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Is Cooking Really Cheaper Than Fast Food?
October 7, 2011 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Is Cooking Really Cheaper Than Fast Food?
posted by reenum (192 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
In money, yes. In time, no.
posted by DU at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


I spend about $200-$300 a week on groceries for my husband and myself. I am SURE fast food would be cheaper, but cooking doesn't make me sick for hours after dinner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:18 AM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I spend about $200-$300 a week on groceries for my husband and myself.

We spend from $100-$150 per week for a family of seven.
posted by DU at 7:21 AM on October 7, 2011 [29 favorites]


Figure in health costs down the road. Answer becomes apparent.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:24 AM on October 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


The article mentions that we have to convince people that leisure time spent cooking is better than playing video games or watching TV. May I suggest watching TV while you're cooking? If I turn it right, I can see our TV just fine from the kitchen. It's the only thing that makes washing dishes bearable for me.
posted by daniel striped tiger at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Was about to say a mix of DU and room317 – in money, yes; time, no; health? Heck yes it's cheaper. Just try and put a value on the difference in energy, mood and general well-being that you feel after eating fast-food vs. after eating something homemade. Just short-term, not even taking into consideration long-term effects. I'll take my homemade Cincinnati chili that takes a couple hours all told over any fast food. (As a matter of fact, the fastest food I've eaten in the last few years has been sushi. Just don't go to "fast food" places any more. I feel so much better, too.)

And there's the social aspect, like the article touches on briefly – shared activity. I love sharing recipes with friends; every time I make something a friend has sent, I think of them and smile.
posted by fraula at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Would anyone be surprised if the answer was yes? Grazing in your local public park would probably be even cheaper, and possibly not as disastrous for your health as living on fast food.
posted by Dr Dracator at 7:25 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's say it takes two hours to put the Times' meal together and clean up afterward—for the median US worker, that's about $32 worth of labor. Voilà! Our chicken dinner now costs around $46. Suddenly, that $28 Mickey D's excursion looks like quite the bargain.

I've never understood this line of reasoning. The only way you are in any meaningful sense out that extra money is if you would have spent that time earning money. The average US worker also watches about five hours of TV a day. By this rationale, TV watching is even more expensive than cooking.

The question isn't what you would have earned if you had spent that time working, the question is what you would have done with the time otherwise.

Time cannot be saved like money. It can only be spent, so don't do idiotic things like putting a dollar amount on your free time. If you have it to spend and it's worth it to you to spend it preparing food that isn't terrible and will keep you alive longer, then do so. If you're unfortunate enough not to have the time or resources, or you just don't give a damn and would rather fire down the fast food every day, then bon appetit.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [102 favorites]


As the author alludes, Bittman's "accounting error" is only a problem if time in the kitchen is time wasted. For me, time in the kitchen is time 1) doing something with my hands instead of looking at a screen, 2) learning, 3) socializing, 4) listening to music or talk radio, 5) enjoying the sight, sounds, and smell of the food itself, 6) being goofy. It really is an extension of the meal.
posted by swift at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Here is where I see a fallacy: The trick, for those of us who would like to see Americans doing more of their own cooking, is to convince people to value time in the kitchen more than they do leisure activities like TV watching or video gaming.

The author suggests cooking classes/home ec in school. Now, I agree that will help people learn how to cook, but it isn't going to teach them to value it as leisure time.

I personally enjoy cooking, but no amount of classes is going to make it an enjoyable hobby for most people. There's a reason people turned to fast food and frozen food even back when they knew how to cook from scratch, cooking can be hard work.

People who work long hours aren't going to want to do more work when they get home with their limited free time no matter how well you teach them to do it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


But what about the time it takes to plan the dinner

What, are they drawing blueprints of the chicken and potatoes?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


One of the rare occasions an Oatmeal comic is directly relevant.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


I wish the slow food and media types would stop fixating on fast food. Very Poor people don't eat that much fast food, though the next class up (working poor - more money, way less time) might eat a bit more.

Poor people eat pasta with cheese sauce, or pasta with spaghetti sauce (from a bottle/can) or hot dogs with lots of white bread or other cheap, carbohydrate filled groceries.
posted by jb at 7:29 AM on October 7, 2011 [45 favorites]


Unless you're taking time off or leaving work early to cook the chicken dinner, I don't see why cost of labor would need to be added in. McDonalds patrons are directly paying other people to prepare the food; the only real cost(and that's mostly only if you hate cooking) for the chicken dinner aside from ingredients, is leisure time but most people aren't paid for that anyway.

How much more medical care will the regular McDonalds patrons need?
posted by fromageball at 7:30 AM on October 7, 2011


I feel like the article makes a bit too much out of the cost of labor to prepare your own food. We cook at home a LOT, and I don't feel like it's labor that is costing me money. It's not as though I could actually make an additional, say, $50 by spending that extra two hours at work -- I am working from home and underemployed, so time is something I have a lot of, and money is something I don't.

Time cooking is time talking with my wife, is time working with my hands, is time expressing myself creatively, is time watching Hulu or listening to the radio. It's not _costing_ me any money.

Not to mention the difference in diet. Once you get past the idea that we have to eat meat daily, you can really save money. I know a lot of recipes for, say, soups that will bring a tear to your eye, for something like $0.50 per serving.
posted by gauche at 7:31 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I spend about $200-$300 a week on groceries for my husband and myself.

We spend from $100-$150 per week for a family of seven.


I spend $20 a week to feed an orphanage, a nursing home, and my extended family.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:32 AM on October 7, 2011 [90 favorites]


Is this where I discuss the actual merits of the article or is it more where I can just brag about my superior habits?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:32 AM on October 7, 2011 [30 favorites]


The real problem I have with this article is not the assigning of dollar value to leisure time, it's the absurd amount of time. There is no meal I ever cook that takes even an hour to make. 10-20 minutes is more in line, and the same is true of when my room-mate cooks, and we make vastly different foods. The exception is when he makes a giant pot of curry, and that's food for a bunch of meals.
posted by drethelin at 7:32 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a shock, domestic labor is treated as $0. This isn't just a problem of Bittman's and the NYTimes, but of how we conceptualize value in society. This is why GDP goes down when a man marries his housekeeper.

We tend to only value those things that we put a dollar amount on while simultaneously devaluing work done by women. This is not ok.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [37 favorites]


That's quite the leap from Bittman's $5 a day per person for people receiving food stamps comparison to $5 per meal per person.

middleclasstool, when articles like Bittman's try to argue cost benefit by comparing home cooked vs. commercially prepared they always leave off the labour costs involved when making it at home. Commercially prepared food will factor that into their cost just like every other hidden cost that built into the price of a "value meal"
posted by squeak at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2011


Figure in health costs down the road. Answer becomes apparent.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:24 AM on October 7


But the article compares like with like. One fried chicken dinner is mostly going to be the same as another. If you eat nothing but hamburgers and fried chicken (and a liter of Pepsi and a bucket of potatoes) for every meal, your health will suffer just the same whether you cook it yourself or not.
posted by gjc at 7:33 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


For those of us living in the real world, we know that you don't really charge for your labor in the kitchen. But if you're going to convince economists and politicians that their assumptions about fast food don't take all of the factors into consideration, I think you have to speak in a language they understand, which is to say that the value of everything can be expressed in financial terms.
posted by slmorri at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I spend about $200-$300 a week on groceries for my husband and myself.

I don't know how that's even possible, unless you're either buying superpremium ingredients at the most expensive stores you can find or just buying lots of premade food. If it's the latter, then it's not really on point for this argument - premade food is basically restaurant food you reheat at home, for the purposes of this argument, and not the from-scratch cooking being advocated. We spend less than half of that for two adults and a toddler.

I think that the argument that you're not paying for labor when you're doing things yourself is, in addition to being painfully obvious, more than a little bit silly. There's lots of ways to jimmy the numbers when you're talking about hourly cost; are you _losing_ money when you cook for yourself? As in, were going to be paid to do something else with that time? The odds of that are probably pretty slim. There are cases when you are - lots of lawyers eat at their desks - but in the overwhelming majority of cases, that wouldn't be paid time.
posted by mhoye at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What, are they drawing blueprints of the chicken and potatoes?

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I spend a lot of time on meal planning, even though my meals tend to be pretty simple. This isn't because I'm drawing blueprints of the chicken and potatoes, but rather because I've got a bunch of factors to consider when I decide what to make. Will my wife eat it? Is it remotely healthy? Did we have it every week for the last month? Does it require me to spend more than an hour on preparation? (Not that I mind the time, but if I spend an hour on prep we're eating an hour before I go to bed) Finding meals that work for me, and replacing the meals did work, but now people in the house are sick of, is a time consuming process.

I also do literally leave work earlier on nights I'm planning to cook, so yeah, it costs me some money.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


For those of us living in the real world,

I agree with your argument, but this isn't a good way to advance it.
posted by mhoye at 7:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


also I made lasagna last night. Even using oven-ready noodles, took an hour of prep and an hour of baking - and the ingredients alone cost about $15-20 (hamburger, tofu and cottage cheese - cheaper than ricotta- noodles, canned tomatoes, celery, kale, onions, etc).

Way better tasting than the frozen lasagna we buy. But that costs $8 and takes 0.3 min prep and about 20-30 minutes to microwave. When I stop being unemployed, I suspect it will be back on the menu more often.
posted by jb at 7:36 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Doesn't account for the cost of the kitchen and food prep equipment. Good quality knives and pans aren't cheap, but they also make the meals easier to prepare in a healthy way. So an initial investment can reduce food prep and cleanup time.

And I don't like the assumption that cooking and cleaning up time is all sunk cost. Some families make the cooking and cleaning up a part of the Family Meal Experience. Some parents use cooking and clean-up to teach and bond with their children.

Both of those assume a middle class existence, that the people in question don't have to work multiple jobs just to make rent and bills. Fast food is way cheaper if you account for the increased value of time if available time is scarce. And the ability to make "capital investments" in equipment necessary to cook well.
posted by cross_impact at 7:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


What a shock, domestic labor is treated as $0. This isn't just a problem of Bittman's and the NYTimes, but of how we conceptualize value in society. This is why GDP goes down when a man marries his housekeeper.

GDP isn't the sum total of work, it is the sum total of stuff we pay for. Since we are talking about spending money, it doesn't make sense to conjure up money we aren't spending.
posted by gjc at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think one of the reasons this seems even close is the difference between immediate and long-term costs and benefits, both in time and money. Making dinner at home requires a bunch of up-front costs in money and time but the benefit is distributed over time.

Ex: To cook a meal at home you need to:

- Acquire cooking skills (time)
- Acquire cooking equipment (time / money)
- Acquire cooking ingredients (time / money)
- Actually cook a thing

To eat at McDonald's the upfront time / money layout seems lower:

- Go to restaurant (time)
- Purchase food (money)

but the benefits to following the home cooking path are spread out:

-Acquire cooking skills: lasts a lifetime
- Acquire cooking equipment: quality items can last years / a lifetime
- Acquire ingredients: an hour trip to the store can feed you for a week, easy, and get you staples for a month.
- Actually cook a thing: You can easily make meals that will provide leftovers for several days.

People are really bad at choosing the long-term benefit over the short term easy path (example: Cell phone subsidies) and even worse, many people can't afford the upfront costs in time and money to get started.
posted by ghharr at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


The only time my wife and I eat out is on our weekly trip to the grocery (irony ensues...)

Otherwise, I do all the cooking. It's all very simple, single-pot/pan dishes, easy to throw-together late in the day. We DO have a handful of favorites, though, that require a ton of prep time. It's always somewhat bittersweet on those days where I spend a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing a meal, only to watch the family wolf it down in under 20 minutes. Then, another 1/2 hour or so cleaning the kitchen.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2011


I don't know how that's even possible, unless you're either buying superpremium ingredients at the most expensive stores you can find or just buying lots of premade food.

No premade food, ever. We buy mostly organic, and we live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


They are also discounting the cost of getting grocery store food to your table - grocery shopping can be quite an ordeal in areas where people don't have cars or nearby supermarkets. I can imagine the cost of bus fare + taxi ride home for you and your 3 kids could add up enough to make fast food worth it. Also, if you don't have a stable living situation, basic things like pots and pans will need to be replaced often and that can add up.
posted by fermezporte at 7:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


The question isn't what you would have earned if you had spent that time working, the question is what you would have done with the time otherwise.

This isn't as unreasonable as you make it out to be. First of all, a lot of people, like myself, actually can earn more money if we work more. Cooking and cleaning up for only ten hours a week, the amount of time I'd need to spend on that to actually save money, represents potentially a lot of lost income for me, as even spending an extra half-hour a day in the office could represent potentially several thousands of dollars in lost income next year. I'm probably going to spend a good chunk of Saturday afternoon in the office trying to catch up on depositions.

Time cannot be saved like money. It can only be spent, so don't do idiotic things like putting a dollar amount on your free time.

The one-for-one correspondence may not be justified, but the idea that time is a limited commodity which, as you say, has to be spent, has merit. There are 168 hours in a week. I spend fifty to sixty of them working and about fifty of them sleeping. That's over a hundred hours right there. But the work hours aren't evenly distributed, so I really only have about six hours a day during the week to do everything from showering to getting dressed, to commuting, to working out, to whatever. Spending an hour cooking/cleaning is a big chunk of that free time. And unlike others here, I live alone, so cooking can't double as social time with a spouse or roommates. If I watch TV, it's almost always while I'm eating or folding laundry or working out, never just as something to do by itself.

