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The American Diet in One Chart
June 14, 2012 9:25 AM   Subscribe

The American Diet in One Chart: "American eaters have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in the early '80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap, subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter weight with daily doses of antibiotics. ... Consumers put some of the savings into eating more meat, and shifted some out of the savings out of food purchases altogether ... But what what they mostly did was shift cash that once went to meat into processed food."
posted by mrgrimm (93 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
fucking bell peppers man, those $hits are ridiculous, I knew I wasn't imagining it
posted by nathancaswell at 9:31 AM on June 14, 2012 [35 favorites]


"Beverages" appears near the bottom in 2011 at 11% of money spent on food, although according to that HBO 4-part mini-series something like 50% of today's caloric intake comes from beverages.

Which means you get tremendous value for your money by giving your kids soda pop for breakfast.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:33 AM on June 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


Caveat emptor
posted by Renoroc at 9:34 AM on June 14, 2012


I'm always a bit skeptical of raw prices for food. For example, what is "bread," exactly? Is it the stuff you get from the bakery that goes stale in a couple of days, or is it that stuff you find in the supermarket packed full of ingredients no one can pronounce? Do we buy more of the former, or less? Has consumption shifted?

Even animals aren't what they once were. Thanks to selective breeding, spurred by the low-fat craze, pork contains a lot less fat than it used to. A "pork chop" today isn't what it was in 1982. I wonder to what degree these sorts of changes are unaccounted for.
posted by smorange at 9:39 AM on June 14, 2012


fucking bell peppers man, those $hits are ridiculous, I knew I wasn't imagining it

I wonder how much of that comes from importing greenhouse-grown peppers from absurd locations in the off-season. For example, at my grocery store (in St. Louis) you can buy bell peppers flown in from the Netherlands in the winter. How does that make any damned sense?

Also, look at ice cream on that same chart. No change in inflation-adjusted price in 30 years? Clearly ice cream should be the world's reserve currency.
posted by jedicus at 9:40 AM on June 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm curious as to what, exactly, is defined as "processed food". Sort of vague, no? Couldn't that include a lot of things that could also be included somewhere else? Hard to know without a reference list.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:42 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


We should ban using antibiotics on livestock or really any non-human outside a labratory.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


For example, at my grocery store (in St. Louis) you can buy bell peppers flown in from the Netherlands in the winter. How does that make any damned sense?

I hear you. At various times of the year, my local mega-mart gets their bell peppers from Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, and Israel. Israel?!?! And I've seen Asparagus from Peru.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:46 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


English supermarkets have english asparagus for 8 weeks of the year and peruvian for the other 44.
posted by pixie at 9:50 AM on June 14, 2012


I'm curious as to what, exactly, is defined as "processed food".

I'm not sure what definition the BLS is using, but the USDA definition is:
Processed food item means a retail item derived from a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity, or that has been combined with at least one other covered commodity or other substantive food component (e.g., chocolate, breading, tomato sauce), except that the addition of a component (such as water, salt, or sugar) that enhances or represents a further step in the preparation of the product for consumption, would not in itself result in a processed food item. Specific processing that results in a change in the character of the covered commodity includes cooking (e.g., frying, broiling, grilling, boiling, steaming, baking, roasting), curing (e.g., salt curing, sugar curing, drying), smoking (hot or cold), and restructuring (e.g., emulsifying and extruding). Examples of items excluded include teriyaki flavored pork loin, roasted peanuts, breaded chicken tenders, and fruit medley.
We should ban using antibiotics on livestock or really any non-human outside a labratory.

So pets that get infections shouldn't get antibiotics? That's a bit extreme, I think.
posted by jedicus at 9:50 AM on June 14, 2012


I'm curious as to what, exactly, is defined as "processed food".

I would take a stab and say anything in a can or a package from the middle of the supermarket.

I would add any store-bought bread to that as well. We stopped buying store-bought bread several years ago (or more) after the price of bread in Canada nearly trebled just before the last financial meltdown, when global food prices were going crazy.

Anyway, we bake our own bread now, and the difference is amazing - we can't even eat store-bought bread because it is so salty.

Which in my mind makes it a processed food.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 AM on June 14, 2012


For example, what is "bread," exactly? Is it the stuff you get from the bakery that goes stale in a couple of days, or is it that stuff you find in the supermarket packed full of ingredients no one can pronounce?

There are far, far more places where you can buy pre-sliced supermarket-type bread (every convenience store I've ever been in, e.g., so not just grocery stores) than there are bakeries. Even here in foodie central (SF Bay Area), there just aren't that many bakeries compared to full grocery stores, corner stores, drug stores (every Walgreens has a grocery section), and so on. So my bet is they mean supermarket bread when they say "bread."
posted by rtha at 9:52 AM on June 14, 2012


I wonder how much of that comes from importing greenhouse-grown peppers from absurd locations in the off-season.

If they are greenhouse-grown, there's no need for the absurd location. I think the explanation must be something else (difficulty in shipping maybe) because tomatos, which have the same issue, have dropped in price.

I'm curious as to what, exactly, is defined as "processed food".

Same here. I was going to say that I ate basically no processed food, but then I started wondering what was included. I mostly eat cheese (is pre-shredded "processed"? I usually shred myself), homemade salsa and tortilla chips (are those "processed" or grains? I get the ones in a big brown bag...). I also add taco seasoning or guacamole powder from a packet (processed?) to homemade beans or avocados.
posted by DU at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2012


Crap, no wonder peppers are so damn expensive. There have been weeks at my megasupermarket in which a block of cheese is cheaper than a bell pepper. Something's wrong with that. (Namely, I suppose, that I'm not growing my own peppers.)
posted by blucevalo at 9:54 AM on June 14, 2012


Specific processing that results in a change in the character of the covered commodity includes cooking (e.g., frying, broiling, grilling, boiling, steaming, baking, roasting)...

Wouldn't this make bread a "processed" food? Some bread in fact SHOULD be considered processed, but some bread maybe not. Same for cheese, now that I think about it. In any case, the linked graphic lists both bread and cheese separately.
posted by DU at 9:55 AM on June 14, 2012


"I wonder how much of that comes from importing greenhouse-grown peppers from absurd locations in the off-season. For example, at my grocery store (in St. Louis) you can buy bell peppers flown in from the Netherlands in the winter."

