Every once in a while I think about food as a political-social issue. When I step back and think about it, I spend a LOT of time thinking about food. What I’m going to eat, how it will be prepared, how to time it so everything comes out at the same time/temperature, who will eat it with me, what I’ll do with the leftovers…. When I’m shopping, I spend a lot of time thinking about where my food came from, how this impacts the price and how full of chemicals/pesticides/sodium it is. Overall, food is a huge part of my life and it’s an even huger (is that a word?!) part of my thinking process.
I won’t get on a soapbox here but I will make a few short points:
1. If you have very little money, it is much harder to avoid processed, less than fresh foods. Partly because fresh veggies are expensive, partly because you probably have less time to cook and partly because these fresh, organic, “whole” foods are not marketed to you. (Click here for an interesting story about a local farmer’s market that is now taking SNAP funds) What is stocked in, say inner-city grocery stores, are “convenience” foods- pre-cooked or frozen or just- add-water kinds of foods.
2. If you don’t have much experience with cooking and using food in its original form, you may not realize how easy it is to use under-processed foods. You may naturally turn to pre-cooked, full of sodium foods and assume that it’s as good as it gets. There are plenty of programs and chefs out that that focus on this good food, fast concept- Rachel Ray comes to mind, as does Sandra Lee. I’d say though, that while I don’t really care for either, I’d take Rachel over Sandra any day. Sandra’s food tends to be (as her slogan boldly states) 70% store bought, 30% homemade– she generally starts with these pre-packaged, pre-made foods and sort of doctors them. In my mind, it’s far better to use fresher, more basic food and spend ten more minutes than to use pre-packaged stuff. Mashed potatos for example- boxed require you to add milk and butter. Fresh would require you to peel potatos, boil them and then add milk and butter. Why not do the minor extra step? Increase in flavor, texture and health benefit.
3. Making a committment to buying local food, healthy food, and fresh food is big. It’s a lot of work and may involve going to several stores. It involves doing research to know where your food comes from, what’s in season locally and who’s benefiting from your purchase. It may involve finding alternative food sources- local farms, farmer’s markets, CSAs… In short, it becomes about much more than just what’s for dinner. (On that note, click here for a list of clean/dirty veggies so you at least have a place from which to start.)
4. While movies like “Food Inc” and books like “Fast Food Nation” have been trying to put these issues in the mainstream media, it doesn’t seem to really be taking, at least not evenly throughout our society. Again, I think it goes back to socio-economics, geography and your hierarchy of needs (If you’ve lost your job and are trying to hang on to your house, it may not occur to you to make sure you’re eating organic, locally sourced apples).
Why am I thinking about this today? Two reasons. First, money is tight around here and our last “splurge” is healthy food. I hate that it’s framed this way- food, as a basic human need, should not be considered a “splurge.” But where we are in my pay cycle and our bills to cash ratio determines what I buy and where we shop. My definition of “wealthy” is going to include being able to shop for food each week where I want and being able to buy what I want. Secondly, last night I made an extremely strange dish that was composed almost entirely of pre-made foods. It was so out of character for me, that I started thinking about the Whole Food Thing.
It was a dish out of a crockpot cookbook given to me a zillion years ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve never made anything out of it. Last night I started too late- the baby is sick AGAIN, don’t get me started- and ended up just making it in the oven. It was a sort of casserole that called for packaged stuffing, condensed cream of mushroom soup, pre-cooked chicken and a few fresh veggies. I couldn’t quite bring myself to use the soup so I made my own (much like the last casserole recipe I posted). In the end, I was not a fan but my husband was (which I think says something about our culinary upbringings).
We discussed it afterwards and, really, had I not used a store rotisserie chicken (which is one shortcut I do use but not often as I know they aren’t that good for you-lots of sodium and oil), it would have been all “fresh” ingredients except for the stove top. I suppose I could even make stuffing of my own and then it would all be fresh. For me though, that didn’t matter- it was still lacking a green veggie, something I’ve been conditioned to believe belongs with each meal.
It’s a shame that healthy food from “scratch” has become something of a rarity in our society. Fast food, take-out, eating out, pre-made foods…. all of these have taken the place of homemade dinner. It’s no wonder that we’re not as healthy a society as we might be. It makes me sad. As I think I’ve mentioned, I had a friend look at me in surprise once and say, “You cook a lot, huh?” It’s sad to me that meal planning and cooking at home each night isn’t the norm for most of the people I know. My reply to her? “Well, yeh, once or twice a day. Or else we don’t eat.”
No recipe today, just these thoughts. Care to share yours?