At least once or twice a month I try to spend a few hours on the weekends making a big batch of whatever to last me through the week, and I find that really saves me some money when I can do it. But I can't always manage to squeeze that in.

For me, the solution is a combination of a lot of frozen foods (not TV dinners, actual frozen food), which have the added benefit of letting me buy in larger quantities without worrying about stuff spoiling (saves on shopping time), and prepared meals from the supermarket. They aren't as good as I could make myself, but they tend not to be processed junk food either.

So yes, I would tend to put a fairly significant value on my time, thank you very much. Eating out makes a lot of sense for me, not only financially, but just in terms of time management. I could cook more, but I like going to the gym, writing, etc.

It isn't a question of long-term benefit over short-term gain either. I can cook quite well, thank you very much, and I've got a decently kitted-out kitchen fairly well-stocked with staples. I just usually don't have the time to sit down and make that pot of soup that will last me for two weeks.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Apples and oranges. Next: Are girlfriends really cheaper than prostitutes?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [35 favorites]


GDP isn't the sum total of work, it is the sum total of stuff we pay for

That's my point. We shouldn't confuse it to be something that it's not. As far as measures of economic well-being goes, it's over-used and fails to capture gigantic parts of the economy. Like the situation I gave.

Since we are talking about spending money, it doesn't make sense to conjure up money we aren't spending.

Only if you take exploitation of free labor as a given, which is concerning when it's not evenly distributed and comes at great cost.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2011


People value their leisure time, and although cooking is, for me, fairly calming, it's also work, and the cleaning afterwards is not so much calming. I usually enjoy cooking; I make my own foods from scratch mostly. But you know, sometimes I just don't want to do extra work, I want to sit and read or (gasp!) watch tv or watch video games or sleep for 12 hours, and so I cook a premade meal or order in. And I don't have kids to have to worry about, just cats.

There's nothing wrong with valuing time, and the way we measure value in this society is by money, so that's how people define valuing time doing something they do not want to do, like work, or cooking and cleaning.
posted by jeather at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lest this thread turn into a contest over who's the most frugal grocery shopper, please do note: How much you spend on groceries depends a lot on:

1.) Where you live (how high is the cost of living?)
2.) Which stores are available to you
3.) Whether you can economize by buying in bulk (Are there enough people in your household to eat the food before it spoils? Do you have space to store it?)
4.) Whether you have allergies / special dietary needs (Do you have to avoid wheat? Dairy? Peanuts? That will cost you more.)
5.) How much prepackaged food you buy
6.) How much fresh produce you buy.

The first four factors are not always a choice. The last two factors may or may not be a choice, depending on what foods are readily available in your area and what you have the time and skill to prepare.

The cost of labor argument in this article undoubtedly oversimplifies a complicated situation.

But I do think many of the working poor literally do not have time to cook dinner every night. If you're working two jobs or overtime to make ends meet, you don't have time to cook dinner. If you have to take your clothes to the laundromat, take a two hour bus ride to work, etc., you don't always have time to make dinner. If you're working and in school at the same time, you don't always have time to make dinner. I know this because I've lived that way. At the time I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

Also, low-income housing tends to come with a tiny barely functional kitchen, which sort of discourages people from enjoying cooking. It's not like someone making minimum wage can afford a set of good knives and a KitchenAid.
posted by BlueJae at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [26 favorites]


The authors suck at ordering from McDonald's. $28? Yes, if you're one of those combo chumps. Order off the dollar menu and drink water. $8. $12 with sundaes for all.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


I think we have to keep in mind the most important thing: people who eat fast food are terrible people.

If they're poor, they are proving that they are a bunch of wretched spendthrifts who deserve their own poverty, and if they're not poor, they have no taste and are destroying their health, no doubt to raise insurance costs for the rest of us in the future.

Wheatgrass, people. It's as simple as that.

Next question.
posted by edheil at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [39 favorites]


...and we live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I see; that would also do it. In that case, I would not be surprised to find out that we're buying a lot of the same stuff, in that case, and your costs are a function of geography.

Hooray for confounding factors!
posted by mhoye at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In Canada, absolutely. For the $15-20 it can cost to feed a family of three, I can make a /really/ good meal with left-overs for lunches the next day.

When I went to a Taco Bell in the US, I understood why people think its economical. It is way cheaper to fill up on shit food from your local Krusty Burger.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2011


> Wheatgrass, people. It's as simple as that.

Heh. Now I'm curious to see what a diet consisting mainly of wheatgrass shots and McDonald's burger patties (no bun or condiments, just the meat) would be like. Probably not that bad, actually.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:48 AM on October 7, 2011


I think this article obliquely hints at something I've been thinking recently: food reformers need to think about realistic alternatives to pitch. Cooking is great in so many ways, but the fact is most people are too busy-- or think they're too busy, which is ultimately the same thing-- to cook. Instead of saying "don't get McDonald's, cook a full chicken dinner!" we need to be saying "don't get McDonald's, pack some cheese and fruit from the store!" I'm someone who loves to cook and feels strongly about food attitudes, eating healthily and ethically, etc., and I barely cook ever at this point in my life. Just too busy. We need to accept that people are on the go and give them accessible tips that recognize that.
posted by threeants at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


Er, "not that bad" meaning not unhealthy.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It’s cheaper to eat fast food because it’s subsidized out the wammy.
posted by amazingstill at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


One fried chicken dinner is mostly going to be the same as another.

Yes and no. You're right that unhealthy food is unhealthy, but processed food companies and chain restaurants have spent a lot of money on research to pack as much fat, salt and sugar into their food as they can. Outback Steakhouse ribs literally contain about 2000 calories, which is 2/3 of what it used to be. You couldn't do that at home if you fried them in butter and seasoned them with the pig's actual tears.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:53 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think this article obliquely hints at something I've been thinking recently: food reformers need to think about realistic alternatives to pitch. Cooking is great in so many ways, but the fact is most people are too busy-- or think they're too busy, which is ultimately the same thing-- to cook.

Why, it's as if "food reformers" are less interested in improving nutrition than they are in making it clear how enlightened they are. Who would have guessed?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:57 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


The fast-food proponets are claiming that "your time is worth more than x". Fine, it takes me 20 minutes to prepare dinner (rice, veggies, set table) for three, and then 10 minutes more to clean up afterwards, for a total of 30 minutes. Cost of food is about $1.75 for the three of us, maybe another 50 cents in power, and another 15 cents in water and shit. Let's be generous and call it $3.00 for three people to eat rice and veggies. A typical wage would make that 30 minutes work/prep time "worth" about $7 or so. $10 total

If I go McD's, then it will cost $6.98 * 3 + tax = or about $23 for us.

But wait, there's more!

In order to GET TO McDs, I have to DRIVE for about 7 miles for 15 minutes - one way. So it's 14 minutes + 30 minutes. So that's ALSO $7 in my "worth" time, and about $2.00 in gas, best case.

So the grand total of going out to McDs for three is $32.00, vs $10 for doing it at home.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the rare occasions an Oatmeal comic is directly relevant.

Poor bison....
posted by magstheaxe at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cooking is a natural, wholesome social activity, the added labor needed in a home-cooked meal should be considered a positive.
posted by kuatto at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2011


I spend 10 hours a day in an Aeron chair. The LAST thing I want to do when I get home is sit down. One of the reasons I love to cook is because an hour on my feet, moving around, right after work really makes me feel a million times better than just sitting down again and eating some random crap.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:02 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If we're factoring in the cost of people's labors, the only logical conclusion is that we should all eat only bananas all the time.

But then we'll have all those peels, and someone has to pay the garbage collectors.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2011


Cooking is a natural, wholesome social activity, the added labor needed in a home-cooked meal should be considered a positive.

Unless you feel that cooking your own food is a giant waste of time when you can pay someone else to do it. After I come home from working all day, the last thing I want to do is cook something. If my husband didn't do all the cooking, I would be eating takeout or something frozen from Trader Joes until the end of time.
posted by crankylex at 8:08 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cooking is a natural, wholesome social activity, the added labor needed in a home-cooked meal should be considered a positive.

I feel the same way about programming. Yet somehow I don't think anyone would believe that poor people should be shamed for buying a $1 iPhone app when they code have coded it from scratch.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:10 AM on October 7, 2011 [41 favorites]


Old'n'Busted - there are five fast food restaurants directly on my path home. It adds an extra 5 minutes to my commute to stop at any of them. I also note that you factored in the gathering time for fast food, but not the gathering time for groceries. Which is something that this article was attempting to rectify.

I think your comment also suffers from a common problem of comparing apples to oranges. You mentioned the cost of preparing "rice and veggies," and compared that to McDonalds. This ignores one compelling reason why people will prefer McDonalds - it is loaded with fats and sugars that just feel comforting. It's completely understanding that people would want to pay more for that sense of comfort. That's why the Mother Jones article compared like-to-like.

If my husband didn't do all the cooking, I would be eating takeout or something frozen from Trader Joes until the end of time.

Yeah, it seems to me like there's a fundamental disconnect between people who have internalized cooking to the point that it is a mindless chore (or even a liesure activity), and people who see it as work.
posted by muddgirl at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


It depends what you cook and how you cook. It depends if you take advantage of a good freezer. But one thing is easily demonstrable: it is vastly cheaper to cook than to rely on fast food, provided you shop sensibly and cook sensibly. And, you know, you're not dining on prime steak and caviare every night.

Of course, there's also the fact that home-cooked food is tastier, more nutritious and better for you. People who eat fast food with any sort of regularity need to sort themselves out.
posted by Decani at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2011


> The authors suck at ordering from McDonald's. $28? Yes, if you're one of those combo chumps. Order off the dollar menu and drink water. $8. $12 with sundaes for all.

For $8 I could whip up a spicy rice, beans and vegetable dish that would feed four people. I understand that a lot of people don't have enough time, access to a decent grocery store and/or suitable kitchen facilities where they live, but fast food is never going to be cheaper than cooking at home in the long run.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:24 AM on October 7, 2011


It depends what you cook and how you cook. It depends if you take advantage of a good freezer.

Heck, not even that. If you possess one good, large slow cooker and/or one rice cooker, you reduct the "time spent prepping the meal" portion from the equation almost entirely.

I've recently discovered that I can use my rice cooker for more than rice. For a quick, easy supper when I get home, I take my rice cooker and throw in rice, frozen mixed vegatables, frozen fish, and assorted spices. Total prep time: five minutes. It takes about thirty or forty minutes to cook, and during that time I do something productive, like walk the dog or mow the lawn. Supper's ready when I get back.

Adding labor costs for this approach to cooking just doesn't make sense, IMO.
posted by magstheaxe at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought this was going to be about sustainability and food industry wages.
Instead it's about... what? I'm honestly not clear on the author's point.

Home cooking is cheaper than fast food, unless you're passing up paid hours at work to cook and your hourly wage is more than X amount.

Seriously?

It gets even more inane if you add the "For X time spent cooking," factor. Because frankly, there are a lot of things you can cook at home that don't take an hour to prep.

This is either incredibly vapid, or I'm missing some grand unifying point here.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I spend 10 hours a day in an Aeron chair.

Well, la de da! Probably drinking wheatgrass juice too!

;)
posted by jeremias at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]




If we're factoring in the cost of people's labors, the only logical conclusion is that we should all eat only bananas all the time.

But then we'll have all those peels, and someone has to pay the garbage collectors.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:04 AM on October 7 [+] [!]


THOSE GO IN THE COMPOST.

Ahem. Sorry. Not sure what happened there.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:28 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think the appropriate arguments is "Don't eat McDonald's / KFC." The appropriate argument is "Stop eating junk."

If McDonald's or KFC can put wholesome, good food on the menu for cheap, then we all win. McDonald's and KFC are in a better position to create wholesome, good food on the cheap, and I think that with enough time and effort, they will.

Who else can drive down the price of organic beef? Who else can better promote the humane handling of chicken?

I feel like the fast food chains are stuck in a cycle where they want to mechanize and add chemicals to everything, thinking that it makes for more sales. I don't think that's the case; look at Chipotle (which is relatively expensive, but also fast and pretty wholesome).

What I'm saying is, don't demonize fast food outright. Those chains have the best network and best means of creating the positive change of cheap, healthy eating.

I mean, they won't do it, but they could if they wanted to.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Next: Are girlfriends really cheaper than prostitutes?

At least at the cheaper end of the sex trade, I'm sure that weekly visits to a prostitute would be far cheaper than date nights, presents, etc. But on the other hand, if your girlfriend has a job, then she's a net economic plus to the household, and then you could afford to see better quality prostitutes, right?

Yeah, it seems to me like there's a fundamental disconnect between people who have internalized cooking to the point that it is a mindless chore (or even a liesure activity), and people who see it as work.

I agree totally, and think this must be a lot of the disconnect in these kinds of discussions. There are many things I can cook hungover, distracted, and half-asleep, simply because I've been cooking my entire life. I'm not an amazing cook, by any stretch of the imagination, but I am fast and efficient, and I can do routine day-to-day cooking without giving it much of any thought. That changes the time-economics of cooking and shopping, compared to having to figure things out from scratch, pore over recipes and lists, etc.
posted by Forktine at 8:35 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was paid overtime I was faced with a dillemma every day:
-Go home and cook
-Earn more money at 1.5x and buy food (high quality 'fast' food), but also pay down student loans faster

Now that I am salaried, I can enjoy cooking and I go home when I want to. It is liberating
posted by niccolo at 8:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


celiac disease here so there is not really any question about whether it is best to eat at home or out
eating out can be a crap shoot (literally)
posted by robbyrobs at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


also I made lasagna last night. Even using oven-ready noodles, took an hour of prep and an hour of baking - and the ingredients alone cost about $15-20 (hamburger, tofu and cottage cheese - cheaper than ricotta- noodles, canned tomatoes, celery, kale, onions, etc).