This. So much of this chart is comparing apples to oranges.


"How does that make any damned sense?"
It makes sense because people buy them. It makes sense because the people growing them, shipping them, and selling them make money.
posted by Blake at 9:59 AM on June 14, 2012


At various times of the year, my local mega-mart gets their bell peppers from Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, and Israel. Israel?!?!

I can vaguely understand Mexico and Israel, at least they have significantly warmer climates than (most) of the US. But the Netherlands and St. Louis have broadly similar climates, and just about anywhere in Canada is going to be colder. Both probably have better labor laws, and then there's the transport costs. I just cannot fathom how it makes economic sense to grow bell peppers thousands of miles away and ship them by air rather than grow them locally in a near-identical climate, especially since they're in a greenhouse anyway.

It makes sense because people buy them. It makes sense because the people growing them, shipping them, and selling them make money.

Yes, but why hasn't the free market, in its infinite wisdom, noticed that you can grow the same peppers in a greenhouse outside of St. Louis, save on shipping costs, employ migrant workers for a relative pittance, and tout 'locally grown' on your signage?
posted by jedicus at 10:01 AM on June 14, 2012


Yes, but why hasn't the free market, in its infinite wisdom, noticed that you can grow the same peppers in a greenhouse outside of St. Louis, save on shipping costs, employ migrant workers for a relative pittance, and tout 'locally grown' on your signage?

What makes you think it hasn't? I mean, is anyone stopping you from rigging up your own greenhouse?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:04 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Yes, but why hasn't the free market..."
Because you can't? My guess is if you could, you'd see that everywhere, for some reason it's not that easy. I know here in WNY people have tried, and failed, several times. Dunno why exactly, but I think there's more to it than shipping and migrant workers.
posted by Blake at 10:08 AM on June 14, 2012


Also, look at ice cream on that same chart. No change in inflation-adjusted price in 30 years? Clearly ice cream should be the world's reserve currency.

Yeah, but I'd like to know how they define "ice cream." It's nearly impossible to find actual ice cream that is composed of nothing but cream and milk and sugar these days - even Breyer's has added fillers and chemicals now. I think they've been able to hold prices steady by using lower quality ingredients.
posted by something something at 10:11 AM on June 14, 2012


WE have all kinds of locovore vegetables here in NY, I always suspect they are probably grown in a converted warehouse in Jersey City or something. Not that being grown in a warehouse in Jersey City makes them bad.

You know what I wonder about? White Asparagus, does that count as processed? White vegetables certainly aren't natural.

I never know what to make of these articles about American's eating nothing but processed foods. In my daily experience, even checkout people chide me when I buy stuff like beef-a-roni. If it wasn't for me they would be selling nothing but greek yogurt and bottled water.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:18 AM on June 14, 2012


Wait, if ice cream's price hasn't changed but the cost of dairy has dropped, hasn't ice cream become more profitable? And I've noticed recently that the high-quality ice cream is now 3.5 servings per container instead of 4 - the containers are smaller but the price is the same. I feel that ice cream consumers are being exploited.
posted by Frowner at 10:18 AM on June 14, 2012


Ad hominem- the trick to white asparagus is to keep light from the shoot. This also keeps them smaller and tenderer. I'm not sure of the biology that causes the chlorophyll to develop or not, but the process is completely natural. Just kind of weird.
posted by Hactar at 10:25 AM on June 14, 2012


You know what I wonder about? White Asparagus, does that count as processed? White vegetables certainly aren't natural.

White asparagus is grown such that it is never exposed to sunlight and thus never produces chlorophyll. It's deliberate and requires work, but it's part of the growing process.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:26 AM on June 14, 2012


I have spent virtually my entire adult life dealing with these issues, professionally and otherwise. While I couldn't agree more that our food system is a disaster, there is not only no easy answer, right now there's not a coherent set of answers.

Even as recently as 1980, a very large percentage of households had a stay at home partner/parent. That isn't close to true now- 1/3 of mothers of young children stay at home, and that percentage plummets once children are school age. (12% of stay at home parents are dads, but I doubt they are included in this 1/3 figure.) Cooking from scratch is incredibly time consuming. In the 1920s, homemakers spent 2.5 hours per day, on average, preparing food.

I'm all in favor of eliminating gender roles and allowing for being a househusband to be seen as a an honorable choice. I think women who can stay at home are making an entirely valid and noble decision. But it is not economically feasible for most households, particularly considering how little money can be saved by having a partner stay at home and cook. If our overall food costs were higher, the economics of eating take out and frozen dinners to allow for two working spouses would change considerably. But it's awfully tough to make the argument that we should increase the price of food in this economy, especially when you consider households with children. Having children is now the single greatest indicator that a person will file for bankruptcy. Families already have a tough row to how, telling them that we are going to raise food prices for their own good seems hamfisted and tone deaf, at best. This would also have the terrible effect of further economically penalizing single parents for being unpartnered.

And yes, for those who are asking, bread, cheese, and beer/wine are, by nutritionists, all considered processed foods, although they are traditional ones. They can be kept for a long time without refrigeration, which is how they developed in the first place. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are also considered processed, even though they are usually nutritionally very similar to their unprocessed counterparts. I did read the article, and while it was not completely clear, I suspect that they are using the term "processed" to mean that you open the box/bag and eat it, or that you heat a prepared dish and eat that. We have decided as a culture that opening bagged salad, tortillas, a carton of grape tomatoes, a package of sour cream, a can of refried beans, a jar of salsa, and a bag of shredded cheese is "cooking" if we heat two of those ingredients up. It's not cooking, though- it's assembling pre-made ingredients. We are so far removed from actual cooking that we have a hard time even identifying it. I don't say this as a criticism. It is unrealistic and unjust to expect the Mrs. to work eight or ten hours a day and still find time to soak beans, culture sour cream, and roll out tortillas, to say nothing of grinding grain and tending a kitchen garden. But historically, this is how most households, even urban ones, functioned until pretty recently.

