food writer based in Toronto, echoes that sentiment.