Way better tasting than the frozen lasagna we buy. But that costs $8 and takes 0.3 min prep and about 20-30 minutes to microwave. When I stop being unemployed, I suspect it will be back on the menu more often.


Yup. I made a chicken pot pie for dinner this Sunday. I started prep at 3:00 PM; we sat down to dinner at 7:00 PM. Did it taste better than Swanson's? It sure did. Am I planning to make that recipe again anytime soon? Not on your life.

I have the good fortune to be a stay-at-home mom, to genuinely love food and cooking, to have easy access to grocery stores and farmers' markets. And even I sometimes wish I could buy a fifty-pound bag of Human Chow and be done with it.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [16 favorites]


We tend to only value those things that we put a dollar amount on while simultaneously devaluing work done by women.

You're making the same fallacy by assuming that if we don't put a dollar amount on housework, we're not valuing it at all.
posted by John Cohen at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It depends what you cook and how you cook. It depends if you take advantage of a good freezer. But one thing is easily demonstrable: it is vastly cheaper to cook than to rely on fast food, provided you shop sensibly and cook sensibly. And, you know, you're not dining on prime steak and caviare every night.

Of course, there's also the fact that home-cooked food is tastier, more nutritious and better for you. People who eat fast food with any sort of regularity need to sort themselves out.


I eat fast food for dinner maybe once a week, so I'm not even sure if this judgmental nonsense you're spewing is directed at me, but it still gets under my skin. People eat fast food because it's easy, and because they are overworked, and because they don't have the time to put into meal preparation and planning. I get home around 7:00, which leaves me about three hours to cook, eat, and clean dishes before I should really be done, assuming an hour to eat and clean, I've got two hours to prepare dinner and do everything else I want to do in an evening. I try to cook, but anything more than cooking a little pasta or some rice, and throwing some meat/sauce on it gets exhausting fast. If I had much less time it would be complete untenable.

I also think you're just completely wrong in saying that home-cooked food is tastier. Obviously that's a personal judgment, but most people aren't very good cooks, I know I'm not. The food I make it fine, but it's not as tasty as a McDonald's cheeseburger. McDonald's cheeseburgers are scientifically designed to be delicious. YYou're also completely ignoring the fact that most people's taste is set to like McDonald's, I know plenty of adults who wouldn't come close to eating any of these mythical "Rice, beans, veggies" meals that the foodie hipsters around here think are so outstanding. Those tastes are pretty much set, because it's what people have been eating their whole lives. Selling my wife on food I make, when a pizza tastes 100% better, will feed everyone in the house, and costs like 5 bucks more than whatever I'm making? That's a challenge.

So, yeah, let's just tell people to "sort themselves" out, that's definitely not just a way of being an asshole about other people's choices.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:45 AM on October 7, 2011 [23 favorites]


I think the takeaway here (no pun intended) is that people who enjoy cooking as a leisure activity are a bunch of lucky ducks. If you are not one of those people, consider this: drinking wine while cooking does not count as alcohol consumption.
posted by joelhunt at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


I can't afford a vehicle, so buying groceries requires riding multiple buses (and bus service here has continued to decrease for the past several years). That also means that I can't buy so many groceries that I won't be able to carry them home. So, this is a task that takes several hours, is physically exhausting, and needs to be repeated every couple of weeks.

Alternately, there is a Burger King about half a mile away, to which I could walk and get enough for one meal for less than the cost of the bus ride to the supermarket and back.

(I do cook, most of the time. It's almost always rice and beans, as they're both pretty easy to get in carry-able quantities that'll last a little while.)
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]




I think the takeaway here (no pun intended) is that people who enjoy cooking as a leisure activity are a bunch of lucky ducks. If you are not one of those people, consider this: drinking wine while cooking does not count as alcohol consumption.
posted by joelhunt at 8:46 AM on October 7 [+] [!]


It's mandatory. You have to make sure that the wine isn't corked. and that all of the flavors are going to work together.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2011


THOSE GO IN THE COMPOST.

Ahem. Sorry. Not sure what happened there.


You must be my housemate who actually knows what goes in which waste receptacle. Seriously, when I don't know where something goes, I just throw it in the trash can in front of her and wait for her to correct me.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2011


I also think you're just completely wrong in saying that home-cooked food is tastier. Obviously that's a personal judgment, but most people aren't very good cooks

I think this is a good point. An In-n-Out burger is tastier than the vast majority of homemade burgers people make at home. Is it possible to make a better burger? Sure. Some people can make a better burger. Do most people manage it? No. The same is true for homemade lasagna, chicken, you name it.

Most people make food that tastes like crap.
posted by Justinian at 8:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If McDonald's or KFC can put wholesome, good food on the menu for cheap, then we all win.

They can't. People will not eat it. You cannot even get people to eat more vegetables IF YOU PAY THEM.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is either incredibly vapid, or I'm missing some grand unifying point here.

I won't speak for the author of this piece, but I can tell you what frustrates me and perhaps some others in this thread.

Bittman and others seem to be bolstering a widely-held belief that the poor and stupid and their stupidity keeps them poor. Decisions of low-income families are held up for derision and as proof that there is some correctness to a vicious circle of poverty. Bad decisions by the poor keep them poor. That's the argument. Interventions are proposed to help the poor by breaking them of their bad habits.

Not everyone agrees with this. It's not that the poor aren't stupid - we all are stupid. It's that the poor aren't poor because of irrational decision-making. People are poor because the poor pay far more for the same services than the rest of us - an idea perhaps best expressed in Nickled and Dimed. BlueJae expresses some of this above.

What's even more frustrating is the hand-waiving Bittman uses to advance this argument: If the poor just exploited free labor, they'd save money! This is obviously gendered when talking about cooking, but it's frustrating for other reasons too. The working poor often do difficult jobs that they dislike, paid low wages to do work that white collar workers wouldn't do for 5x the salary. These individuals may have a different attitude about working additional hours to cook and clean than those who make far more money to do less grueling jobs. Busboys may have a different attitude about spending another hour a day cooking and cleaning than those who work in an office.

Bittman is projecting the values of the rich onto the poor and shaming them for contributing to their own poverty. He does that by ignoring both basic math and the history of exploiting women's work.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2011 [46 favorites]


madcaptenor:

One thing that working at a university has taught me:

You won't get anywhere by asking a question, it's better to make wildly misinformed statements and wait to be corrected.

That applies double for metafilter.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:52 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


The core problem is that a nuclear family eats too little to get any real economies of scale from cooking. You waste a lot of ingredients. It's a challenge to keep a simple, fresh salad in the fridge for under $40 a week outside of farmer's market season, especially if you only have limited access to stores that carry reasonable produce.

I've always wanted to start a "dinner club" where families/individuals each cook one night at each others' houses, with ingredient costs split among the eaters. I even managed to get one running for a couple of months once, but of course one of the members couldn't cook, another moved away, and the whole thing fell apart. While it was going, we had a variety of yummy homemade meals for $3-4 each -- super awesome!
posted by miyabo at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


You're making the same fallacy by assuming that if we don't put a dollar amount on housework, we're not valuing it at all.

I'm not making that fallacy or making any assumptions. I asserted that we don't value housework. You're more than welcome to correct me and show how we, as a society, fairly value housework. I'd love to see all the evidence you've marshaled to defend your position.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


allen.spaulding:

The only part I somewhat disagree on is the role of gender in this. I don't think that cooking for the household is necessarily a woman's domain right now. Maybe that's why somebody has decided to try to put a dollar value on it? :)

If you want to discuss the value of women's labor, I'd look at so called pink-collar jobs, and not the economic value of home cooking. In this modern n, enlightened age the value of women's work by the kind of jobs that they're still overwhelmingly stuck in, not by the value of kitchen and housework.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2011


Manhattan really shoud be left out of any conversations about the price of food. A can of tuna here is almost 5 bucks. I could easily spend 200-300 a week on myself alone.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:01 AM on October 7, 2011


Was going to say "done in one" to DU's post, but then middleclasstool posted:
"I've never understood this line of reasoning. The only way you are in any meaningful sense out that extra money is if you would have spent that time earning money. The average US worker also watches about five hours of TV a day. By this rationale, TV watching is even more expensive than cooking.

Lots of interesting comments followed, but the point remains: my off-work time is inherently payless. Always will be, whether I am at the gym, helping rebuild a devastated area, shooting up, watching TV...

But it's not costless, obviously; it's a limited resource. Nonetheless, there's not a dollar value one can ascribe to it, unless one is actually turning down paying work in order to have more time off.

Money is simply an inappropriate metric for free time.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:12 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can tell you what frustrates me and perhaps some others in this thread.

What frustrates me in this thread--like all threads about food these days--is that food is rapidly becoming the moral social issue for the twenty first century. In the twentieth century it was sex. Now most people don't care all that much. But eating at McDonald's? By choice? Unironically? More than once a year?

May as well accuse someone of having "loose morals".

If we're going to be Pharisaical about something, can't we at least do it about something that has classically been considered to have a moral valence? We've already got enough fraught decisions to make without being told that we're all Bad People for eating the wrong stuff.
posted by valkyryn at 9:16 AM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


middleclasstool: "I've never understood this line of reasoning. The only way you are in any meaningful sense out that extra money is if you would have spent that time earning money. "

I'm not paid by the hour, but 12-hour days are growing increasingly common for me, and there are other things I like to do with my life that aren't work or food-related. Suffice it to say, I value my time, and I don't have much of it.

...and I don't even have a family to support. I'm in my early 20s, and my days largely consist of working, keeping up a modest exercise routine, house chores, and scraping together the remainder of my time to spend with my significant other.

Cooking, let alone grocery shopping (if we're using fresh ingredients) is really hard to cram into that schedule.

Occasionally, I'll find time to cram into that schedule to cook a meal from scratch, and I'm always grateful when I can, but that honestly doesn't happen all that often these days. I'm lucky enough to make enough money to eat out at places that are a notch above fast food (or buy yummy pre-made crap from Trader Joes), but I can easily see how one would be left with no reasonable alternative to fast food, especially in a poor neighborhood where there are no other options (or even grocery stores).

That said, even though I can "afford" to eat out with the frequency that I currently do, I've had to make some serious sacrifices to do so. I'd like to think that I earn a fairly decent wage, but my standard of living is almost absurdly modest; I don't drive, live in a shoebox that I share, buy "last year's" clothes, etc. However, the choice isn't between eating out and making a home-cooked meal from scratch. Frankly, that's not an option unless I want to cut back on the amount of sleep and "personal time" in my day even further. The choice is between McDonalds, a pre-made dinner, or the nice sandwich place down the street. My health and sanity usually guide me toward the latter choice.
posted by schmod at 9:17 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The economy issue is totally applicable to me, as a middle-class, college educated person with a nice-ish kitchen, access to a car, who had parents and grandparents who were all competent cooks, and who spends most of the day sitting at desks.

For people like me, cooking is easy and accessible, and makes a million kinds of sense. In fact, when my son was young, I made a calculated decision to elevate my skills from competent to good cook, and it worked. I learned not only to make better food, but I learned to enjoy doing it as leisure activity.

Not everyone has that privilege, though. If I'd had to come home tired and physically overworked every day; if I'd had to work multiple jobs to survive; if I hadn't had family who knew how to cook; if I didn't have the luxury of having a decent kitchen with tools and a respectable selection of condiments and spices and so forth, I don't know that I could have made it stick.

In fact, recently, I started doing physically taxing volunteer work a few times a month or so, and on the days I do that, I order pizza. I'm too tired, too hungry, and too overwhelmed to get in the kitchen even for the 20 minutes or so it'd take me to make a tasty, cheap, nutritious meal.

I'm in absolutely no position to judge someone who doesn't have the wealth of privilege I do. I can't sit around and dictate to people who live in food deserts, who have to haul their groceries home on public transportation, who spend all day on their feet or working with their hands, or who don't even have a functioning kitchen to work with.

I mean, I'd love to find a solution. There are these kind of weird little businesses I've seen in the suburbs where you can go in, use a communal kitchen and prepare simple meals for your family with help from the staff. Which I don't really understand in an area where everyone already has a kitchen; but what if there were free facilities like that in urban centers, available to food stamp recipients or even just the public, offering basic cooking instruction and assistance, as well as access to kitchen facilities?

Maybe that's a little crazy, but my point is that we should remember that there are a whole lot of people out there who don't have a lot of the privileges we take for granted; and the first step is to find a way to share them.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:30 AM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


What frustrates me in this thread--like all threads about food these days--is that food is rapidly becoming the moral social issue for the twenty first century.
...
If we're going to be Pharisaical about something, can't we at least do it about something that has classically been considered to have a moral valence?


valkryn, eating has always been a moral thing. Temperance has always been one of the seven virtues, and gluttony one of the seven vices. This is not new.

Also, eating fast food has always been considered bad for you, and cooking your own meals at home has always been considered good for you. Also not new things.

The focus on it is justified, in light of the alleged obesity epidemic, influx of diabetes cases, and prevalence of heart disease.

I agree, though, that the morality of eating is not as simple as fast food or not.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:34 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing that working at a university has taught me: You won't get anywhere by asking a question, it's better to make wildly misinformed statements and wait to be corrected.