To try to address the problems with American agriculture is a rabbit hole of the deepest proportions. Farm subsidies are so rigged that I can't read about them anymore, as my blood pressure just skyrockets. We subsidize grain, sugar, meat, and cotton, but not fruits and vegetables. We still operate on the "get big or get out" model, rewarding the most giant, least needy corporate farms. We encourage monoculture, which is oil intensive and ecologically problematic. The way that regulations are written, on both the federal and many state levels, is in such a way to require massive capital in order to start anything up, when traditionally agriculture was a low-investment prospect. We have, in short, made it impossible for a small farm to exist, and it is only on a small scale that farming can be truly diversified and ecologically sound, not to mention efficient with hydrocarbons. And this is not to even touch on dairy issues, or animal husbandry and welfare.

Don't think for a moment this can be rectified with free market solutions. Our food supply is anything but capitalist.

We manufacture nearly 3000 calories per day of food for each man, woman, and child in the United States, nearly double what we need. This, in a nutshell, is why we are fat, but our government is entirely hidebound and terrified to tell people they should eat less, because of the chokehold that agribusiness has on the USDA. So instead we get told "eat right" (not less, but right) and "move more", which, conveniently, makes you want to eat more. (It also has the side effect of causing people to spend money on gym memberships, running shoes, and exercise equipment, which is part of why free enterprise is pretty okay with the status quo, too.) There is a clinical term for this now- we live in an obesigenic environment. You can eliminate hunger at any time, with virtually no physical effort- an evolutionary anomaly.

Sometimes I dream that we are going to go back in time, and actually do it right, and allot 40 acres to everyone who proves they can make it productive after five or ten years. There are so many people who would love the chance to try, but have literally no resources to even make an attempt. It would mean higher prices and lower corporate profits, but more livelihoods, better health, and greater income equality. We used to be a nation of yeoman farmers, and it makes me sad to see how far we've fallen, running a country, a society, and an economy on fossil fuels that are going to give out sometime. We utterly lack the political will to set these problems right, and it makes me fear for the future.
posted by Athene at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2012 [73 favorites]


I mean, is anyone stopping you from rigging up your own greenhouse?

Yeah, lack of access to capital, for one thing.

Dunno why exactly, but I think there's more to it than shipping and migrant workers.

I mean, apparently, yes, but I find it very curious. Agricultural subsidies? Higher-value use of the land in the US? Some kind of innate comparative advantage among Dutch bell pepper farmers?
posted by jedicus at 10:42 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Dutch are well known for their use of greenhouses to grow flowers - perhaps they take advantage of excess greenhouse capacity?
posted by nolnacs at 10:45 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


At various times of the year, my local mega-mart gets their bell peppers from Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, and Israel. Israel?!?!

Kind of related: Most of us don't have a good intuition for bulk transport costs as we deal with transporting only small volumes in our daily lives. I read somewhere that most of the carbon footprint of the vegetables you buy comes from your drive to the store, not from transporting them halfway around the world in bulk (assuming you use a car when grocery shopping).
posted by Triplanetary at 10:46 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's the "other"?

Pez?
posted by stormpooper at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe spices, flour, things like that?
posted by something something at 10:51 AM on June 14, 2012


I suspect the major hurdle is assembling the supply chain to reliably provide peppers, and thus get the contract. I don't think people's local wal-marts have a high tolerance for dealing with some guy outside of St. Louis who may or may not have saleable peppers. I suspect there are peppers grown outside Sr. Louis, and they sell diectly to chefs they establish relationships with and specialty stores.

Perhaps there is a global pepper middleman who a local St. Louis farmer can sell peppers to. The middlman would provide peppers to wal-mart based on supply. I bet the margins would be razor thin though. Who wants to grow peppers outside St. Louis just the be the lowest bidder. This would be a labor of love.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:55 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Triplanetary, I have also read this, but I think it's sort of silly.


It's missing the point to assign two drops of oil to each green pepper flown in from Amsterdam and then shrug off an individual pepper's carbon footprint as inconsequential. The answer is not to fly in fewer Dutch peppers, it's to not fly in any.
posted by Athene at 10:56 AM on June 14, 2012


Yeah, lack of access to capital, for one thing.

So the free market has spoken in your case. There are perfectly valid reasons that would keep you from embarking on a pepper growing venture. Those reasons are possibly not that different from anyone else in St. Louis pondering such a venture. Odds are, a confluence of perfectly ordinary factors, at least partly dictated by the free market, are combining to keep you from buying local peppers when you want them.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:06 AM on June 14, 2012


I wish I could favourite Athene's comment so freaking hard. Because that was my reaction to, at the end of the Atlantic post --- like, seriously, dude, how our of touch are you with your own culture that you don't realise nobody cooks anymore?

To a large degree I think that foodie culture would not exist if people did cook. Because then cooking at home would not be an useful venue for conspicuous consumption and status display and Michael Chiarello's $9-gram-grey-sea-salt. I mean don't get me wrong --- food has always been used for status display, from Roman banquets to modern weddings. But the very obsession with authenticity, rarity, hand-made, home-grown, oh, haven't you heard of-ness betrays it as fashion. It's the same way we talk about music and clothes.
posted by Diablevert at 11:13 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


There are far, far more places where you can buy pre-sliced supermarket-type bread (every convenience store I've ever been in, e.g., so not just grocery stores) than there are bakeries. Even here in foodie central (SF Bay Area), there just aren't that many bakeries compared to full grocery stores, corner stores, drug stores (every Walgreens has a grocery section), and so on. So my bet is they mean supermarket bread when they say "bread."

And in Wisconsin, "bakery" means "doughnut shop." (I would make an unholy bargain to obtain a reliable source of good crusty bread within a 20-minute drive.)
posted by BrashTech at 11:13 AM on June 14, 2012


With respect to St. Louis and bell peppers, part of the explanation is climate (38F/21F High/Low according to Wikipedia, vs 42/32F in the Netherlands in January), and the capital costs of setting up greenhouses (big domestic industry in the Netherlands). The tornado season in Missouri also makes it less attractive. Labour costs are also reduced in the EU by importing; I know of farmers in Beligum, and most of their workers come from Poland (apart from the farm owners - they work super hard too). A lot of it also has to do with historical momentum.

