Monday, February 17, 2014

Scratch Cooking

I mentioned the other day how I cheated on making the Dark Chocolate Pudding With Pretzels from Bon Appetit magazine. Then I told you it was another whole story in itself. It is.
As I navigated my way through the grocery store gathering the ingredients for this recipe it dawned on me that the 12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate I needed (I was doubling it) was going to cost me $10.00 alone. Never mind the 8 egg yolks, 2 cups of heavy cream, 4 cups of see where I am going with this don't you? As the cost of all of these different components added up in my head, I reached into the shopping cart, lifted up the 3 bars of Ghirardelli chocolate, looked at my husband and asked, 
"Am I stupid to be making this from scratch when I can just buy a few boxes of Jello pudding? This chocolate alone is like $10."
He looked at me as is I had just asked him a question like, "Have we gotten a lot of snow this year?" because he gave me a look that said, "are you stupid? Of course!"
Fast forward a few aisles where I stood looking at the empty spot where DeCecco orrechiette should be. Damn. How could this be the only kind they are out of? Since it is hard for me to get something out of my mind once I have my heart set on it, I sent a clerk to the back to see if they had more. (which they did not and I was extremely disappointed) As I stood there waiting, my eyes wandered over to the opposite side of the aisle where the boxes of fake potatoes sit. 
I noticed that a box of faux au gratin potatoes was only $1. I've attempted to make them from scratch on a few occasions and have not always succeeded. I stared at that $1 box for a few seconds contemplating picking it up because it was so cheap. Then the voice of reason in my head reminded me that they are full of additives and unnatural things that I prefer not to feed my family so I turned away. Besides, already in the bottom of my cart was a bag of fresh sweet potatoes, baking potatoes and a pound or two of baby potatoes. We were clearly covered in the underground vegetable/starch arena.
Now, don't worry ~ I'm not standing on a soapbox preparing to preach to you about buying processed foods. In fact, I am sitting down quite comfortably in my office chair silently debating if I should make my family Aunt Jemima pancakes this morning. You know, the kind you just add water to the mix and voila! Your family thinks you turned into Martha Stewart overnight.
We eat processed foods. Not a lot of them, but our pantry does contain what I like to call "dinners-in-a-box". My kids love our grocery store brand macaroni and cheese and can make it themselves so I always have a box or two on hand. My husband is constantly reaching into the cookie jar and with my work schedule, the only way I can keep it filled is to buy ones that were baked in a factory 
somewhere. While I dream of living solely on homegrown or fresh, local foods, the reality is that some things I buy are processed. My kids wish I didn't make dinner at home every night and I quite often hear them whine that "there is never anything good to eat in this house!" because my pantry is filled with components for meals instead of instant gratification.
 My point here is this: I think it is a sin that it is cheaper to eat like crap than it is to eat healthfully. I realize that statement can create a lot of different conversations and go down a few different roads, but the reality is that for most suburban families, it is more budget friendly and easy to buy that $1 box of au gratin potatoes than it is to buy a pound of fresh potatoes for double the price. Then add the cost of all the other ingredients to make those potatoes into something special. When you look at it that way, scratch cooking is cost prohibitive. 
But why?
I realize that growing food takes a ton of time and tlc. And money. We are expanding our gardens this year and invested in a heating lamp, heating pad, seeds and seed trays to get a jump on our crops. My husband just ordered a composter so we can cut down on waste and fuel the growth of the garden. These things cost money. I get it. I don't expect tomatoes to cost me only a few cents at the grocery store, but knowing that they cannot currently grow here and are flown in from another country makes me a bit queasy. Of course, if we didn't import/export stuff there would be a hell of a lot of jobs gone and worse economic issues than we currently face. 
We've made a real mess of things, haven't we?
So, never mind the conspiracy theories and debates on government control. Or being caught in a hamster wheel of destroying our planet and our bodies. I still can't get over the fact that you can eat like crap for pennies. I guess that's where the term "eat like a king" came from.
Maybe I won't make those pancakes after all.

1 comment:

  1. It's a quandary isn't it?
    It's a big issue at home in Australia, recently a large fruit canning company nearly went under as the shelves had been swamped by cheap imported products. But people got behind the company (led by friend on an initiative she started on Twitter) and the company (and the farmers) look safe now.

    Living in Dubai, you have no choice but to buy imported as not much grows in the desert. So, I do tend to go for the local produce when it's available or the Australian produce (which strangely is often cheaper here than it is at home).

    Like you, most of our pantry has ingredients to make meals rather than ready-made stuff. I do have a few biscuits (cookies for you Americans), etc. I'm actually thinking of making more of my own snack foods/breakfast cereals as I've realised that some products (including international major brands) have more salt/sugar than the Australian equivalents, which is alarming.

    I do like the idea of buying local and in season. It makes much more sense on so many levels - cost, taste, environmental reasons.

    Food for thought ;)