This is Aahz's Law and was formulated on Usenet around 20 years ago. Maybe 25.
posted by Justinian at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The only part I somewhat disagree on is the role of gender in this. I don't think that cooking for the household is necessarily a woman's domain right now. Maybe that's why somebody has decided to try to put a dollar value on it? :)

I completely agree with him, though. Not just in terms of strict monetary value, but in terms of something like skill capital, we do severely undervalue the things we think of as traditional women's work, including not just sustenance cooking, but other domestic skills, from cleaning to sewing to even just decorating and making a home pleasant to be in. We tend to think of them as unimportant and even frivolous compared to skills traditionally considered male domain, and as a result, fewer and fewer of us bother to learn to do them. But those skills are absolutely vital to maintain a good quality of life. They make a huge, important difference in just enjoying our day to day lives, even apart from the health and economic benefits.

Simply in terms of economy, it IS cheap and easy to outsource or half-ass all of these tasks, and that has been a huge factor in freeing women to enter the workforce and pursue other interests outside of the home. However, it's also left us, as a society, kind of pathetic and incompetent. There have been recent trends toward re-valuing them, though. That's a whole lot of what hipsters do, in fact, and it's one of the big reasons that I heartily endorse hipsters.

BOOM! I snuck a fight in there, right at the end when nobody was expecting it!
posted by ernielundquist at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


Fast food is just cheaper and easier. Sometimes I haven't had access to an oven or stove, just a microwave. For a while, I didn't even have that. Right now, I have intermittent kitchen access at best and only a tiny shelf in a fridge and a little freezer space, I have to drive to the store a few times a week if I want to cook. Cooking for one with that set up is really hard. Buying ingredients in tiny amounts has a huge markup, large amounts take up all my space and then some. It gets silly fast. And a lot of time, when people cost out food, they price out how much of each ingredient is used, rather than how much you actually shell out. Yeah, 1/2 cup flour is cheap, but a whole bag is not. Yeah, oil is cheap, but you can't buy a tablespoon. Don't get me started on spices. When you have no supplies, you have to save up to buy all your basics, and that is one hell of a bill, especially if you compare each item to fast food. Spending $10 on 10 lbs of rice seems absurd when you think that you can eat a week of fast food for the same price, and you've still only purchased rice, but it's that, spending $3 on 13 oz of rice, or Del Taco.

Fast food on the other hand is simple. 99 cents at Taco Bell will get you 600 calories of warm, immediate, horrific goodness. And if you want to splurge, for 99 cents more you can get dessert and round it off to an even 1k cal. No time, no space, no prerequisites, no chance you could mess it up. No, it's not good for you, but sometimes, it is a logical choice.
posted by Garm at 9:55 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


eating has always been a moral thing. Temperance has always been one of the seven virtues, and gluttony one of the seven vices. This is not new.

Only sort of. Since Christianity became the dominant religion in Western culture, i.e. approximately two thousand years ago, eating any particular kind of food was not generally considered to be a moral issue. Gluttony was a sin, not because of what you ate, but because of how much you ate. Really though, gluttony has never been strictly limited to food or even consumables like alcohol. It's basically any giving-over of the self to the senses, be it food, drink, sex, or even just leisure in general. So no, the issue there really isn't eating per se.

What we've got going here is looking a lot more like Mosaic/Talmudic dietary codes, i.e. certain foods and combinations of them are unclean, in and of themselves. This isn't even a call for temperance, i.e. moderation, it's usually a categorical prohibition.

eating fast food has always been considered bad for you, and cooking your own meals at home has always been considered good for you.

Umm, cite please? And that aside, I think you're equivocating here. Something being "bad for you" or "good for you" can mean any number of different things, not all of which have any kind of moral value attached to them.
posted by valkyryn at 9:58 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


You're right, I have no cite for "fast food is bad for you" and "cooking at home is good for you."
posted by jabberjaw at 10:07 AM on October 7, 2011




eating fast food has always been considered bad for you, and cooking your own meals at home has always been considered good for you.


Clearly you weren't in my house for the two weeks after I discovered that you could deep fry almost anything in peanut oil.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:07 AM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


More the "always considered" part.
posted by valkyryn at 10:10 AM on October 7, 2011


I think there's a lot of merit to the advocacy of home ec in schools, to get people away from fast food. As many have pointed out above, cooking takes time and effort, and for a lot of people it's more stressful than relaxing. But the time, effort and stress of cooking all go way down with your skill level, in ways that aren't necessarily obvious if you're a newbie cook.

The first time you chop an onion, it might literally take 10 minutes, particularly if your knife sucks. The 100th time you chop an onion, it probably won't take more than a minute and you can carry on a conversation while you do it.

If you can get people over that initial hump, and help them internalize the idea that picking up new cooking skills will save them time later, you can make it seem a lot less daunting to cook.
posted by gurple at 10:13 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the things that is often left out of discussions about the time/money involved in cooking food at home vs getting fast food is that you can't really compare one home cooked meal to one fast food meal.
Once you get into cooking regularly there's the possibility of becoming rather clever and efficient at it. Some of it has been hinted at earlier in this thread.

It starts with basic choices such as shopping in bulk and less frequently and thus saving on transportation/time. Other options include subscribing for pickup/delivery via a local coop. Lots of these have been springing up around the country lately. I have such a subscription and find that it beats supermarkets in price and quality.

Then there is cooking in bulk. I tend to plan the "menus" with as many dishes that can be cooked in large quantities as possible. Any dish that can be cooked in large quantities will be cooked in large quantities. Part of it gets eaten right away, some goes in the fridge for same week consumption, the rest into the freezer for when I don't have time to cook.

Another possible step is learning which dishes share ingredients and/or prepping steps. Making pasta with chunky tomato sauce and a side salad? Why not make it a salad with tomato in it? Cut up a few more tomatoes along with the ones for the sauce, done. Less steps... less time.

Or how about reducing waste and saving money and time in the process. I have started keeping all my vegetable clippings like the ends of carrots and leeks, onion and garlic peels, parsley stems, the leaves off of celery, the outer bits of celeriacs, the various bits I don't want to use for the main courses because they're damaged/don't look nice. I put them in tupperware or vacuum seal them and throw them in the freezer. I use them on the weekend to make large batches of delicious home-made vegetable stock which is simple and quick to do. Maybe 10 mins prep and 90mins worth of pre-roasting and then simmering is all you need. I freeze the stock as well and use it whenever we'd like to have a soup as a starter. Cut up some veggies, simmer in the stock, throw in some rice or pasta... done.

And the list could go on.
The point is that once you learn how to become more efficient at cooking in all these and more ways you end up not spending a whole lot of money and time anymore. Cooking dinner at home can quickly become as easy or complex as you want it to be.
Comparing the cooking of a single meal from scratch to going out for fast food does not take any of this into account at all.

I grew up in a household that wasn't what I'd call poor but it certainly wasn't well off either. Over the course of the 18 years I lived there I can't remember a single meal that wasn't cooked from scratch (if you exclude items like cold cuts bought at the butchers or cheeses etc) or put together from leftovers. Everything was fresh. We never once went to eat fast food and ate out at restaurants rarely because we couldn't really afford it. It taught me that you can have a job and still cook fresh food and do so quickly and cheaply. But it's a skill set and needs to be practiced.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:20 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What frustrates me in this thread--like all threads about food these days--is that food is rapidly becoming the moral social issue for the twenty first century.

Well, sort of. I think that the moral issue is consumption of goods and resources, and that food is one of the domains of human action where consumers* a) actually do have a wealth of choices, b) can make immediate changes to their habits, c) can at least somewhat easily make morally better decisions, d) get the chance to make those choices three times a day, e) are confronted with a wealth of (mis)information about the consequences of their choices, and f) in the course of making different (ideally morally better) decisions, will probably receive some surprising pleasures in discovering that you really like foods that you would otherwise never eat.

I take this to mean that people are generally interested in doing the morally right thing. After a solid two generations of being defined as "consumers", we are starting to say, "okay, maybe that's what I am. What is the moral way to consume? I want to do this right."

As someone who is generally pretty pessimistic about mankind, I find it very encouraging that people are asking this question.

* consumers in the first world, I mean, since that's what we're talking about.
posted by gauche at 10:31 AM on October 7, 2011


Clearly you weren't in my house for the two weeks after I discovered that you could deep fry almost anything in peanut oil.

If only. Please tell me you deep fried a cookie of some sort.

More the "always considered" part.

I guess that fast food hasn't always been universally considered bad, but in the same way that cigarettes have not always been universally accepted as bad.

I dabble in the more-than-occasional fast food. I appreciate the calorie intake, taste, and satiation of baser cravings. I may even consider it a meal. But do any of us suffer the illusion that the meal is a good one? Do we not all think that we could / should be eating better?

I think valkryn is mostly right though. Moralizing is a shitty thing to do when it comes to what we eat. I believe that the moralization isn't new and is not baseless; but that doesn't make it a good idea. People are not good or bad people based on what they eat. Moralizing eating fast food is not the same as, say, moralizing the consumption of shark fins.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2011


I am one of those super fortunate people with a lovely kitchen, copious quantities of spices and sauces, a well stocked freezer and pantry, and excellent overall cooking skills. Generally speaking, I love to cook. But then I have one of those days that is far too full of classes of miserably whiny teenagers, cranky toddlers, over-long and crowded transit rides, etc. etc. (you get the point--and I know full well my worst day is nowhere near as bad as many people's best). On days like those, fast food is absolutely cheaper than preparing a meal at home. In terms of the actual dollars spent on the food itself, maybe not. In terms of the overall personal cost, most definitely. I fully believe that in an ideal world, more people would cook at home as part of an overall movement towards healthier eating, but I simply don't feel comfortable judging those who don't.
posted by Go Banana at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


How to get people to eat more nutritious, home-cooked meals: end poverty.

Man, is there nothing that won't fix?
posted by munchingzombie at 10:40 AM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


How to get people to eat more nutritious, home-cooked meals: end poverty.

I'm not sure how this follows. Granted, people who aren't desperately poor have more options, food-wise, for a lot of reasons. But there's an additional problem of convincing many, many people who have the means to cook at home to do so more often. That problem is roughly what the article is about.
posted by gurple at 11:00 AM on October 7, 2011


Apples and oranges. Next: Are girlfriends really cheaper than prostitutes?

I worked out the numbers once. The cost of getting a woman to become your girlfriend and the cost of getting a prostitute are about the same in the short term.

But, like the example here, the girlfriend has many more long term benefits. She'll hang out with you and care about what you're up to. She likely won't have STD's. You will probably be in a better frame of mind mentally with your girlfriend.

So, while the short term costs are about equal, the long term costs of having a girlfriend is MUCH cheaper than trying to get the same sort of relationship from a prostitute. Kind of like it's much cheaper to have fast food now, but the medical costs in the future make it an undesirable alternative.
posted by reenum at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, also I have a free web site idea for anyone who wants to make it. The site would help organize those of us who make food in bulk at home. First, you would select or enter bulk recipes (frozen soup, sauces, lasagna, etc.). Every time you cook, you'd fill out a screen that would let the program know how many and which types of meals you made. You'd have to regularly let the site know about your current inventory of frozen meals, too.

The site would help you plan out cooking and eating so it's as efficient as possible. For example, it would warn you in advance if you're going to have a freezer full of only chicken soup at the end of the month. It would tell you to eat more spaghetti sauce if you're not eating it fast enough and it's going to go bad. If you say you're going shopping Saturday and making lasagna the next Friday, it will let you know that the spinach will go bad before you get a chance to use it. It could also let you know about your average cost per meal and calories per meal.

Fast food chains have ERP software, why can't we have it at home?
posted by miyabo at 11:05 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Other options include subscribing for pickup/delivery via a local coop. Lots of these have been springing up around the country lately. I have such a subscription and find that it beats supermarkets in price and quality.

Similar to the coop discussion, I get a box of food every week from a local CSA. The quality is good and I'm happy to help support them. But honestly, it's a big pain in the ass and if I didn't have all the luxuries of plenty of time, no kids, a short commute, a big freezer, etc, I'd cancel that sucker in a heartbeat. I have to go and pick it up at an inconvenient time and place, I never know what will be in the box, and I'm always having to spend time poking around on the internet trying to learn how to cook some weird vegetable I've never met before. It's ok as a hobby, but it would be a shitty way to try and feed a family if you were short of time and money.

the girlfriend has many more long term benefits. ... She likely won't have STD's.

Those average STD rates? You know, the ones where about 21 percent of women have genital herpes, and about 50 percent will be infected with HPV? Most of those are girlfriends, not prostitutes. So don't forget to wrap it up just because you aren't paying cash...
posted by Forktine at 11:24 AM on October 7, 2011


A 14" pepperoni pizza from Little Caesar's is $5, and only requires as much waiting as it takes to get through the line. That's two slices apiece for a family of 4. Even the bean-and-veggie person hasn't matched that.
posted by darksasami at 11:38 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a car, a Costco membership, two kids, and a lot of daytime flexibility. I'm an at-home mom, and I have a LOT of cooking skills. As I've said before in other threads, if you add up all the time I spend planning, shopping, and cooking for meals, it's probably 10-15 hours a week. That's not a lot, but if you add it up on top of an existing 50 hour work week (maybe 65 hours with your commute), it really is a lot of extra time.