If you want to read up specifically on the bell peppers and the Netherlands, there was an inquiry by Canadian authorities about this exact issue which goes into some details here.
posted by rider at 11:18 AM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's missing the point to assign two drops of oil to each green pepper flown in from Amsterdam and then shrug off an individual pepper's carbon footprint as inconsequential. The answer is not to fly in fewer Dutch peppers, it's to not fly in any.

I dunno. I think it's a pretty valid point to say that food shipped in on giant boats from South America has a smaller footprint than fruit grown 100 miles away and driven to the farmer's market on a junky little trunk. It's not that simple, but it is a valid consideration.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:19 AM on June 14, 2012


there was an inquiry by Canadian authorities about this exact issue which goes into some details here.

Wow, who knew. I checked across the street from me. They are $1.69/lb
posted by Ad hominem at 11:26 AM on June 14, 2012


mrgrimm, I take your point, but I think what you are referencing is a related but distinct problem. We need trains and public transit, not to mention properly planned communities so that people can walk or bike to the market.
posted by Athene at 11:34 AM on June 14, 2012


With respect to St. Louis and bell peppers, part of the explanation is climate (38F/21F High/Low according to Wikipedia, vs 42/32F in the Netherlands in January), and the capital costs of setting up greenhouses (big domestic industry in the Netherlands). The tornado season in Missouri also makes it less attractive.

Climate and tornadoes explain "why not St Louis" and industry explains "the Netherlands". What explains "why not Florida/California/Texas/Mexico/etc"? I don't see any reason you can't grow tomatoes in FL or CA.
posted by DU at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2012


*Inferred but not explicit: I was referencing trains and public transit as a method of transporting locally grown foods and other cargo.
posted by Athene at 11:38 AM on June 14, 2012


we're still eating roughly the same amount of meat per capita now than we did in '82 (and more than any other country on the planet except tiny Luxembourg).

That's the most interesting fact I've heard all month and now it's stuck in my head, going around and around, and I can't stop asking myself "what's up with Luxembourg and meat? Why? Why? Why?"

Make it stop!
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:42 AM on June 14, 2012


Athene, I agree with almost everything you've written but I would disagree about the emphasis you've placed on how difficult it is to cook from scratch. It can really be done quite quickly with a bit of advance planning, a freezer for extra portions, and some practice. Look at the work Jamie Oliver, for example, has been doing on this issue to convince families that they don't have to eat crap just because they're busy. I don't think it's helpful to take an "all or nothing" approach such that if you don't culture your own sour cream or grow your own tomatoes you're doing it wrong and don't know how to cook.

I think it's important to make a distinction between food that's processed with added chemicals and sodium versus foods that are processed in ways that aren't unhealthy as a way of storing them such as dried pasta. Some of the ingredients you listed in your example such as the sour cream, the grape tomatoes and the cheese I wouldn't call processed. I would argue that buying cheese pre-grated is silly but not unhealthy. The bagged salad is unhealthy because of the gases used to artificially prolong its life without preserving its nutrients. Canned beans that are rinsed would also be fine although the refried beans are probably full of lard and salt.

Just as a quick illustration I work full-time and go to school half time and cook just about everything from scratch. I think the key is making things in large batches and then freezing them in smaller portions. So at the weekend as one example I might spend an hour making a big batch of tomato sauce and some pizza bases. Then portion them out and freeze them. From this on a weeknight I can quickly and easily make pizza of course, also lasagne or spaghetti bolognaise or stuffed shells and cheese. You'll probably say this is bad because the pasta I use is dried and the tomatoes come from a can and therefore it's processed but there's nothing wrong with this kind of processed food. Surely it's worth making a distinction between this and Chef Boyardee instead of lumping all processed food together?
posted by hazyjane at 11:50 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Public transportation as a way of transporting locally grown foods? I suppose that would work if all the food were being grown within urban boundaries but I don't see how that would be any more efficient if the buses, trains whatever had to wander throughout the countryside - going miles just to pick up a single passenger or load.
posted by nolnacs at 11:51 AM on June 14, 2012


Cooking from scratch is incredibly time consuming. In the 1920s, homemakers spent 2.5 hours per day, on average, preparing food.

Complete nonsense. Time spent cooking is entirely dependent on your dietary choices. Elaborate French sauces and complicated twelve course meals, yes, you can spend hours upon hours. But unless you are a gourmand, there is absolutely no reason to get involved in such on grounds of necessity. If you emphasize health, you can spend remarkably little time preparing food. I've written about this previously, but this is real life experience speaking, timed and lived on a daily basis for almost 15 years now:

Food prep/cooking: breakfast 10 minutes, dinner approx. 20 minutes. That's all - about 30 minutes a day (with the caveat that once or twice a week more time is spent preparing beans and the like for the next few days). It's all diet dependent. My wife and I don't eat lunch - unless you have to eat frequently for medical reasons, there's no reason to eat lunch - skipping lunch gives three benefits (a) health - fewer calories consumed during the day (b) cost savings (no need to go out for lunch either) and most importantly (c) time savings... you cannot even imagine, how much time is gained by not having your mental space occupied by lunch issues (choosing, making - or going - consuming, toothbrushing). Of course most people either eat out for lunch, or brown-bag it.

We don't consume baked grain products, such as bread, on a regular basis, with the exception of mini whole wheat pitas from TJ's, a couple of times a week, though there may be many weeks where we don't even do that - we do that on health grounds, but the benefit is zero time spent baking bread, cakes and the like. Occasionally my wife will bake a cake for guests.

Veggies: if you eat mostly raw, all you have to do is rinse and chop, splash some olive oil and squeeze a lemon - 10 minutes. Done. For the more involved veggies: light cooking, steaming and the like takes literally a few minutes - faster and healthier. Throw some spice. Done. Minutes - literally. Once or twice a week, more involved: peel and bake a squash or sweet potato, or beets - a few minutes peeling, rest of time wait for it to bake; make a dip: non-fat yoghurt + crushed garlic + pinch of salt - 2-3 minutes; or throw a spoonful of honey on the squash. Done.

Fruit: rinse; sometimes only peel (citrus), or only cut/chop (melons). 1 to 3 minutes. Done.

