[I have not been missing because I was on the beach in Rio; we have all had stomach flu. As Shakespeare wrote: “Something there is in rotovirus that hath the power to blight the keenest appetite.”]
Mr. Annie recently forwarded me this very interesting article by Sarah Dickerson about the fact that, while many Americans are suffering from economic woes, and facing hard choices in the grocery store, most food media are focusing on luxury ingredients unaffordable to most readers. Dickerson points out that there are, historically and currently, many resources for home cooks to cook and eat well on a budget, and that perhaps it would be better for our pocketbooks and the environment if we made some effort in that direction. In closing, she writes that:
“The time seems right for a mainstream voice (better yet, voices) to marry the pleasures of the table with the reality of a reduced budget, perhaps by using what we’ve learned from the food revolution. Michael Pollan has already made a big splash this year by recommending that people shy away from packaged products and eat less meat-two steps that are not only a grassroots vote for a new kind of food system but that will help save money. It’s possible, after all, to economize without reverting to a freezer full of Tex-Mex lasagna (one of those “mock-ethnic dishes that American dieticians love,” as Jeffrey Steingarten puts it). A new home economics could harness seasonal ingredients and real ethnic flavors; it could weave a lusty appreciation of food with a sober appreciation of the grocery dollar.”
I am not ashamed to tell you that our food budget is tight, and that the reason we eat relatively well is that I know how to cook. I buy what’s on sale, I make at least one non-meat meal a week (more, in summer), I know how to make tough protein come out silky, and bland protein more flavorful. I buy very little that is processed or “convenient” not just because it is unhealthy (I love me some Cheetos) but because it is far more expensive to buy potatoes that are cooked and packaged than it is to cook them myself, and they taste better. I can get much better cheese in block form, and it tastes better grated fresh. I cut up my own pineapples and save a couple of bucks. I can, and sometimes do, bone my own chickens, and I always make my own stock. Lest you should think I am idle, and have nothing better to do than swan around the kitchen boning chickens and singing camp songs, I can assure you that is not the case; it takes planning and thought.
I know that people are busy, and that some folks just don’t like to cook, but if you’re eating out often these days, or buying lots of easy-prep, prepared foods, think of what you could do with the money you saved if you just (really) cooked once or twice more a week. I’m thinking of beach vacations, theater in Manhattan…much better stuff than a pre-cooked pot roast and some Ore-Ida frozen potatoes. (Or my all-time favorite: Sandra Lee’s “Buche de Noel which begins with buying a pound cake and cutting it up). You can also use the money you save to buy the “unattainable” ingredients in recipes and make yourself potatoes with truffle shavings, or wallow in Saffron.
Read what Dickerson writes, think about your own consumption and budget, and maybe you can make a plan that saves you cash, helps the environment and still lets you feed yourself comfortably and well.