I don't have a job, like I said. But my life is very busy, between school and the gym and all the appointments the kids need (Occupational therapy! Haircuts! Clothes shopping!) and my own responsibilities. I have to plan out when to pull what out of the freezer, figure out what we need to buy to make all the planned meals, research what's on sale where, go out to the farm to pick up our CSA share. I have to set phone reminders to do things like roast the squash for tonight's squash-and-sausage soup first thing in the morning, because I'm not going to get another opportunity to do it until 4 and then I'll be scrambling. And all that planning takes time, and it takes mental energy.

It doesn't take a LOT of time, but it takes maybe an hour a week, and it takes an hour that I know I'm going to have at the beginning of it. One of the things with a busy household is that sometimes you don't know you'll have a whole hour until it's over, and then all of a sudden it's 4:30 PM on Thursday and you have no plan for dinner and no idea what's even in the house, and you can't leave work until 5:45 or you won't have your hours and then you still have to go get your kids, and it's rush hour so you're not going to be at the daycare until 6:20, and then they're already going to be starving and you won't be at the house until almost seven and you want me to START trying to figure out what to do then?

Screw it. We're driving through McDonald's. Enjoy your nuggets, kids.
posted by KathrynT at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I spend about $200-$300 a week on groceries for my husband and myself.

We spend from $100-$150 per week for a family of seven.


Buying organic everything actually makes a very significant difference.

Everyone who can afford to (and most of us can if we sacrifice elsewhere) should buy everything you can organic. It's better for you, the planet, and the workers.

Would anyone be surprised if the answer was yes?

Regardless of the time spent, I have to imagine fast food will always be cheaper, because of the production and inventory scale. They buy in bulk, and they often buy lower quality food.

A 14" pepperoni pizza from Little Caesar's is $5, and only requires as much waiting as it takes to get through the line. That's two slices apiece for a family of 4. Even the bean-and-veggie person hasn't matched that.

Exactly. (Where did that pepperoni and cheese come from?) Family cooking cannot compete economically with fast food unless it's a HUGE family.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:50 AM on October 7, 2011



Everyone who can afford to (and most of us can if we sacrifice elsewhere) should buy everything you can organic. It's better for you, the planet, and the workers
.

This isn't necessarily true.

-Organic labeling does not guarantee fair treatment of workers.
-Organic labeling does not guarantee sustainable farming practices.
-Organic labeling does guarantee freedom from from certain herbicides/pesticides, within reason. But I've heard too many horror stories about farmers saturating the ground in chemicals, letting it sit for the required number of years, and happily farming away and churning out plenty of "organic" products from their chemical rich soil.

*results may very depending on your state and country.

I still buy a lot of organic food, but only when it makes sense economically, or I can actually tell the difference. Pick your food carefully. The only way you can guarantee that your food is chemical free, green, or cruelty free, is to buy it from somebody you know.

Quite frankly, the entire organic labeling thing is kind of iffy anyway. Creating one, ostensibly better, kind of food for those who can afford it, and letting the poor eat the unregulated crap... well that's horrible!
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:11 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


and then all of a sudden it's 4:30 PM on Thursday and you have no plan for dinner and no idea what's even in the house, and you can't leave work until 5:45 or you won't have your hours and then you still have to go get your kids, and it's rush hour so you're not going to be at the daycare until 6:20, and then they're already going to be starving and you won't be at the house until almost seven and you want me to START trying to figure out what to do then?

I am the primary cook in my family, and this often describes me at 6:15 (dinner is generally at 6:30). Try figuring out and making a meal in 15 minutes while an attention starved 3 y.o. you haven't seen all day is hanging on your leg.

I wake up in a cold sweat dreaming about it.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm the sort of person that is being argued about here (except that I know how to cook). I have minuscule salary and very little free time. Between work to pay rent and a morning class to try to increase my employ-ability, that leaves about three hours every day (four if I'm lucky) for leisure, house chores, errands, exercise, socialize and ideally (though it never happens) homework. Usually about 1 hour behind on sleep, which means that my appetite and short term self control is a bit lower than it usually is.

I don't even really like fast food, and I'm eating it. Generally the two stumbling blocks are breakfast, which has involved way more $1.35 croissants and meal replacement shakes than is good for me, and fatigue related meal compensation, where something like french fries or small, well preserved baked goods. I spent six hours pre-cooking last weekend and discovered that there was an extra trick here: pre-frozen home made foods frankly take almost as long to go from the frozen brick they still were when you took them out of the fridge in the evening (after setting to defrost in the morning), as it would take to cook the same dish from scratch.

Add roommates who devour leftovers and cooking ingredients as random midnight snacks, and unreliable ovens that burn most baked goods, and frankly that burger is the difference between crying on the metro home from a combination of tiredness and plummeting blood sugar levels and being able to steal 15 minutes to hide in a book.

Asking if cooking is cheaper than fast food is the wrong question. Is fast food -quicker-? Is fast food safe for a fatigued person to acquire, compared to say, chopping an onion while tired? Is pre-made cheap food easier? Can I reliably know that all the edible bits are actually going to be in the dish instead of missing at the time of cooking? Poverty is often making choices that are more expensive because the situation is not conducive to say, spending eight hours babysitting that giant, week sized pot of soup (I'm not even sure where I'd store a pot that big). The cheerful comment about learning to like cooking as a leisure activity in itself or watching TV while I do it suggests a certain lack of awareness of being time poor *and* cash poor. If I had leisure time to spare I'd be baking bread and making goulash. Since I don't, I flail around a lot.
posted by Phalene at 12:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Let's compare identical meals:

At McD's:
2 quarter pounders w/ cheese + fries + drink (dollar menu in Canada) = $1.29 * 4 = $5.16 + tax
Time = ~15 minutes (wait in line, order, wait for order)

At home:
2 lb ground beef = $6 (less if it's on special)
1 pack Kraft singles = $1.99
1 onion = $0.25
1 pack hamburger buns (12) = $1.29
1 pack McCain's frozen fries = $1.99
6 cans of cola = $1.99
Total = $12.51 (no tax) -> makes 6 cheeseburger meals
Total for 1 meal = $2.09
Time = ~50 minutes for the first meal (prepare, cook, clean) + 2 minutes for each additional meal (reheat, clean) = 50 + 5*2 = 55
Time for 1 meal = ~10 min

Although the numbers are all based on my experience it does show that it is slightly cheaper and less time consuming to cook at home then to eat at McD's. Although the home cooked meal neglects condiments, it does use 1/3 lb per burger so I figure it's a wash.

That is if you want to eat burgers for every meal. Now if you would like to change it up you can go for Pork Chops + Veggies + Rice for under $2 per meal. Or Sheppard's Pie for under $1.75 per meal. Casserole dishes are particularly cheap and yummy, you can feed a family of 4 for 2 meals for under $5 if you buy the ingredients on sale.

Anyone advocating that fast food is just so much more convenient because their time DOES equal money...well, they aren't eating at McDonald's anyways.
posted by Vindaloo at 12:23 PM on October 7, 2011


I still buy a lot of organic food, but only when it makes sense economically, or I can actually tell the difference. Pick your food carefully. The only way you can guarantee that your food is chemical free, green, or cruelty free, is to buy it from somebody you know.

Quite frankly, the entire organic labeling thing is kind of iffy anyway. Creating one, ostensibly better, kind of food for those who can afford it, and letting the poor eat the unregulated crap... well that's horrible!


Agreed and agreed and agreed, on pretty much all of your points. The labeling is often misleading, and yes, investigate the ethics of your sources on your own to be certain (as you can be.)

And grow your own, of course, if you are able. (And harvest your own too. Get that fruit out of your tree and where someone can eat it.)

(I'm not sure how buying organic can ever "make sense economically" ... it is always more expensive than conventionally grown. ... or do you mean "not too much more"?)

Creating one, ostensibly better, kind of food for those who can afford it, and letting the poor eat the unregulated crap... well that's horrible!

I agree. All food should be required to be "organic" (at some agreed upon regulated level for that term, which as you mention, doesn't work so well now.). Food safety regulations are a joke. (And you could make all the good regulations you want, but there's still no money to fund enforcement.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:26 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't believe I could spend $200/week on groceries? Well I can't believe you got a house for $100k. People live in different places where the cost of living is wildly different. They also make decisions like, do I drive in my car, buy everything all at once at costco and store it in my spacious exurban bungalow, or do I walk to Safeway every couple of days because I don't want to drive much and can't store much in my tiny place?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:27 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


My wife was reading a blog recently where the author posted her grocery bill, and holy shit was there a lot of grar in the comments. People would have reacted less if she'd stolen an extra $400/month rather then spend it on groceries. If someone paid $400 more in rent than you, you wouldn't really care at all, right? So why go crazy about their grocery spending habits?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The cheerful comment about learning to like cooking as a leisure activity in itself or watching TV while I do it suggests a certain lack of awareness of being time poor *and* cash poor. If I had leisure time to spare I'd be baking bread and making goulash. Since I don't, I flail around a lot.
posted by Phalene at 2:18 PM on October 7


This. I know how to bake bread from scratch (although I usually use a machine for the kneading) and do so maybe once every six or seven weeks on the weekend. I know how to bake beautiful cakes and pies. I know how to make a lovely lasagne, or a succulent roast. My problem isn't knowledge as far as I can tell, it's time, and energy.

Currently I am gone from the house from 7:15 am until 6 pm, later if I have to run to the grocery or pet food store or something on the way home from work. My job isn't particularly physically demanding, but it's mentally exhausting and sometimes emotionally draining (I work in oncology). On evenings and weekends, my time is stuffed full of tasks related to my second job as a web designer, my third job as a writer and my fourth job as a publisher. Plus I like to spend time with my husband and friends occasionally. I could cook when I got home from work if I had planned ahead and bought the ingredients I need or if I had set everything up in a slow-cooker ahead of time, but pre-planning absolutely anything on weekdays just seems like one thing too many. Sometimes I get motivated and make food for the week on the weekend, and sometimes I get organized and plan a week's worth of quick-to-make meals, but generally, it's just #6 on the list of 5 things I need to get done.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:31 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please don't point out the math error above (50 + 5*2 = 60, doh!)

Also, to counter Phalene's very valid point above:
A breakfast of good cereal + milk + banana will cost you about $1 per meal, and is way healthier than croissants and takes about 6 minutes all told (wash the bowl right after you eat).

Of course your situation is particua since it sounds like your room mates will just eat your cereal, however I assume that since you are studying and roomying this is a short term situation anyways and does not reflect where the article was pointing the finger (ie "stable" households).

Also, a meal of toasted bread + cold cuts + cheese + chopped veggies can easily run under $3 per meal and will taste better and be healthier than fast food, and it is much quicker. Maybe you should get a small fridge and a lock for your room.
posted by Vindaloo at 12:31 PM on October 7, 2011


In the UK we have Lidl. I can make an awesome pasta bake with fresh veg to feed an army for £3. Even less if I chose the real cheap ingredients.

Time taken to cook the meal isnt an issue since its in the oven minding its own business and im away doing something else.
posted by aqueousdan at 12:51 PM on October 7, 2011




This. I know how to bake bread from scratch (although I usually use a machine for the kneading) and do so maybe once every six or seven weeks on the weekend. I know how to bake beautiful cakes and pies. I know how to make a lovely lasagne, or a succulent roast. My problem isn't knowledge as far as I can tell, it's time, and energy.


I know that this is a thread for ranting, not useful suggestions, but can I offer the latter?

Try a rustic, no-knead style bread. All you do is combine some yeast, water, and flour and let it sit for a day or two, until you're ready to deal with it. Then all you do is cook it. Zero effort expended, and no restrictive timelines. All you need to do is be home for the actual cooking part. And it's totally amazing.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah, bread. There is a book called "artisan bread in 5 minutes a day". I have made about 5 loaves per week for the last two years, and it is a wonderful thing. Except the summer cooling bills, i suppose.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 1:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vindaloo, I'm an adult doing adult-ed. You know the thing they're always railing on poor people to do to improve their situations? This is what being a responsible poor person looks like. My roommate is the reality of a "stable" household on an income this small.

I eat breakfasts that can be consumed at a sprint. I know how to cook, I just live in squalor with no time to cook. I don't choose 200 calorie, zero vitamin pastries because I am unaware how to chop a banana, I do it because it's easier to have $1.35 in my coat pocket than try to make sure I have a clean bowl, spoon, milk, fresh cereal and an un-bruised, yellow coloured banana every morning. Some people have to struggle to get all these thing, and sadly I'm one of them. And fifteen minutes of sleep is a very precious thing.

I also am not sure where I'd put a second fridge, given that I do not physically have room for a stock pot and share the room with the a fore mentioned midnight binge-er. This is assuming I had the money to burn for a poorly ventilated unit that won't mould my food (I actually consider it a step up not to be stuck with a wee little bar fridge).

When I used a tiny fridge the humidity issues were so bad my vegetables turned to slime almost instantly. Which is where I came in with my post- I was talking about well meaning individuals trying to give unhelpful advice. If I had the time to do all the stuff I'm "supposed" to do, I wouldn't be poor.
posted by Phalene at 1:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


>They can't. People will not eat it. You cannot even get people to eat more vegetables IF YOU PAY THEM.

Of course not. Lots of people go out to eat precisely to get food they can't get at home.