Protein. Breakfast: protein powders - fast and healthy (you control the amino acid proportions), piece of low/non fat cheese for calcium. Dinner: a couple of times a week eggwhites from a carton, a few mushrooms, chop in a couple of veggies, onion etc. - time is about 5 minutes or so; three or four times a week, beans - this can be more involved, but only happens about once a week as prep/cooking - big batch of beans soak overnight, then cook with spices for a couple of hours - and you got them for three or four days, where all you do is throw it in the microwave for a few minutes; once or twice a week fish, open a can of ocean caught salmon or herring, mix with some veggies, onions - minutes. Done.

Cleanup - minutes.

Re: variety - endless veggie combinations, different spice combos on the beans etc. - not a problem. Important: generate a set of recipes that provide variety within the same basic format, about 3 weeks worth, and rotate them, so no time is spend agonizing or thinking over recipes and what to buy etc.

Additional tips: a couple can make all this even faster. We work together - for dinner, I rinse everything, while my wife chops and cooks, I set the table, prepare the supplements, make tea and so on. By the time I'm done, she's usually finished too - often we are able to cut dinner prep and cooking down to 15 minutes or so.

So it can be done, and done extremely fast, economical and very healthy.

And the homemakers from the 20's - why are we referencing them at all? They had few tools and few conveniences, so for example they had no choice but to make their own pasta from scratch - and what exactly is the advantage of that, versus extremely basic pasta from a package? It's not like that's packed with "chemicals" - read the ingredients, please on a TJ's organic whole wheat pasta and tell me how it's "less healthy" than rolling your own. And herb garden - please, if we are going that far, why not demand that everyone live on a farm... but wait, they use iron tools, so why not demand that everyone also mine their own ore and make their own tools. It's stupid. There is no health or economic advantage to rolling back our food preparation by 100 years, or 7000 years. So why would we do compare the time it took to get food back in the bronze age? Or 1920's? It's not like the 1920's diet was healthier - today, with a minimum of care, you can eat infinitely more healthily than you could in the 1920's and our availability of fruits and vegetables regardless of season or location is pretty amazing.

There are bigger issues than time to prepare food (which is a non-issue) - dietary choices, food deserts, education, money.
posted by VikingSword at 11:53 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


DU: Climate and tornadoes explain "why not St Louis" and industry explains "the Netherlands". What explains "why not Florida/California/Texas/Mexico/etc"? I don't see any reason you can't grow tomatoes in FL or CA.

From the inquiry link: By controlling a number of variables, such as air temperature, root zone temperature, vapour pressure deficit, fertilizer feed, carbon dioxide enrichment, selection of growing media and plant maintenance, the greenhouse growers aim to obtain maximum performance from the crop over the production season. High fruit quality and yield of coloured bell peppers are difficult to obtain in open field environments. Therefore, they are usually grown in protected environments, such as high passively ventilated greenhouses. Greenhouse peppers are grown from specialized cultivars.

I am not a pepper expert, I had just wondered about this before and surfed around a bit. I suspect that Fl/Ca are possibly too warm for greenhouse cultivation, and size/shape/look are aren't as controllable in field peppers. From my own anecdotal experience, field red peppers in southern Ontario (Canada) are pretty small, and cosmetically not very attractive, but perfectly edible. They are thus probably not saleable in a grocery store, but are perfectly fine once processed into, say, a sauce. Waste due to cosmetic issues is endemic, as dumpster divers will tell you, but a whole other kettle of fish.
posted by rider at 11:54 AM on June 14, 2012


Iowa here, and I've seen two "sign this petition" notices from my local food co-op in the last month or so to prevent the building of two hog confinement facilities - one adjacent to a nearby organic farm, and one adjacent to a state park with a lake. Confinements are the grossest of gross - they smell when you live near them and the meat tastes like confinements smell. But it's cheap, cheap, cheap.
posted by sararah at 11:54 AM on June 14, 2012


There are far, far more places where you can buy pre-sliced supermarket-type bread (every convenience store I've ever been in, e.g., so not just grocery stores) than there are bakeries. Even here in foodie central (SF Bay Area), there just aren't that many bakeries compared to full grocery stores, corner stores, drug stores (every Walgreens has a grocery section), and so on. So my bet is they mean supermarket bread when they say "bread."

I guess it depends on the supermarket, but some do have real bread.

Although when I compared a Safeway here in Calgary with a Safeway in Idaho (Bonners Ferry maybe?), I noticed one big difference: the shelf space they devoted to beer/wine in Idaho is where all the fresh baked items go in Calgary. The Idaho Safeway only had that bagged soft bread that lasts a week or more.

Of course there were lots of small differences too. The yogurt in Idaho was all that 0% fat bullshit, and the tea selection sucked. The cold cuts also generally looked like pre-formed Arby's meat. However they had a much better selection of fresh meat, and fresh fruit/veg.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2012


Climate and tornadoes explain "why not St Louis" and industry explains "the Netherlands". What explains "why not Florida/California/Texas/Mexico/etc"? I don't see any reason you can't grow tomatoes in FL or CA.

They do grow tomatoes in both of those places, which is why you couldn't get any in the US for two months in 2010. The San Joaquin Valley is some of the most productive agricultural land in the world, so much so that the state of California is locked into a ludicrously complicated irrigation system just to keep it productive.

I am not a pepper expert, I had just wondered about this before and surfed around a bit. I suspect that Fl/Ca are possibly too warm for greenhouse cultivation, and size/shape/look are aren't as controllable in field peppers. From my own anecdotal experience, field red peppers in southern Ontario (Canada) are pretty small, and cosmetically not very attractive, but perfectly edible. They are thus probably not saleable in a grocery store, but are perfectly fine once processed into, say, a sauce. Waste due to cosmetic issues is endemic, as dumpster divers will tell you, but a whole other kettle of fish.

According to the California Department of Agriculture, the state has been producing 6-8 million tons of bell peppers every year, so, again, they're growing this stuff, whether or not it's showing up/you're noticing them in your grocery stores.
posted by Copronymus at 11:59 AM on June 14, 2012


Food prep/cooking: breakfast 10 minutes, dinner approx. 20 minutes. That's all - about 30 minutes a day

What about lunch?

