Consider the following questions that you may have asked yourself recently:
- What can you do to consume fewer calories while eating healthier food?
- How do you get your family to spend more time together, talk, and connect?
- How do you get the public to care more about what they are eating, which in turns forces the food corporations to improve their standards?
- What can modern super-specialized citizens do to feel more in touch with nature and self-sufficient?
- How can you save some money?
I’m sure the title has given it away by now, but the answer is to cook! Specifically, cook at home for yourself and your family, as close to from scratch as possible. At least, that’s the lesson from the book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. A previous post expanded on the health benefits of cooking at home, and the book examines cooking as broken down into the four elements: Fire (BBQ), Water (Braises), Air (Bread), and Earth (Brewing).
Indeed, why is it that we seem more obsessed by food than ever (Food Network, Cooking Channel, Yelp, Food Bloggers Everywhere) at the exact same time that fewer and fewer people actually know how to cook? The food industry is betting that the current generation of kids will have hardly any idea of how to cook even basic dishes, as it means even more $$$ for them! A quote from consumer researcher Harry Balzer:
We’ve had a hundred years of packaged foods, and we’re going to have a hundred years of packaged meals. [...] We’re basically cheap and lazy.
I think most people would agree that basic cooking skills really aren’t that hard to learn. It will save you money, keep you healthier, and even aide you in romantic relationships.
But what about time? It’s so convenient to just buy something ready-made. I was intrigued by an experiment in the book comparing a home-cooked meal versus a frozen heat-and-eat meal from the supermarket. I called it “Man vs. Microwave”. From the freezer aisle, they picked out the following items for their family:
Amy’s Organic Vegetable Curry
P.F. Chang’s Shanghai Style Beef Stir-Fry
Safeway Brand French Onion Soup
The total cost was $27 and it took about 40 minutes to nuke them all one-by-one. Now, $27 would also buy a big but cheaper cut of grass-fed beef (say a chuck roast, not filet mignon) and lots of vegetables for a slow-cooker braise with a shorter prep time (not cooking time) and would cover more than one meal. Unsurprisingly (but probably true), the author judged that the microwave food was crap and his braise was delicious.
The experiment was too vague and subjective for my tastes. However, it did give me the idea to do my own experiments called “The Cost of Convenience” where I try to replicate either a frozen or restaurant meal by cooking it myself and then compare them in terms of total time commitment and money spent. I’d like to incorporate other factors like taste, difficulty, and nutritional value as well. I’ll try to be objective, and my guess is that both sides will have their wins. I may try and get some ideas with some old episodes of “Good Eats” with Alton Brown. Let’s see if I’m properly motivated by this book to actually cook them.