One thing these threads always bring up is fast food = unhealthy. An equivalence is made between home cooked food and healthy food. Show me where this is true all the time. Or even most of the time, and there's a point to be made. My observation is that there is a strong correlation with food tastiness and unhealthiness (however one might define unhealthiness). I'm pretty sure my more enjoyable dishes are not more healthy than any particular meal at a fast food (or slow food) restaurant. Sure one can make beans and rice very inexpensively for little money. I do sometimes. But plenty of very reasonable and healthy folks of all incomes simply don't want to eat like monks for the sake of cost and/or money. And add "unhealthy" ingredients to make a meal more enjoyable.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


We tend to only value those things that we put a dollar amount on while simultaneously devaluing work done by women. This is not ok.

The '70s are over; men now cook and clean. If there are men in your house who don't, reevaluate.

(And as the person who does the vast majority of the cooking in my house -- AND makes the majority of the $$ -- I'd say it has nothing to do with not putting a value on our time. I like cooking. If I didn't, I'd eat out.)

Also, like the first poster, I spend easily $200 per week on food for the 2 of us. Why not? We eat what we like.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a house where my parents cooked every night, but because my mom had had to start cooking and taking care of her family when she was 12, she was absolutely fierce about making sure that for my brother and me chores never got in the way of school, and that included helping with the cooking. In fact, we barely ever had any chores, because school was the way OUT and nothing was going to get in the way of that.

But the unintended result of that was that by the time I'd graduated from college, I could read dead Latin poetry pretty well and I could explain how groundwater moved through various different types of rock, but kitchens were a totally foreign country to me. I had no idea where to even start: what sort of kitchen equipment to buy, where to even find recipes. I mean, I knew there were cookbooks, but the 700 pg Joy of Cooking isn't actually all that helpful if you have no idea where to start, because just opening up the book and picking a random recipe rarely ends well. Things like meal planning and bulk shopping and co-op boxes and farmers markets never even occurred to me as options.

I was lucky enough to fall into outdoor education, which meant that I spent a couple of months every summer cooking in the backcountry with people who knew what they were doing. And from them, I learned enough of the basics to forge ahead on my own. But still, every time I hear someone talking about how easy it is to cook a cheap, simple meal for dinner, all I can think of is the vast amount of implicit knowledge that requires. And it seems to me to be one more conflation of "simple" and "easy," which in my opinion are rather different things. Perfecting something simple can actually be quite hard.
posted by colfax at 1:40 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]




>They can't. People will not eat it. You cannot even get people to eat more vegetables IF YOU PAY THEM.


I suspect that people would eat vegetables if they were prepared in a way that made them delicious. There may be some lag there though, as they get over some leftover baggage from eating flavorless, soggy, boiled, formerly frozen vegetables.

Unfortunately making vegetables delicious often involves frying or butter, but my doctor and I have reached an understanding about that. Getting decent quality vegetables helps though!
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:41 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cooking is cheaper than fast food if you are a skilled cook and even more so if you belong to a culture that values rice and vegetables with protein (or something similar) now and then as the basic format of a meal. For most of the World (like 4/5) this works. For the western World, this logic is broken because of subsidies.
I think this needs to be adressed both personally and politically. We need to stop skewing the prices with subsidies, and we need to start teaching our kids to eat the goddam veggies.
posted by mumimor at 1:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that the moral issue is consumption of goods and resources, and that food is one of the domains of human action where consumers

I am incredibly opposed to the increasingly-popular phenomenon of considering consumption patterns to be a moral issue in terms of allocation of resources.
posted by valkyryn at 1:49 PM on October 7, 2011


> The '70s are over; men now cook and clean.

...but women still cook and clean more. Women "on average do 10 hours of housework a week before marriage and 17 hours of housework a week after marriage. Men... do eight hours before marriage and seven hours afterwards."
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


the increasingly-popular phenomenon of considering consumption patterns to be a moral issue in terms of allocation of resources.

I don't know if it is increasingly popular or not, but it certainly isn't new; the New Testament has some choice words on the subject of resource allocation and morality, for example. I don't know how you can separate morality from the question of resource allocation, honestly -- as a society we have made choices about who has access to resources and who doesn't, and those choices can be critiqued or supported using moral arguments.

I wonder if I am totally missing your point here, because I tend to find your comments very well observed and written, whereas this one has me scratching my head.
posted by Forktine at 2:09 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


as a society we have made choices about who has access to resources

But who has the resources has nothing to do with how they consume them. This entire argument is about poor people not eating their veggies, not rich people. It's paternalism of a high order. If it was really about allocation of resources, we would ban home cooking all together, and force everyone to eating in communal dining halls, school cafeteria style.

It's bitching at someone who makes 20K a year for spending money poorly. We are turning systematic problems into individual choices, and thinking we can moralize and shame people into changing.
posted by zabuni at 2:32 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


If the average person makes $16/hr, and by going to McDonalds and buying my food (paying $8 for a meal), it's like they're paying ME the extra $8 and hour to eat there.

Yes, that's the kind of nonsense math involved in these sorts of things.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:32 PM on October 7, 2011


I have to admit, cooking for my self is sometimes double the cost than buying fast food, but at least I decently know what is going into my mouth.
posted by mitrieD at 2:43 PM on October 7, 2011



It's bitching at someone who makes 20K a year for spending money poorly. We are turning systematic problems into individual choices, and thinking we can moralize and shame people into changing.
posted by zabuni at 2:32 PM on October 7

We're almost always more willing to punish individuals than we are to regulate industry.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:46 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly. The key thing about making your own food is that ideally, you know what's going in it. I understand that cooking at home is not necessarily healthier, though. The thing is, if you prepared your food at home, it will almost by definition not be processed food. You will use real butter instead of chemicals that taste like butter. You will use real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. You will use vegetable oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil. Also, when you make your own food at home, I think you have less tendency to overeat.

Two of the worst things you can eat come from processed food, and come from fast food restaurants: trans fats (the kind from processed hydrogenated oils) and high fructose corn syrup (a highly processed form of sweetener). There are other things that are supposedly bad for you, like naturally occurring saturated fats, cholesterol, and sugar, but I'm not convinced that those are necessarily bad for you.

Of course, making food at home may not be practical for you. But, cutting out trans fats (hydrogenated and/or partially-hydrogenated oils) and high-fructose corn syrup (a key ingredient in sodas and things like hamburger buns) might be possible if all you eat is fast food. As to knowing what else is in your food, though, good luck.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:47 PM on October 7, 2011


zabuni: It's bitching at someone who makes 20K a year for spending money poorly.

No, it's not.

For example when I described above that I grew up in a non-rich household where all meals were cooked fresh and from scratch for the 18 years I lived there I can tell you this: I remember that around 1980 my mom's monthly budget for household expenses (ALL cleaning and other supplies plus ALL groceries, not including utilities and mortgage) for a 5 person household was 400 German Marks. Using this page I arrive at a CPI adjusted 2011 dollar value of $7,464 per year. Again, this is for ALL groceries and supplies for 5 people and I know my mom had money left over every month.
We weren't well off but we weren't living in misery. We were well fed and I don't remember going hungry. The first time I had fast food was during a school trip when I was 12. I felt ill for the entire day. I never had it again until after I moved out of my parents home.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:48 PM on October 7, 2011


The '70s are over; men now cook and clean. If there are men in your house who don't, reevaluate.
Study after study has shown that women do much more housework than men, so the fact of the matter is that the free labor you're demanding be expended here is overwhelmingly women's labor. And it occurs to me that one of the really vicious things about the food movement is that when you point it out, they put the blame and responsibility on women. If you're doing all the cooking, it's your fault for not making the men in your household cook more. One way or another, the movement is always going to find a way to blame and shame and punish women.
posted by craichead at 2:49 PM on October 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


I remember the first time I saw someone recommend "Hillbilly Housewife" on the blue (or perhaps it was the green). What impressed me so much about the site was that it was not just a recipe repository or shopping list; the author had thought through the minute logistics of shopping, cooking, cleanup, and storage. To figure all that out for yourself would be pretty daunting unless you had a few hours a day to spare - or maybe I should speak for myself, it would be pretty daunting for me. No-brainer: get a pizza, go to McD's. The kids will be happy and the husband/SO probably won't complain either.

I'm just learning food efficiency myself (i.e. save veggie scraps to make a stock). All of these prudential tasks used to be drilled into kids when food was genuinely hard to come by: in the shtetl, there wasn't a Pizza Hut down the road. Now, you often have to learn it for yourself as an adult (when learning isn't as easy any more). Home ec? That doesn't raise SAT scores!

If food prices continue to escalate, though, people might have to learn these skills out of necessity, just as they had to years ago. I'm trying to get used to rice/beans/lentils as protein sources now because I don't see any way around food prices getting higher as time goes on, but then again, I'm more of a beanplater than many.
posted by Currer Belfry at 2:53 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


...but women still cook and clean more. Women "on average do 10 hours of housework a week before marriage and 17 hours of housework a week after marriage. Men... do eight hours before marriage and seven hours afterwards."

I have no doubt that women do more housework than men, on average, but that study is just terrible. They've arbitrarily excluded stereotypically male activities like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, which just makes the study seem rigged.

From the link you provided:
"Other activities such as home repairs, mowing the lawn, and shoveling snow were not in the study. "Items such as gardening are usually viewed as more enjoyable; the focus here is on core housework," says Stafford."

Have these people ever mowed a lawn? Or shoveled snow? People don't enjoy these activities. Mowing the lawn is just as much "core housework" as cooking, and I'll bet that that a lot more people enjoy cooking.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:00 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Cost of food is about $1.75 for the three of us, maybe another 50 cents in power, and another 15 cents in water and shit.

You eat shit for dinner?
posted by snofoam at 3:06 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course you don't enjoy shoveling if you are using some fakey mass produced shovel made of processed wood and chemical infused plastic. My shovel is made from organic locally grown oak and all natural whale bone, hand carved by a local artisan shovel-maker. Each foot of the driveway is an authentic experience with deep roots to a time when people truly knew how to value the simple experience of living.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:10 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


Great, now I want to buy a new shovel.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:12 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Once again, I am amazed at some of the things people put forth to eat under the claim of "will taste better than fast food". To you maybe, but 90% of the suggested meals described in this thread would go totally uneaten in my home.
posted by nomisxid at 3:15 PM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


> I have no doubt that women do more housework than men, on average, but that study is just terrible. They've arbitrarily excluded stereotypically male activities like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, which just makes the study seem rigged.

Fine; here's one that includes yard work. Women are still doing far more work around the house than men are.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:32 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that women do more housework than men, on average, but that study is just terrible. They've arbitrarily excluded stereotypically male activities like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow, which just makes the study seem rigged.
But you know what's funny? There's no movement devoted to convincing people that all of society's problems are due to people hiring gardeners rather than mowing the lawn themselves. Mark Bittmann 100% does not give a flying fuck whether you mow your own lawn. Nobody ever cites lawn care companies as an important factor in the growing obesity epidemic. There is very little moralizing around whether or not folks hire out traditionally male household tasks, and there is endless moralizing over whether folks hire other people to do traditionally female ones. And that's because the things men do are considered real work, while the things women do are considered duties, which aren't work and aren't worth anything and shouldn't be recognized or compensated.
posted by craichead at 3:35 PM on October 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


> There's no movement devoted to convincing people that all of society's problems are due to people hiring gardeners rather than mowing the lawn themselves.

As a quilter I am offended by all the store-bought polyester comforters society goes through. People sleep better under cotton batting; a well-rested person is more likely to participate in their community.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:43 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is very little moralizing around whether or not folks hire out traditionally male household tasks, and there is endless moralizing over whether folks hire other people to do traditionally female ones. And that's because the things men do are considered real work, while the things women do are considered duties, which aren't work and aren't worth anything and shouldn't be recognized or compensated.

Also, men are seen as individuals with different talents and interests who may or may not be well-suited to a particular kind of work. Women are considered to be more or less the same, with no particularly outstanding talents that would preclude housework being the best use of their time.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:11 PM on October 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Fine; here's one that includes yard work. Women are still doing far more work around the house than men are.

Yeah, you'll notice I never said I doubted that the fact you were claiming was true, just that the study you cited was bad, which it was. If you dig around a bit on that time use surveys site, you get here, which has some interesting break downs. I kind of wish they had a break down by age, because as someone in my late 20s, I've never had any sense of cooking as women's work; cleaning, sure, but my father cooked a lot, I cook a lot, and most of my friends who cook regularly are men. Maybe I'm an aberration here, but I think that genderedness might be switching.

But you know what's funny? There's no movement devoted to convincing people that all of society's problems are due to people hiring gardeners rather than mowing the lawn themselves. Mark Bittmann 100% does not give a flying fuck whether you mow your own lawn.

Its interesting that you say that because, as a man, I've always felt the general "make stuff, cook stuff, be self-reliant" movement as a gendered thing directed at men. The idea that real men don't rely on other people; the kind of stuff that you get on websites like this, which teaches you how to cook almost as often as it teaches you how to built a fire or select fancy neckties. Obviously, that aspect of the moralization of food is different than the one you've described; I guess what I'm saying is that I think men and women get it equally in terms of the moralization of their choice not to cook, but in different ways.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:13 PM on October 7, 2011


Fast food joints and chain restaurants are pushing their food to poor people. In some places you can use Food Stamps (or the new equivalent thereof, the EBT card) to eat fast food.

Convincing people that eating a McD's or some other junk food place is cheaper than cooking is another way of misinforming poor people.

I got food stamps for many years when my kids were young, we ate well because I had education and skills that many poor people lack. We didn't watch television so my kids were not constantly bombarded with fast food ads.