A family dinner can be cooked in 20 minutes, but day after day it would be fairly monotonous. 30 minutes is about the minimum I can spend cooking a family dinner, but that's pushing it.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:59 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


To a large degree I think that foodie culture would not exist if people did cook. Because then cooking at home would not be an useful venue for conspicuous consumption and status display and Michael Chiarello's $9-gram-grey-sea-salt. I mean don't get me wrong --- food has always been used for status display, from Roman banquets to modern weddings. But the very obsession with authenticity, rarity, hand-made, home-grown, oh, haven't you heard of-ness betrays it as fashion. It's the same way we talk about music and clothes.

I respectfully disagree with this statement. As someone who grew up on processed food and only learned to cook and eat healthy over the past decade, food for me has nothing to do with status or fashion. It is instead a passion, a way of life. I also think that paying attention to the source and quality of your food is what the "foodie movement" is all about, and I don't see how it makes much difference where you cook it.

Moving on, I think in the near future the planet--and of course the developed world especially--is going to have to figure out how to live (again) with less meat and processed food. This will be yet another big challenge for our industrial, comfort-obsessed and time-stricken societies.
posted by nowhere man at 12:00 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu, Viking Sword doesn't eat lunch. I do, packed for myself and partner in under 5 minutes. I store either cooked pasta or a grain in the fridge that I set aside from when I've made it for dinner. Then in the morning I make a big salad with for example some pasta, a tin of tuna, some mayo, a few tomatoes and some corn. Or else quinoa with beans and tomatoes and grated carrot, chopped avocado and oil and vinegar dressing. Something like that. It's usually delicious.
posted by hazyjane at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2012


What about lunch?

I addressed it in my post: "My wife and I don't eat lunch - unless you have to eat frequently for medical reasons, there's no reason to eat lunch - skipping lunch gives three benefits (a) health - fewer calories consumed during the day (b) cost savings (no need to go out for lunch either) and most importantly (c) time savings... you cannot even imagine, how much time is gained by not having your mental space occupied by lunch issues (choosing, making - or going - consuming, toothbrushing)."

A family dinner can be cooked in 20 minutes, but day after day it would be fairly monotonous.

Nope. Dinner is protein, veggies and a bit of starch. All of those exist in great variety. Combine them in endless permutations. You can easily make a couple dozen sets of permutations which you can then repeat in such a way that you don't eat the exact same meal more than once a month. Here's something that I observed, and also know from growing up in my own family: most traditional cooking has less variation than what I today cook as described above. Monotony is not an issue for me - it's much more of an issue with traditional cooking... how do most families eat? - they usually eat the same set of 20 or so dishes over and over again.
posted by VikingSword at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2012


BTW, the $1.69 peppers from across the street are from florida according to the sign.

I didn't really grow up on processed food, I only learned to love it later in life. My mother worked long hours so I stayed with an immigrant family around the corner after school until she got home. Each day the woman who watched me would visit all the neighborhood shops and buy whatever they got in that day. Tomato and eggplant from the vegetable market, live crabs,fish or calamari from the fish market, chops from the pork store, fresh made mozzarella from the cheese store and fresh baked bread from the bakery (the bakery featured in the movie Moonstruck). In the summer she had parsely and basil grown in the backyard. I'm not sure where the hell she got chicken. She spent countless hours making sauce, cleaning fish and making pasta every day. She did buy frozen ravioli but that required a special trip to a store that sold frozen homemade ravioli. It is kind of amazing people lived in Brooklyn just as they had lived in towns and villiages they had come from well into the late 80s.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:16 PM on June 14, 2012


While I think we are moving a bit afield, I was convinced long ago that public transit it more energy efficient than all of us driving cars. If we are going to get into why, should we keep it here? Or go to MeTa? I honestly don't know.

I used the 1920s as an example because it was recent enough that we have good data on it, but before the post WWII industrialization of our food supply.

I actually am a pretty fine cook, if I do say so myself. I grind my own grains and culture my own sour cream and yogurt and roll my own tortillas and pasta, and tend a garden that's grown so big I have only a 20'x20' patch of grass left. I buy in-state peppers in bulk every August at the farmer's market, and I slice and IQF them, and that's what I eat all year round. But I am privileged to be able to do this, and I don't pretend that my choices are available or desirable to everyone. I have space for a deep freezer and canning jars and bulk grains, I have access to farmer's markets and a co-op, and I have a dishwasher. I am unconstrained by which sellers take food stamps. I had access to mentors and came from a family of people who cooked and gardened. I have broadband internet access and can afford to buy cookbooks. It is obtuse to assume that everyone has these advantages. Also, VikingSword, I presume that you and your wife are preparing food for just the two of you, yes? Skipping lunch and eating protein powders and eggwhites from a carton usually doesn't go over real well when children are involved, and making a day's worth of food for an entire family is point blank a lot more time consuming than half an hour.

As for the "herb garden" statement- I referred to a kitchen garden- mine has herbs, yes, but also blackberries, raspberries, spinach, nasturtiums, marigolds, sunflowers, tomatoes, eggplant, lettuce, corn, onions, asparagus, carrots, and potatoes. While it is a important food source to my household, it is hardly a farm. I live on a 1/10th of an acre city lot (less an 800 sf house footprint) and have no livestock, so farm is a stretch. But people, even urbanites, have had kitchen gardens since time immemorial. WWII victory gardens weren't aimed at farmers, who already grew most of their own food, they were aimed at town dwellers.

Anyone could do the things I do, but not everyone can. To insist that it's possible for everybody is silly and fallacious.
posted by Athene at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Food prep/cooking: breakfast 10 minutes, dinner approx. 20 minutes. That's all - about 30 minutes a day (with the caveat that once or twice a week more time is spent preparing beans and the like for the next few days). It's all diet dependent. My wife and I don't eat lunch - unless you have to eat frequently for medical reasons, there's no reason to eat lunch...

This entire comment is hilariously unaware of the existence of children, not to mention doing dishes, doing grocery shopping, etc. I usually skip lunch too but none of the kids do. And they have frequent snacks and generate a ton of dishes.

