Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Food, for Convenience Sake

See what happens? I step away for a few days, and Anthony Bourdain goes nuts. First, my blog mentor Max posted on the Millions about Bourdain's Food Network rant at Michael Ruhlman's blog. Now David Lebovitz has chimed in with his two "centimes." (I haven't written about David Lebovitz before, but I will now. He's a pastry chef and chocolate aficionado who lives in Paris. His blog is always entertaining, especially if you've ever been to Paris. Check it out.) Lebovitz comments on the message board at Simply Recipes, wondering why people find value in shows about convenience cooking (Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, etc.).
I'm curious when people say they appreciate these time-saving cooking shows. But really, how long does it take to make good food? A roast chicken can be tossed with a broken up head of garlic and some herbs in less than 30 seconds. And how many seconds does one save by opening a bottle of pre-made salad dressing as opposed to mixing together a few spoonfuls of olive oil & vinegar? Is it really that much easier to rip open a box of cake mix than to drop a stick of butter in the mixer, add some eggs, then stir in some flour?

And doesn't homemade foods taste better, and is far healthier for you (and much less-expensive), than all those convenience foods? Other than as a gimmick, I don't see how how saving a few minutes is really worth sacrificing your family's health and well-being for by using all these processed foods. While I don't begrudge any tv chefs cooking with real ingredients, it's quite a disservice to spray things with aerosol cheese and call it dinner.
This is always my thing with the Food Network, and with American food culture in general. I know I'm in a unique situation, working from home and whatnot, but I actually enjoy cooking. The process of taking raw ingredients and turning them into something delicious and nutritious is one of the best parts of my day. I'd hate to have to rush through it. Everybody has nights when they've got to throw something together; not every night is seven hour leg of lamb night. I know this. But what Lebovitz is saying, I think, and what I fervently agree with, is that a meal that takes minutes to prepare will likely also be eaten in minutes, and this ain't a good thing.


Kiki said...

Well, I have to quibble with some stuff here.

I appreciate Lebovitz's basic point, but there's a hint of a sneer that I just can't get down with.

Because--it is easier to open a mix than to make a cake from scratch. Sorry, but it is. Especially when you've just worked a full day. (Are the wholesome, organic mixes that you can purchase at your local grocer also not OK with Lebovitz?)

Now that I'm in the working world, I really (really, really) don't have time to artisan-craft every meal, and I can't imagine how I'd manage with a family to support.

These days, I definitely feel more admiration for my parents, who were neither organic farmers nor millionaires nor French chefs--but who did (gasp) prepare some tasty meals that did (gasp) involve things like garlic that we barbaric Americans are not supposed to know about or like. Maybe it wasn't wrapped in a banana leaf, but it was homemade food that took advantage of some time-saving items & techniques. Was that so wrong?

Anyone who grew up in a cold climate recalls schoolday breakfasts wolfed down to the soundtrack of the family car running its defroster in the driveway. Where, in that scenario, is the opportunity to whip up a batch of fresh croissants? I ask you.

Edan said...


You've made some astute opinions here, and I definitely agree with you about about making a cake from scratch--that shit IS time consuming and hard, unless of course you're some professional pastry chef with hardcore skills. And, of course, breakfast is a quickie meal for most people; whether we're eating a pop tart or some homemade granola, most mornings we don't have the time to savor the flavors.

I think, though, what Bourdain and Lebovitz are saying, isn't that we should be whipping up gourmet croissants every morning and steak au poivre every night, but that food is a thing to be enjoyed and appreciated, and that fast food, and our hurried culture in general, doesn't allow for this enjoyment and appreciation. I think it is possible to cook healthy, fresh meals that don't take hours to prepare. Your parents proved this, and I know, from eating your delicious cooking, that they passed this idea onto you.