If you watch television count how many ads there are for fast food in the evening.
posted by mareli at 4:17 PM on October 7, 2011


Cooking is cheaper, and even cheaper if you grow the vegetables, and buy and put up fruit in season. I make a good soup, and freeze more than half of it, for lunches over time. I don't just labor for one meal. I made a chicken and potatoes meal last night, two of the three chicken breasts will be used for consequent meals. If you get in the swing of it, and learn how to make all kinds of things, then yes it is cheaper. However time and place sometimes play a part. $2.45 for Wendy's chicken wrap and small chili without cheese and onions. A pretty cheap meal, with good fiber, lots of protein, no cleanup, some trash to toss, this is not such a bad thing, on occasion. One helpful thing to do is read up on the fast food places and find the fast food that is good for you if you are going to eat the stuff. Remember that you can pick up the protein and fat via fast food, and get your fiber, vegetables, fruit at home. All that stuff that should be on your "plate" rather than pyramid, can be consumed at various times in a 24 hour period. In and Out is not a better burger than you can make at home.
posted by Oyéah at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2011


> Yeah, you'll notice I never said I doubted that the fact you were claiming was true,

Yes, sorry for implying you did.

just that the study you cited was bad, which it was. If you dig around a bit on that time use surveys site, you get here, which has some interesting break downs. I kind of wish they had a break down by age, because as someone in my late 20s, I've never had any sense of cooking as women's work; cleaning, sure, but my father cooked a lot, I cook a lot, and most of my friends who cook regularly are men. Maybe I'm an aberration here, but I think that genderedness might be switching.

I wonder if it's more about your current age. It would be interesting to see if the genderedness flares up when you and your friends are a bit older and more of you have small kids (I'm presuming all sorts of things about you and your friends here). I always did more of the grocery shopping than Mr Corpse did, but we both made dinner; now that I'm a full-time mom and he works outside the home, our household labor gets divided more traditionally.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:57 PM on October 7, 2011


the New Testament has some choice words on the subject of resource allocation and morality, for example.

Not as far as I can tell. At least not in any way that would support the kind of consumerism-as-moral-dilemma thing we're talking about here.
posted by valkyryn at 5:37 PM on October 7, 2011


I think our current labor situation demands some kind of fast food, in the very literal sense of food that can be ordered quickly that is relatively inexpensive. A 40 hour week is not the norm any more for a good chunk of the workforce and no one can effectively parent and work full time AND cook from scratch every night if there is no stay at home parent or relative or hired help.

I am eating fast food as I type this- a stir fry over rice. All veggies and not too drowned in sauce. Pretty good, less than $5. I couldn't replicate this for under $3 because it's full of expensive veggies like snap peas and red peppers. Hell, a lone red pepper costs $1.50 at the fancy grocery store half a block from here.

I am a single grad student living alone. Can't economize much and my labor is pretty inefficient since it generates small amounts of food when the same labor could usually make three or four times as much food with hardly any extra time, and only soup and stew and curry actually freeze well in my opinion. I already work 9am to 8pm most days and I am lucky in that I can often go home for quick lunch. I do enjoy cooking and sometimes I do pull out all the stops for a three hour recipe,but most days I am too mentally burnt out for more than ten minutes of cooking. The answer for me is a lot of what I call "Parisian lunch"- a hunk of bread or side or leftover starchy thing, raw veggies or a salad, hunk of cheese or nuts. That still usually costs $4 minimum for real bread and cheese and produce. There is nothing cheap in terms of time or money about eating real food. I just don't think it can be done for much less than $250 a month for a single person who doesn't have massive time on their hands and who wants to shop based on taste and having a varied diet, not just what is absolutely the cheapest sustaining thing.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:55 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a fascinating topic, but the only data point I'll offer is that my body looks better whenever I've spent a contiguous number of months cooking my own food rather than eating out. Of course, the reasons for this is complex and mileage may vary. But I'm talking about 6-pack better.
posted by polymodus at 6:58 PM on October 7, 2011


I've lived alone for 3 years. I never cook, I barely eat fast food, but I'm still eating and making enough. The trick is finding places that do $10 meals.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:55 PM on October 7, 2011


The trick is finding places that do $10 meals.

$10 is not exactly cheap.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:09 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Try a rustic, no-knead style bread. All you do is combine some yeast, water, and flour and let it sit for a day or two, until you're ready to deal with it. Then all you do is cook it. Zero effort expended, and no restrictive timelines. All you need to do is be home for the actual cooking part. And it's totally amazing.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:55 PM on October 7


I've had bread like that (a friend of mine is a really good chef) but it always seems to be made with white flour. I have high cholesterol and also aside from health concerns just prefer the taste of whole grains. I realize this is outside the scope of the thread, but are you aware of any no-knead breads that aren't white breads?
posted by joannemerriam at 10:01 PM on October 7, 2011


Vindaloo: "Total = $12.51 (no tax) -> makes 6 cheeseburger meals
Total for 1 meal = $2.09
Time = ~50 minutes for the first meal (prepare, cook, clean) + 2 minutes for each additional meal (reheat, clean) = 50 + 5*2 = 55
"

Mmmm. 5-day-old cheeseburgers! It was probably smart of you to exclude lettuce from your ingredient list, given that there's no way it'd keep for that long (although, really, by day 5 I'd be worrying more about the beef).
posted by schmod at 12:23 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's how I cook dinner on an average weeknight:
1. Go for a quick jog in the nearby forest just after work
2. Spot a promising Elk
3. Punch the Elk squarely in the forehead, stunning the beast
4. After butchering, carry carcass back home
5. Braise the savory bits with some freshly picked hydroponically grown peppers, onions, potatoes from my greenhouse (You really save money growing all your own vegetables year round)
6. While things are cooking I usually have the kids dicing up the other Elk Bits. Those go in the smoke house for Jerky. Don't let anyone tell you that your 3 olds can't use sharp knives. Traditional Eskimo children start using knives even earlier than that. Plus the earlier you start them butchering their own meat, the easier it will be for them when they're on their own in college, etc. And its free entertainment for the tykes!
7. The more auxiliary Elk parts and bones and tissues all get tossed into the big stock pot I keep constantly boiling over the fireplace in the Great Room. Don't forget the savory herbs you should have collected during your forest jog.

I could add some extra steps in between 2 and 3, and really get to know the Elk on a personal basis before sucker punching him. I'd feel better if I could, but who has the time in today's fast paced world?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:37 AM on October 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


60 Minutes: How Alice Waters cooks breakfast

I wonder who she pays to wake up at 4AM and build a wood fire in the fireplace she has in her kitchen?
posted by Chekhovian at 12:47 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chekhovian: There is a divide here between those who see cooking as leisure time, and those who see it as a chore. The part where Waters cooked breakfast seemed a bit extreme - though please note that it took less than five minutes - but the part where kids learnt to grow, cook and eat vegetables was really inspiring. Those were kids learning to enjoy food and cooking. My youngest daughter has a similar class at school and there are only one or two of her classmates who are picky eaters and prefer fast food now.
I guess I enjoy cooking most of the time, but sometimes I'm really tired when I get home and I prefer just warming a frozen pizza. Maybe some of the people who are really engaged in this, like Bittmann and Waters, come off as a bit fanatical and irritating. But normal people can choose some of the ideas instead of the full package. It's easier to start in small increments.
posted by mumimor at 1:56 AM on October 8, 2011


The question is do we attack the symptom ie people eat fast food because they can't take the time to do it properly?, or do we attack the cause, that our economic system is a hamster wheel that works people to death for the benefit of the top 1%?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:08 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I agree in that we should fight this at the political and economical level. But there is also the basic question of your personal health and your family's health. I feel I need to prioritize that in my daily life, but I am also able to do so because I was lucky to have a grandmother who could teach me and friends in school who shared my interest in cooking.
You don't have to chose: either you work on the political level or you work on the personal level; it is possible to do both, and a lot of the people who claim they don't have time to cook spend hours watching TV or browsing the nets.
That said, the American conditions are extreme. I don't get how come it can be necessary for middle class families to have two adults working each 50 hours a week, when all other places in the world it is possible to live on less working hours. But obviously, it is so, and it seems that apart from low pay, is has something to do with the costs of health-care and transportation. Or what?
posted by mumimor at 2:26 AM on October 8, 2011


the basic question of your personal health and your family's health. I feel I need to prioritize that in my daily life

Your phrasing is somewhat loaded here. The way things are these days a lot of people have to make "keeping their job" the first priority. That's terrible for everyone's long term health, but you need to eat and have a roof in the short term. I'm sure they're not exactly thrilled about the choice either. Asking them why they don't love their family enough to make better food a priority isn't helpful.

necessary for middle class families to have two adults working each 50 hours a week

Maybe if we can all work 35 hours a week like french people, then we can have time to cook french food. I'd be happy with that, though as good as the food is, I'd prioritize implementing their health care system first.

But until that socialist utopia, your food: fast, cheap, or good, you can choose two.

apart from low pay, is has something to do with the costs of health-care and transportation. Or what?

Capital is lording over Labor, that's all.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:07 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your phrasing is somewhat loaded here. The way things are these days a lot of people have to make "keeping their job" the first priority. That's terrible for everyone's long term health, but you need to eat and have a roof in the short term. I'm sure they're not exactly thrilled about the choice either. Asking them why they don't love their family enough to make better food a priority isn't helpful.

Please!! For one, I've already clearly stated I agree with you in your overall opinion and that I know I am privileged in the sense I know how to cook. I honestly feel sad for the American families who are stuck with few choices. But then, I'd like to add that I am a single parent working 50+ hours a week, and left with € 500 a month when I've paid the rent etc. Because even if it is possible to live the good life as a couple in Europe, single parents have tough conditions. I know what I am talking about, because I do provide my daughters with home-cooked food for three meals a day, almost every day. And yes, if you push me, I will state clearly that individuals need to learn to cook healthy food just as much as society needs to provide fair conditions for everyone, like 35 or maybe 40 hour weeks, access to healthy products and protection against the food industry.
posted by mumimor at 3:20 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ever cooked a Big Mac at home? It's pretty easy. The secret is in the sauce and the patty-making technique.
posted by valkane at 6:06 AM on October 8, 2011


a lot of the people who claim they don't have time to cook spend hours watching TV or browsing the nets.
Having time at 8pm to watch tv is not the same as having time to have dinner at a reasonable hour. Yes, you can cook all weekend so you have leftovers, but either you're stuck eating similar food every night or you don't have any time on the weekend to do anything but cook.


I have high cholesterol and also aside from health concerns just prefer the taste of whole grains. I realize this is outside the scope of the thread, but are you aware of any no-knead breads that aren't white breads?

The people who wrote Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day also wrote one called Healthy bread in 5 minutes a day, I'd look there for something easy and whole-grain.
posted by jeather at 6:18 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have high cholesterol and also aside from health concerns just prefer the taste of whole grains. I realize this is outside the scope of the thread, but are you aware of any no-knead breads that aren't white breads?

The basic Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day has a few whole grain/non-white bread recipes as well. me-mail me if you'd like and I can type up a few for you when I get off work tonight.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 6:52 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Practical advice: for me, it sometimes makes sense to cook in the morning, before going to work. I prepare three meals in one go. This is because I'm a morning person. You could as well prepare three meals for the next day at Night before you go to bed. Ny mother-in-law did that.
posted by mumimor at 7:43 AM on October 8, 2011


60 Minutes: How Alice Waters cooks breakfast
Well, that clip certainly had the desired effect, which was to fill me with rage and make me want to vote for Sarah Palin. I think that Alice Waters is a bit of an easy target, though, and she's not really mainstream-media-savvy enough to figure out how to present her message in a way that isn't going to be easily ridiculed. She's used to talking to her people, and I don't think she realizes how she comes across to everyone else. I think it's a little unfair to use her to tar the entire food movement.

But that clip does point to something that really irritates me about that movement. Like all other blame-and-shame movements that are aimed primarily at women (and even more primarily at mothers), the bar is constantly moving, and you're never, ever going to be good enough. First you're told that you have to cook everything at home. When you achieve that, it's not good enough. Everything you buy has to be organic. When you achieve that, it's not good enough. You either have to grow everything yourself or buy it from a farmer you know personally. When you achieve that, it's still not good enough. You have to be vegetarian. Done that? Ok, now you have to be vegan. Done that? Ok, now you can't use a microwave. Done that? Don't worry, we'll still find some way to tell you that you're falling short and are responsible for all of society's ills.

And I mean, if you're never going to be good enough, why not just eat the fucking frozen pizza?
posted by craichead at 8:22 AM on October 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


That Alice Waters video makes me want to go up to North Berkeley and torch Chez Panisse.

And then go across the street to Cheeseboard, because they have awesome pizza.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:31 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cooking isn't a chore. It is an act of love and creation. You can create something that is delicious, better tasting than fast food. That's part of the joy, part of the challenge. It sounds hard, sounds time consuming, but it doesn't have to be. Everything is harder and takes longer when you do it for the first time, or when you rarely do it.

Sorry, I'm just bummed that so many people seem to just abhor or be afraid of cooking at home. It is a truly lovely and accessible thing to do. For me, it's not about fitting it into my schedule, it's about fitting it into my life.

That's my disconnect. I just have trouble fathoming the hostility toward cooking I see in this thread.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2011


jabberjaw: when was the last time you cooked in a kitchen with about 1ft of counterspace, roaches running over most surfaces and half your pots/utensils in boxes on the floor from pulling them out all of the cupboard for spraying every 2 weeks?