We can't feed our family *fast food* in under 20 minutes, what with getting out sippy cups and wiping faces, adding ketchup and whatnot. If you allowed 15 minutes *per child* and then 15 minutes for both adults you might get closer. And considering family sizes in the 20s, and the need to make lunch for people working in fields, 2.5 hrs/day starts to look pretty reasonable.
posted by DU at 12:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


This entire comment is hilariously unaware of the existence of children, not to mention doing dishes, doing grocery shopping, etc. I usually skip lunch too but none of the kids do. And they have frequent snacks and generate a ton of dishes.

Regarding kids: yes, that's a valid point. The rest, is nonsense again. Doing dishes: a few minutes, because we use few dishes - years ago I read a great article about ways of reusing dishes that really saved not only on the number of dishes used, but on the use of water and the time to clean.

Shopping - hilariously wrong. My wife and I are pescetarians. Our shopping happens once a week, total about 40 minutes: two stores only - TJ's for the basics such as nuts, oat bran etc. and an ethnic market for fruit, veggies, beans etc. Add to this a trip to Whole Foods or Fresh & Easy once every 6-8 weeks or so. Since we know exactly what it is we're buying every week (use lists to being with) we hit a store and rush through it, we know exactly which aisles to go into and we tumble the items into the basket lickety split. Bottom line, food shopping is under an hour a week. Supplements and the like (f.ex. protein powders, nutritional yeast, psyllium etc.), bought online. Of course, we are lucky to not live in a food desert - we have plenty of stores within very short distances (TJ's 2 blocks away!) - again, we are lucky and I recognize transportation is absolutely an issue, I was addressing myself exclusively to food prep time, which I call shenanigans on.

So cleaning and shopping - ultra efficient.

Kids - yes, that is a valid point, but it depends on age - up to six or so, that's 100% a time sink, no ifs buts or maybes, older it's different - more time spent toward the cleaning part, having to prepare lunch (unless they eat at the school cafeteria), than the breakfast/dinner, because the latter is exactly the same, simply greater quantities... unless you let the kids run wild and demand their own - unhealthy - food... not something I'd be down for (and growing up, my own family was strict that way, we ate what was considered healthy and I ate my first junk food on my own when I moved out). But I concede the kids point, since we are childless by choice.
posted by VikingSword at 12:44 PM on June 14, 2012


VikingSword, the diet you and your wife adhere to would be nutritionally inadequate for anyone still growing, and it has nothing to do with children demanding unhealthy food. You are really off by saying that you would just make more. Kids need to eat more than twice a day. Kids need fat, period. Egg whites and non-fat yoghurt would not cut it. I realize there are actual parents who feed their kids a low fat diet, and it breaks my heart. The misinformation from the 1990s regarding dietary fat has been sadly pernicious.
posted by Athene at 12:55 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


What about lunch?

I addressed it in my post: "My wife and I don't eat lunch


Yeah, kids need lunch and snacks and all that sort of stuff. If you guys can spend 30 minutes a day making food, that's super great but for families (and the obesity epidemic is now affecting nearly all kids) it's not realistic.

Working parents have little time to cook, which is why they rely on prepared foods.

You need to really at least acknowledge this before your comments can be taken seriously.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:57 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also -- speaking as a middle aged adult -- I would lose a great deal if I didn't eat lunch, because that would mean not eating for about 12 hours over the middle of the day.

I would lose the capacity to work, and probably lose a couple of fingers, since I'd gnaw them off from hunger at around 2 pm.
posted by jrochest at 1:01 PM on June 14, 2012


VikingSword's diet and relationship to food would make me want to kill myself. But it would save me an hour and a half a day, so there's that.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:03 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


So cleaning and shopping - ultra efficient.

Honest to god, it's great that you're able to wrangle your eating/cooking/shopping life like this. But your implication that because you can do it (and look how easy it is!), that everyone should be able to is dopey and fighty. Stick with "Here's how we handle it in our household, maybe other people can find useful bits to take from it" rather than declaring, for instance, that food prep time is a non-issue (i.e., would be a non-issue if everyone did it the way you do, live the way you do, etc.). It pointlessly gets peoples' backs up. Unless that's what you want.
posted by rtha at 1:07 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess there is the option of prepreparing food on your day off (assuming in today's economy you have a day off, and have the time to do on your day off) and store it in the fridge to be microwaved during the week.

We sometimes cook rice (which we have at every meal) and wrap individual portions to put in the freezer, and then cook a bunch of stuff like hamburger steak to be thawed during the week. Vegetables can be cut up and stored in plastic containers in the fridge.

I have no idea how this would work, though. We made the choice where only I work and my wife stays home with the kids, so she often makes dinner.

But if you are commuting an hour or more each day and working long hours, and have weird days off, and get tired, it's hard to say how to plan healthy meals.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:13 PM on June 14, 2012


Viking, the remark about food prep time was in reference to getting people to eat less processed food and cook more from raw ingredients.

You reply that you eat protien powder and boxed egg whites for breakfast and that takes no time at all. Well, yeah. But that seems orthogonal to the original discussion.

Look, the variety of food available to us is near infinite, and given that it's certainly possibly to come up with any number of eating styles that allow you to prepare food quickly and healthily. But I don't think that obviates the point that it takes both time and know how to cool the kind of stuff most Americans like to eat.

I respectfully disagree with this statement. As someone who grew up on processed food and only learned to cook and eat healthy over the past decade, food for me has nothing to do with status or fashion. It is instead a passion, a way of life. I also think that paying attention to the source and quality of your food is what the "foodie movement" is all about, and I don't see how it makes much difference where you cook it.

Well, I said foodie culture and not food because I think they're different. It’s like music --- a tremendous pleasure universally revered among all humankind, and yet something you can really be a pretentious dick about if you wanna. (And sometimes that line blurs; I suppose I’d like to describe myself as a passionate music fan, but I’m sure a lots of people would take one look at my itunes and think “oh, so you’re a indie-lovin’ hipster d-bag, hunh?”)

And while there has always been status display stuff associated with food, I think the biggest shift in the past several decades, at least in America, has been the switch from being a pretentious dick about restaurants to being a pretentious dick about cooking. Back in the
actual 1920s, one of the signs that you were middle class was that you could afford to hire someone to cook for you, it was such a pain in the ass. (You see this depicted in literature, TV and film up through the 1950s or so.) Foodies of that time would have been more into where to go out to it, and it’s not like that’s died.

