I sat in the audience the other day at a discussion about processed foods. The speaker’s intention was to talk about all the crazy chemicals added to food and how the food industry is working against us and making us fat and unhappy and sick. (It is a little scary, even for someone who has spent their entire life in the food world, even big food.) And while I believe that the food industry, and in particular the big food companies do not list as their top corporate value “To feed people good food that won’t make them ill”, I generally believe that it is really up to us to stop consuming these foods. If their revenue stream stops, they will stop making them. That may be too simplistic.
My red light came on when the panelist actually said that people don’t have time to cook and that is why they use these foods. And the part that gets me hot is the “don’t have time” to cook part. I was incensed. Did she really just say that? It is ok for big food to keep making their food stuff because actually we really DO need them because we are way too BUSY to get a wholesome meal on the table at least a couple times a week?
But they make it so easy not to cook. You see it in grocery stores. Not just on the shelves in the center aisles but in the periphery, the amazing amount refrigerator space devoted to complete, “home cooked” meals. I was reading about the latest incarnation of our local, and beloved by many, grocery store. They have just opened a new outlet in the suburbs that is 60% devoted to pre-prepared meals. The other percentages are made of a small restaurant and tiny section of staples like milk, eggs and butter. You don’t really ever have to cook if you shop there and I guess the food there should be better that the packages in the center shelves but if you read the labels, it really isn’t. The food looks different because it is complete-just need a nuker to get it on the table, but the labels reflect the need for shelf life and ‘enhanced taste’. Check out what they put in rotisserie chickens sometime.
And damnit, I am not perfect on this but putting my best effort on the table most nights is a personal challenge. It kicks my butt and most of the time I feel like an underpaid short order cook. And sometimes the best effort is a hotdog, sometimes homemade mac and cheese and sometimes a good frozen pizza. And it doesn’t mean I am any better than anyone else and it doesn’t mean I am judging you. All this means is that I know we can collectively figure this thing out and collectively we can start to see that what we eat is really what is going to determine how we live our lives. And collectively we can tell “big food” to take their “easy food” and hit the road because we can do it better ourselves, and we WANT to do it better ourselves.
And I am not sure what needs to happen. Do we need cooking classes or home ec or do we need to have some personal experience with what food can do to our bodies? Or do we need to just get pissed and figure out that cooking and meals can happen like they did for our parents or grandparents even with our crazy schedules. I don’t know the answer, but I really want to figure it out because I know it is possible and really important, for everyone.
Below is a recipe I use when I have 30 minutes to get kids fed and dressed for soccer, after a long day at work. You can also do amazing things with this recipe. It can be much fancier. Add a nice piece of roasted chicken or fish and a green something and you have a lovely, complete meal. My 30 minute version is a bowl of these noodles and a big side of fresh fruit. I am not sure there is a way to make homemade dinner much easier than this. Please don’t be afraid of the cream and butter, unless you intend to eat the entire pound of creamy noodles yourself.
1-1/2 C heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp salt (or less, taste it)
dash of nutmeg (optional)
1/4 C good parmesan
1 pound of noodles (one box)
Add everything, except the parm, to a saucepan and simmer (don’t boil) for 10-15 mintues. In the meantime boil a box of pasta. When it is done, drain and add to cream mixture and add parmesan. Stir and serve. You can also add a handful of chopped fresh herbs. Basil or chives work really well. This recipe is adapted from the Silver Palate cookbook.