Monday, February 25, 2008

Scratch cooking: the new luxury dining?

From UCLA: this study of the time spent by Americans on basic household tasks.

The big surprise? Those relying heavily on convenience foods didn't save much time (they saved about 10 - 12 minutes per dinner, according to the researchers) over those using fewer convenience foods.

The non-surprise? Hardly anyone is actually cooking from scratch. Even those who were counted as doing 'home cooking' were mostly relying on preparing convenience foods rather than actually starting with a recipe.

"With almost all of the home-cooked meals, families served some sort of packaged convenience food. Frozen entrées (such as stir-fry mixes, potstickers, chicken dishes and barbecued ribs) were the most popular products, followed by vegetables (canned or frozen), specialty breads (ready-to-eat, parbaked or from mix), canned soup and commercial pasta sauce. [Researcher Margaret] Beck did not consider dried pasta and tortillas to be convenience foods, but she did count bagged salads and hot dogs."

Beck's study focused on 'working families,' which she defined as two-income families. I'd be interested in seeing if the same results would be found among families with at least one at-home spouse/partner. I can understand how families in which both spouses are returning home near dinner time would find it necessary to rely on convenience foods. Is a truly from-scratch meal now a luxury?


Anonymous said...

Is a truly from-scratch meal now a luxury?

Now? I think from-scratch has been on the decline for decades and for most people it IS a luxury and has been. For us it is almost every meal, every day and a necessity. We are major league, card carrying foodies and cook almost totally from scratch, eat almost no processed foods except some snack foods, condiments and liquids, things like...
V8 juice, fruit juice from Traders (their Blackberry Crush and soda water is my "pop", Triscuits, tortilla chips, bagged lettuce, Traders soy butter, Hellmans Mayo and catsup are about the only "processed" things we eat. We run with a bunch of other foodies and that helps fuel the drive. Are we locavores? No, we are hedonistic foodies and are more interested in good and fresh rather than how close it produced, should we be? Yes but delicious, fresh and healthy is number one.

It is hard to cook from scratch and it helps if your good at it and cook extra and freeze leftovers for later. My fiance is a master cook, seriously, she is the best "natural" cook I have ever met. Great kitchen sense, she can eat a dish and go in the kitchen and recreate it, usually better than the original. I used to cook a lot more before I met her, now I am a lowly assistant. Most of what we buy comes from Findlay, we come home every Saturday laden with three to four big bags. In season the local farmers we go to first, the stalls next. What we buy comes from as about as local a source (distributor?) as I can find without driving all over the tri-state and is as raw, i.e. as little processing as possible. Going out is difficult as we are a tough crowd and hard to satisfy.

My mantra is... Vote with your dollars, eat local as much as possible, avoid chains, processed and fast food like the plague. Stay close to your food and away from your doctor, buy the best food you can find, local is best, organic if possible. Read labels, if you can't pronounce it, or don't want to take the time to read it don't eat it. Processed "foods" are poison. Immerse yourself in luxury, cook from scratch.

Renee Beaulieu said...

Unfortunately, yes, cooking is becoming a lost art. When someone started selling frozen pb&j sandwiches I figured it was the end of civilization ;-) ... and I find it depressing that the product is still on the market years later. Who buys this stuff??? I tried to make sure my kids learned how to handle a knife, cook eggs, peel carrots, prepare fresh vegs, do a simple chicken sauté -- the basics so they wouldn't starve or have to live on ramen and frozen pizza. But from the size of the frozen pizza display at most groceries, they're in the minority.

valereee said...

Renee, OMG, those frozen crustless PB&Js crack me up! I've also seen frozen grilled cheese. You stick them into the microwave. They make me wonder just how busy some folks are that they can't slap some butter on two pieces of bread, stick a slice of cheese between them, and drop them into a hot skillet for five minutes.

Vudutu, I'd love to get myself to the point that I don't have anything with a bar code on it in my pantry, but there are always a few recipes my family loves that depend on a certain brand -- Rotel tomatoes, or Joan of Arc chili beans, or Hunts tomato sauce. I've been thinking I'd like to find recipes that will let me replicate that particular -flavor- while still avoiding all the added non-food ingredients.

Anonymous said...

Val, yea barcodes, sign of the devil LOL, I don't think you can get rid of all of them. To me the basic canned things are not processed foods and are a necessity, Canned tomatoes for instance, tomato sauce is very do able, I want to can tomato juice this year. one trick my SO does in the winter is get those tasteless plum tomatoes, slice in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper and olive oil then slow roast for a few hours at around 250, delicious just the thing for winter tomato cravings, With beans the biggest reason to use dried is less sodium.

valereee said...

Vudutu, you're making me hungry for tomatoes. Really for like three hours she roasts them? Wow! I may have to try that.

How do you even make tomato juice? Do you need a juicer, or do you just grate them up and drain them through a sieve, or what?

Anonymous said...

Val, went through some old links and found your question, sorry I missed it, she roasts them at around 250 I think for a couple of hours, it's easy. Tomato juice is easy, cook em, run them through the food processor and strain, add salt and lemon to acidify the tomato juice. I have seen recipes that don't call for acid but most do.

Mati said...

Something that really intrigues me about food culture is the way that some of the richest traditions have bizarre blind spots. In Paris, you get spectacular cheese of fiercely defended terroir... and the milk is aseptic. Baroque Japanese packaged snacks cannot seem to pack in enough artificial color, while street sushi is fresh and pure.

The frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an impenetrable object... I don't know who eats it and why. Spam keeps, it's salty, no great mystery there. But what could possibly be the advantage of a frozen PB&J?

Maybe the appeal is some perceived simplicity. My husband loves to cook, obsesses over the details of his prize chili, meditates on marinades, but only sometimes. The rest of the time, he will microwave rather than get out a pan, eat out of the package rather than dirty a bowl. The goal is not to sully himself with distractions and complications.