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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Can we please stop putting people into food boxes?
Posted by Jill | 8:29 AM
Amanda blogged the other day about a University of Washington study showing that people who shop at low-end supermarkets tend to be more obese than those who shop at high-end markets like Whole Foods.

There's this thing going on in the progressive blogosphere, where we think about things like this, that the quality of what people eat is solely based on socioeconomic status, and that because we are good little progressives who go to gyms and read labels and go to local farmers' markets, and walk to the market that's a mile away to get a half-gallon of organic instead of getting into the car. We want to fight the good fight about getting things like fresh produce into low-income neighborhoods. All these are worthy things to do and worthy goals, but while embarking on a quest to make the perfect loaf of bread might make good fodder for a book, how many of us, even at higher income levels, have time for this?

One of the things that grieves me about the schedule I currently keep is that I feel sometimes as if I don't even know how to cook anymore. It isn't that I don't like to cook; I enjoy cooking. I'm a good cook. But when I'm up at 5 AM, out the door by 7:15 at the latest, and don't get home till 7 PM most nights, who the heck has time?

Mr. Brilliant and I eat dinner together most nights. It's important, I think, that we do this, because we really don't get much time together during the week. Just because we don't have kids doesn't mean that "together-time" isn't important. It would be very easy to tell him to just get lunch instead (since he tends to only eat once a day) and I'll get one of the healthy options at the company cafeteria, and the hell with it. Mr. B isn't a cook. He doesn't much like to cook. But because he gets home much earlier than I do, the cooking, such as it is, falls into his lap. He can grill things, and saute some frozen green beans in garlic, and make pasta with meat sauce. I taught him how to halve a pint of grape tomatoes, saute them in garlic, toss in some frozen chopped spinach and a splash of white wine and serve it over some packaged tortellini. But frankly, for the most part, Trader Joe's has really saved us on weeknights. The problem is, it gets a bit dull after a while. And while Trader Joe's food may be less processed than some others, it's still packaged food. It's multigrain pilaf in a pouch and pre-sliced roast real turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes with the aforementioned green beans; it's their pork roast florentine and prepackaged salads. So while it's better than eating Kraft macaroni and yellow powder and chicken nuggets and frozen non-food, it's still not something you made fresh.

On weekends we usually go out, so that we both get some time off. And again, it's being able to sit at a table together and chat and enjoy a meal. Sometimes on a nice evening we get takeout from the Greek place or thin-crust pizza and go sit in the park. Or we go here, where the we get plates of whole wheat linguini with chicken, broccoli rabe and fresh tomato. Or any of a number of places. The biggest minefield is the Tom Sawyer Diner, about which I've written before, which has amazingly good food, but if you stray from the salads, the excellent chicken souvlaki, or the surprisingly fresh and well-prepared seafood, you're likely to end up with something like the "Tom's Mex", which is a 15" plate piled with chili & cheese nachos, slices of chorizo, taquitos filled with con queso, 4 grilled shrimp, cheese quesadilla wedges, and for some strange reason, nuggets of what appear to be breaded fried macaroni and cheese. It's a heart attack on a plate, even if a well-prepared one.

So I navigate these places, choosing the fish and the whole wheat pasta and the bifteki, which is less meat than the gyro, and the veggie pizza. But it's still not the quinoa salad with organic arugula and fresh bell pepper that I might make if I had the time and if I didn't feel that on the weekends I just want to clean my house and otherwise slack off.

So where I'm going with all this, is that Amanda makes the point that cooking is often time-consuming, requires advance thought, and is difficult for some people -- even those who are not low income, to plan and prepare fresh meals week in and week out for twenty or thirty or so years. I'd love to clip recipes and sit with the grocery circulars and plan meals for seven days a week and lovingly prepare them at my leisure. But when you're in the kitchen at 8:30 at night chopping carrots and onions so that you can throw it in the crockpot inthe morning before you leave at 6:15 AM for a 7 AM conference call, you're going to start answering the siren song of Trader Joe and Tom Sawyer ever-more-frequently.

While it's all well and good to have the goal of eating locally where possible, and providing access to better-quality food for low income neighborhoods, we also have to look at the high-stress lives of most Americans. Either we are working ourselves to death in jobs we already have, sometimes multiples of them, or we are out of work and have gnawing terror of the future. Either way, we're not not making the quinoa salad.

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Blogger skywind said...
Thank you! And add to that picky kids who take one bite of the quinoa salad, make a face and refuse to eat the rest of it, even if you serve it for every meal until it goes bad, and you've just thrown time and money away. And you can't send them to school hungry, lest you invite a visit from the Department of Children and Families. Packaged food ends up looking pretty low-stress at that point.

Blogger The Precious said...
I haven't been able to work out how I feel about that posting from Amanda. I'm 52, married, no kids, and I work from home on east coast time from the midwest, so I am done at 4 each day (but up early), so the cooking falls on my shoulders because I am home ahead of Mrs Precious. I don't do planning. I take a frozen something out of the freezer every morning to prepare for dinner. Dinner is a salad and then the chicken or pork chops or whatever it was that I thawed, plus a vegetable. The meals aren't gourmet meals, but straightforward home cooking. The salad is the most time-consuming thing and that takes fifteen minutes at most. Summer is the best because we get local produce and swiss chard is available almost the whole summer.

My problem with that article is that, while I know cooking takes time, it doesn't seem to me to take THAT much time. I spend maybe half an hour, total, cooking dinner. Mrs Precious and I get out of the house almost every night and don't spend our evenings looking at the TV. She's usually home later than 6, but I have dinner ready for her, and that's after I get to the gym after work.