I love to cook; I cook to relieve stress. I live in a house with a large, clean, well-lit kitchen with a massive island. My mother lived (until recently) in an apartment with the above kitchen. I hate cooking at my mother's house and I totally understand why she hates cooking, leaving alone that she never particularly enjoyed cooking even when she had a large kitchen. Cooking at her house is a massive experience in STRESS.

And when she arrives home from work at 7:15pm (1.5 hours commute each way, by public transit), needing to feed my disabled niece before both of them go to bed by 9pm to get up the next day at 5am - I totally understand why she buys so much more prepared food and take out than when I was a kid and she was a stay-at-home mother.
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love cooking, and when I have time I do lots of it and enjoy eating the results.

I can't imagine that I'd still love cooking if I had a kitchen the size of the ones in most of the small row-houses in my area.

Cooking is less fun if you have no room to store any but the most basic of goods. It's less fun if you don't have room for a freezer, scales, a mixer, or spare containers for leftovers; if what counter space you have is taken up by the microwave, kettle, toaster, jars of stuff that wouldn't fit in the cupboards, and the vegetables you bought; and you have to either wash up as you go along, or else go and put the dirty pots on top of the cupboard in the other room. It's less fun if every time you clean the kitchen you have to rearrange all the pots and jars of stuff that didn't fit in the cupboards, and if the poor quality of the kitchen construction has left a million nooks and crannies where dirt gets and is difficult to clean.

I'm sure it's possible to enjoy cooking in this kind of environment, and to produce tasty food. But I'm pretty sure it requires an uncommon level of skill.

Here's a picture of a kitchen from a low end house in my area, found on a local real-estate website. Tell me you'd enjoy cooking a meal in there every night. I wouldn't.
posted by emilyw at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


craichead: I once attended a seminar/talk by Alice Waters - she really doesn't understand issues around working poor people and time. I don't think she's had much exposure to the day to day realities of poverty.
posted by jb at 9:50 AM on October 8, 2011


Cooking isn't a chore. It is an act of love and creation.
That's such bullshit. I cook a lot and like to cook, and sometimes it's still a chore. Sometimes I'm tired, uninspired, or not feeling well, and then cooking is a chore. Grocery shopping is always a chore. Cleaning up the kitchen after cooking is always a chore.

I don't know about you, but sometimes even the things I love to do and do for fun sometimes feel like a chore. I love to knit, but I'm currently five-sixths of the way through knitting six inches of 2x2 ribbing, and right now knitting is feeling like a chore. It's just that I can put my knitting down when it's annoying me, and I have to eat several times a day no matter what. (And that, frankly, is why I get a little irritated with people who can afford to eat out several times a week and act like that's a trivial detail when talking about people who can't.) And as someone pointed out above, it's weird to think that everyone will enjoy doing the same things, so the fact that I like cooking doesn't mean that everyone else is going to enjoy it, too.

And ditto what everyone else is saying about having a decent kitchen. I have a half-way decent kitchen now, but I enjoyed cooking considerably less when I lived in a crappy efficiency and had to use my coffee table for counter-space.
posted by craichead at 9:52 AM on October 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


emilyw: that kitchen you've linked to has 2-3 times the counterspace that was in the galley kitchen where I lived for two years, even after we added a narrow island (before the island, there was only enough counter for a dish-strainer, no cooking space at all).
posted by jb at 9:54 AM on October 8, 2011


And that, frankly, is why I get a little irritated with people who can afford to eat out several times a week and act like that's a trivial detail when talking about people who can't.

Yes, totally. I'm that person. As long as I didn't go overboard on the super expensive meals, and was willing to budget in other areas, I could probably afford to eat all my meals out. Cooking as a choice is great. Cooking as a chore sucks ass.

I do find it odd how much we fetishize home cooking, as compared to fetishizing eating well, for which home cooking is one path but far from the only one.

I also think that we aren't giving people much credit for making rational choices. If I am having a busy week, the reality is that I can do some things myself, and will need to outsource others. Should I outsource some cooking at perhaps $10/hour, or outsource someone to do car maintenance at $70/hour?
posted by Forktine at 10:31 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Emilyw, I've cooked for 40 people in a kitchen half the size of the one you linked to. I've lived an cooked for the most of my adult life in a kitchen like that. I've entertained people with a kitchen like that, but with no oven or dish-washer.
While I lived with a small kitchen, an Indian friend offered to teach me how to cook traditional Indian food; she was used to cooking on a fire in a yard. And she was an academic and middle class.
I'm not saying this exotic experience is relevant for everyone, but I enjoyed learning a sort of "camp-fire" approach to cooking, where one could create stuff with few means, and I try to give this on to my kids: it's not about the microwave or the blender, it's about knowing your products and what to do with them. Cooking at home shouldn't be like restaurant food. I love eating out because cooks at restaurants can do magic. At home, a stew with rice or a hamburger with potatoes and a salad should be fine, and you can easily do that in a kitchen like the one you linked to.
posted by mumimor at 10:35 AM on October 8, 2011


It is an act of love and creation.

That doesn't make it inherently enjoyable, even for those reasons. Plenty of creative or loving tasks are tedious busy work, and plenty of my hobbies would be a dull, uncomfortable thing for you. For example in an extreme demonstration -I like to beat consenting men until they cry. It is a very loving thing that often involves creativity. But I don't go around saying it's a pity that other people can't appreciate the depth and value of having kinky sex.
posted by Phalene at 11:32 AM on October 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I prefer my sexual beatings to be creative and novel, not tedious and dull, thank you very much.

Portlanda - Is this chicken local?

Now back to dishes, one more hour to go, then I can actually do some cooking
posted by Chekhovian at 1:36 PM on October 8, 2011


Cooking isn't a chore. It is an act of love and creation.

So is childbirth, but I don't want to do THAT seven nights a week with children screaming around my ankles, either.
posted by KathrynT at 1:57 PM on October 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Re: Kitchen Size

Sure you can do good work in a small kitchen, have you ever seen the kitchen in a WWII U-Boat? That poor cook fed 3 squares a day to 50 men. And prisoners routinely brew their own wine in their toliets too.

If circumstances are desperate enough people will find a way. But I don't like the sort of casual disregard that gets heaped on people for complaining that their circumstances make it hard to do something. It seems to go something like "if you were truly smart/capable/motivated enough then you could solve any problem, you know you could probably roast your chicken on the refrigerator cooling coils if you had big enough kahones"

Now I'm really going to do dishes.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:59 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a X-and-Y antic-data-l point, I've been eating Diet to go's 'Traditional' meal plan - which is fairly high-quality not-frozen food.

The net, in my opinion, breaks down to about:

2 trips for pickup a week = ( 12.8mi($2.75 in gas) , 20 minutes, three hour window for pickup )
$145 for the breakfast lunch and dinner plan.

If I was left to my own devices, I'd probably cook the same food I was eating when I was making under $10k/yr and working two to three part time jobs: lots of shelf-stable cheap carbs, tinned protein, and maybe fresh salads for the day or two after a biweekly grocery store run, bolstered with the occasional Banquet meal purchased on infrequent friend-car-based shopping trips in bulk - Then, as now, I really didn't have the time or psychic energy(*) for more frequent shopping.

(* There's something amazingly taxing about every trip to the grocery store being some high-pressure game show where missing the food/dollar mark means you either miss a few meals, or can't pay the bills.)
posted by Orb2069 at 2:53 PM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The trick is finding places that do $10 meals.

$10 is not exactly cheap.


It is where I am. I grew up in a family where every meal was cooked at home. Going from that to cooking for myself in my tiny bachelor pad is just depressing.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:36 PM on October 8, 2011


The article mentions that we have to convince people that leisure time spent cooking is better than playing video games or watching TV. May I suggest watching TV while you're cooking? If I turn it right, I can see our TV just fine from the kitchen. It's the only thing that makes washing dishes bearable for me.

MasterChef is the most popular show in Australia.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:37 PM on October 8, 2011


> Cooking isn't a chore. It is an act of love and creation.

Because I am a noble person, I will sacrifice my own pleasure and let you come to my place to cook for me, my husband, and my kids. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, please, plus the occasional dessert, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I'll fill you in on everyone's individual needs and desires once you get here.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:02 PM on October 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I did not read every word of every comment, but I skimmed them all--nowhere do I see it noted that eating at McDonald's is fun, it's tasty, it makes the kids happy, it gives people a small piece of the middle-class pie for a few minutes. And, damn, if you work all day as a cashier or a home attendant, maybe you just don't feel like cooking, say, pasta, eggs, and tomato sauce, or whatever other rock-bottom food you have around. Probably you go the tuna croquette route quite enough, thank you very much. Maybe you just don't feel like sitting in a dark and quite probably overcrowded apartment for any longer than you have to!

Never, ever would I say that I have suffered along with the working class, but I will say that in 12 years of living in New York, even, yes, on the Upper. West. Side., my grocery list has consisted almost entirely of loss leaders from the circular, you know, the form of protein that's on sale. You know what? I'm a very good cook and I'd like to think a resourceful and well-read one. But eating loss leaders is killer unappetizing after a while. Cooking with the same 6 ingredients, year in and year out, is boring. I eat a fair bit of McDonald's equivalent myself, and if I had kids, you can bet I'd take them there (or, actually, to the local taco establishment) a fair amount to make up for all the cracking the whip on chicken wings, rice, and beans I did at home.

I know the chicken-and-potato pushers only mean well, but a lot of the harshing on McDonald's sounds like one more version of the "God forbid that poor people should have any fun" platform. I agree with this commenter above:

I don't think the appropriate arguments is "Don't eat McDonald's / KFC." The appropriate argument is "Stop eating junk."

If McDonald's or KFC can put wholesome, good food on the menu for cheap, then we all win. McDonald's and KFC are in a better position to create wholesome, good food on the cheap, and I think that with enough time and effort, they will.

posted by skbw at 8:49 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the kosher, diabetic, bean-hating household version, but here's our Top 10:

canned tuna
canned salmon
eggs
textured vegetable protein (commenter above is right on about HBHW)
kasha (non-diabetics would go for rice and pasta)
cabbage (good rice substitute for diabetics)
chick peas
canned tomatoes
onions
mozzarella cheese (store brand)

The point here is not to say, oh, I'm such a martyr, so down with the struggle. It's to say that this is damned boring and I'm not even remotely poor. Imagine if I really was. Lord knows I understand the accent foods and the well-stocked spice drawer. But anything more than, let's say, one accent food (green onions?) starts to add the hell up.

For sure I'm eating junk food out on occasion, maybe on frequent occasion. In our society, anyone above the straight-up subsistence level is going to do so.
posted by skbw at 10:00 PM on October 8, 2011


Cook those canned (stewed if you can get them) tomatoes with some canned green beans and paprika. I would have suggested just a bit of bacon to kick it up a notch, but maybe there's some kosher bacon equivalent you can add instead.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:01 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Me: Cooking isn't a chore. It is an act of love and creation.

The corpse in the library: Because I am a noble person, I will sacrifice my own pleasure and let you come to my place to cook for me, my husband, and my kids. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner, please, plus the occasional dessert, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

The problem is that you probably love your husband and kids more than I do.

As it turns out, though, I have the recessive "cooking = good" gene, so feel free to disregard my comments on this topic. This genetic abnormality has been a net positive in my life so far, but it does tend to be an issue when it causes me to fight with my partner (who is also unfortunately genetically abnormal in this respect) over who will cook dinner.

Again, I don't understand the hostility. I never said that eating out = bad. I understand eating out. I eat out. I eat fast food. I just said that cooking = good, and I don't understand why every body is dishing out the GRAR over cooking, and everybody seems to think there is a dichotomy between eating out and cooking at home.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:02 AM on October 10, 2011


Any hostility of mine came from you saying that cooking isn't a chore. For me it frequently is, and it's a responsibility of mine. It isn't something I necessarily do for pleasure; it's something I do because my family has to eat.

Look at it this way: what if I came to your office (if you work in one) and said "Your job isn't a chore. It's an act of love and creation." You might be a tad annoyed that I was downplaying the occasional unpleasantness, the requirement that you do something you're not in the mood for, and the fact that sometimes your job is pure drudgery -- and that you do it anyway, because it's what you and your family needs you to do.

I'm a housewife, and part of my job is cooking. It's not a hobby. You're belittling my work.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:31 AM on October 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Apologies. Did not mean to offend you.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:48 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:51 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


> maybe there's some kosher bacon equivalent

Not really equivalent, but: Bac-Os!
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:58 AM on October 10, 2011


corpse,

I feel you. There is an increase in people being fake "foodies" and pretending like they are gourmet cooks because they looked up a recipe, added extra garlic and olive oil and put in on their facebook as their newest masterpiece.

Tourists. They are also the people who end up cooking one night per week...which is photographed.

And then there are people who cook so others can eat. People who realize that prep may take longer than cooking...and definitely longer than the meal. People who aren't all "well I'll just have a glass of wine to go with the dinner I'm making...I do have 3 hours after all". People who get in the kitchen take stock of what is there and go "ok, here is what i have to make so my family eats". I have mad respect for that.

I do believe what you are doing is a JOB. Sometimes it might be glorious (thanksgiving-maybe)...and the rest of the days its figuring out what to feed people so they get a balanced or filling meal. But either way, its a damn shame that people haven't learned that it is a chore from their mom (and not more often...their dad) who cooked every night. I'm all down with bourdain and brown...but dude, thats just like saying "I want to play basketball...but only dunk".

Again, mad respect for what you do because you have to do it...and you do.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:19 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


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