Uncrustables and the Many Degrees of Frugality

At the recommendation of reader from one of my Cost of Convenience posts, I have been reading the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. In it, Reese does many similar cooking experiments where she decides whether it is better to make it yourself or buy it. I was surprised that she put a “make it” recommendation on things like hot dog buns (while hot dogs themselves are “buy it”), lard, and goat cheese. I’d never even considered making any of those things myself.

Was I wrong? Is there right or wrong? Take the example of Smucker’s Uncrustables, which is a factory-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts removed (and extra oil, sugar, and preservatives added). There are many articles out there ranting about how this invention must be a sign of the apocalypse. How hard can it be to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Can’t we do anything for ourselves now? I find myself nodding in agreement.

But wait.

A generation or two ago, someone “making” a peanut butter and jelly sandwich actually baked the bread from flour, shelled, roasted, ground up raw peanuts, and preserved excess fresh fruits via canning. Doing all of these things is actually not that hard. Okay, so maybe you bake your own bread, but do you grow the wheat? In the 1930s, 25% of Americans lived on a farm before widespread monoculture, and thus probably grew the flour, peanuts, and fruits on their own land.

So my takeaway was really that we should be open to the possibilities, consider the options carefully, and then each draw our own lines between D-I-Y and B-U-Y. There will always be someone more or less DIY/frugal/green than you. We all have to balance our own time, energy, and beliefs. This book has inspired me to at least try making a few things once. I wonder how my Eggs Benedict with homemade English muffins and hollandaise sauce with turn out.

Comments

  1. If you don’t have time to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you may want to loosen your schedule.

  2. I admit that I have chuckled at the thought of these and have never purchased them…but….if you eat a PB&J sandwich rarely it may make financial sense. This is from a person who thought that precooked bacon was the stupidest thing in the world until I started to buy it that way.

  3. A couple of random thoughts:

    My guess is that a lot of those people living on farms didn’t make yeast-raised bread from scratch, but relied heavily on quick breads (biscuits etc.) I could be wrong here, but at least in the mid-19th century this was true http://underthegables.blogspot.....ution.html

    - and as a mom, I make lots of quick breads (muffins, biscuits, healthy cookies, etc.) and freeze them for quick breakfasts or snacks for my kid, about once a month. Totally healthy and fairly easy. I do love to make my own yeast-raised bread but that’s only as time allows.

    - also, you can make pb&jam/honey/apple butter/maple syrup and freeze them for a week (also meat ones too, but I don’t do that for my toddler because I like to heat all her meat to steaming before consuming). Seriously, it is cool to make a bunch of different sandwiches (or just the night beforehand) and then pop them in your bag as you run out of the house in the morning.

  4. Let’s live in a world that is healthy, green and convenient.

    I believe it’s what most truly want deep down.

    We could achieve this if we set our minds to this.

    There is nothing wrong with wanting the option to focus your time on other priorities and having healthy ready made things save time.

    It is also beautiful and rewarding to have the option to do it yourself when you want.

    Let’s get rid of these mental blocks that we have to choose between healthy-green and convenience, and that the convenience option is only for unhealthy people with misplaced values.

    I would like to push for a world that has good options on both sides, with much, much more “healthy, green and also convenient” options available.

  5. I’d ditch the hot dogs, butter, and cheese. Animal agriculture is:

    1) Destroying the planet
    2) Very bad for your health (no fiber, lots of bad cholesterol)
    3) Creating superbugs resistant to antibiotics
    4) Leads to cruel and inhumane treatment of innocent animals. A quick google search can show you how much brutality and suffering is behind cheese, eggs, and butter.

    Go plant strong! It’s cheaper, healthier, and there’s endless great recipes to find online!

  6. Unfortunately, on a post like this one, the food elitists will come out ranting about how the way they choose to eat being better than everyone else. But back on topic, I think it is concerning that many of us have no idea how hard or easy it is to make things from scratch or know different costs associated with it. Due to budget constraints, I recently started making the following items from scratch: lemonade, salsa, pancake mix, cookie dough, mac n’ cheese, and guacamole. Maybe I will try spaghetti sauce next. While it may be cheaper and taste better, it takes up a lot of time including the cleanup afterwards. And as single dad with less than 50% custodial time of my 3 kids, I sure wish I just had the money to buy them pre-made food whenever they were hungry so I could maximize my time with them.

  7. Mickey Blue Eyes says:

    While I would agree that Uncrustables is an abomination of Nature, economic progress comes from specialization. I infer that you would probably agree.

    Consider store-bought loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, and jar of jelly. Assembling your own PBJ takes a modicum of time, but then you have more time to go do something else productive. Without specialization, you’d have to grow and mill your own wheat into flower, grow and roast your own peanuts, and grow and preserve your own fruits. Plus the salt, sugar, oil, eggs, yeast, pectin, etc, that go into a loaf of bread, peanut butter, and jelly. After you spend time doing all that just to make a PBJ sandwich, you won’t have time left to do anything else.

    By letting someone else specialize in producing the component parts of a PBJ, it saves you time to specialize in whatever it does that you do do.

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