But what we’ve really seen in the past decade in a half or so has been this whole movement --- as the Atlantic author points out! --- toward holding up locally-grown, organic, handcrafted stuff as the new ideal - precisely because it is no longer common. It’s a reaction to the
commodification and increasingly processed nature of the average American diet that it has become au courant to love these things. If everybody really was going home at night and cooking from scratch and
buying from famer’s markets and doing the 100 mile diet then nobody’d be flipping blogging about it cause fish don’t blog about water, to mix a metaphor. If, indeed, those battles get won, then the foodies will move on to something else, because if your Aunt Nancy from Milwaukee with the hummell figurines was making her own basil-and-lemon-verbana-infused vodka and studying mixology it would no longer be cool for young urban professionals to do those things ---
there’d probably be some sort of backlash where people got into ordering off-menu from obscure fast food chains with only three outlets.
posted by Diablevert at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


VikingSword's diet and relationship to food would make me want to kill myself

I guess I'd just say that VikingSword, like Athene, is an outlier - though a different kind. I can't imagine starting my day with protein powder and lowfat cheese and finishing it up with raw vegetables and lemon juice - but that's because I like cooking and eating; they're not things I do as fast as possible to get on with my day (assuming that I have spare time, that is).

Being the type of person who reads, remembers and operationalizes a long-ago article about how to reuse dishes....that is very unusual. As is feeding oneself for maximum efficiency without foregrounding pleasure in food at all. (ie, lots of people eat "efficiently" by eating fast food but they're also after the fat/salt/sweet). I'd say that basing policy on "we will get everyone to take on these highly unusual character traits" instead of structural changes in food production and labor practices is unlikely to succeed, although it's all we'll ever try because anything else would require standing up to entrenched corporate interests.

Also, making-everything-yourself isn't actually the only traditional way of human life - people have been buying bread, beer, pasta, tofu, certain sauces and a variety of labor intensive foods that are easier to make in large quantities for centuries - hell, back to Roman times. US discourse on this is a little bit specialized because we are always harking back to the frontier, where people were so widely scattered that you pretty much had to do everything yourself. But if you were in London in 1850, you might well be running out to the old eel-pie stand or picking up a dipper of peas in broth (although those might be adulterated) or a bacon sandwich. If you were in Japan, you'd be going out for noodles or picking up your tofu from the tofu shop or buying steamed buns.

The issue really isn't you should cook everything yourself; the issue is that pre-made food today is substantially unhealthy because there's such an extreme profit squeeze going on and comparatively little regulation. What if you could head on down to the noodle emporium for fresh-made but uncooked ravioli? What if you could buy a baked cornish pastie full of vegetables?

I think USians have a tendency to assume that work is virtuous just because it's work - so it's totally moral to cook all your food merely because you're cooking. But honestly, what if you were in an economic position to stop at the posh co-op salad bar for dinner every night? I bet you'd be healthier than someone whose means could only stretch to pasta, red sauce and a fistful of spinach leaves.
posted by Frowner at 1:50 PM on June 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


VikingSword, the diet you and your wife adhere to would be nutritionally inadequate for anyone still growing, and it has nothing to do with children demanding unhealthy food. You are really off by saying that you would just make more. Kids need to eat more than twice a day. Kids need fat, period. Egg whites and non-fat yoghurt would not cut it. I realize there are actual parents who feed their kids a low fat diet, and it breaks my heart. The misinformation from the 1990s regarding dietary fat has been sadly pernicious.

I'm not going to address this at length, because it'll just devolve into a derail, so I'll just respond in this post. Feeding growing kids is not magic. There are studies, and you can look up RDAs of various nutrients, vit&min for every age appropriate. Nothing that we eat would be bad for growing kids and I'm not sure where you get the idea that I adhere to some kind of unhealthy-fat diet, and regarding fat specifically, it's just the opposite - fatty fish once-twice a week (ocean-caught salmon), for the DHA and EPA, nuts (daily) usually almonds (raw) for monounsaturated and n6, flaxmeal (daily) for the n3, olive oil (daily) for mono and oleic acids. We try to avoid saturated and transfats. Our intake of fat is based on the best understanding nutritional science has in the 21st century, and I doubt you - or anyone - would be able to suggest better. Re: kids, when very small, need a bit more DHA, but when older there is zero reason to suggest that the profile of our intake of fat would be any disadvantage at all to a kid. Whatever breaks your heart would be mended on our fat intake - and what should break your heart is the fact that kids have atherosclerosis at astonishing young ages, due at least in part to excess intake of saturated fat. We eat tons of fruit and vegetables - daily - I'm quite positive that a kid of almost any age would get all the vit & min they need from our diet, because it's easy to ascertain - just look up the RDA tables of requirements for appropriate ages. I do concede the lunch issue, but note that an older child often eats at school, so from a food prep point of view, at least 5 times a week it's a moot issue.

jrochest: Also -- speaking as a middle aged adult -- I would lose a great deal if I didn't eat lunch, because that would mean not eating for about 12 hours over the middle of the day.

I would lose the capacity to work, and probably lose a couple of fingers, since I'd gnaw them off from hunger at around 2 pm.


I'm not an evangelist for my lifestyle, so I won't press the point, other than to note that the body adjusts. In time you would not experience energy shortfalls over the 12 hours, nor excessive hunger - in fact, you'd get more energy as it would be utilized more efficiently. Also, some of the most recent studies suggest not taking in food for over 12 hours results in health benefits, so if that criterion is important, that would be a boon, if anything.

nathancaswellVikingSword's diet and relationship to food would make me want to kill myself.

I rather imagine you don't have any actual experience with my "diet and relationship to food", what you have is your own idea of what constitutes my "diet and relationship to food". What actually counts is the end result by whatever criteria you choose - health results, cost time-economic, palatability and quality of life. And the results for me are outstanding. I'll leave it at that, making no judgment about your choices.

rtha: "But your implication that because you can do it (and look how easy it is!), that everyone should be able to is dopey and fighty."

I'm not sure I implied that, though you're right, I should have been more specific and certainly allowed that it would not work for anyone with kids (I usually do in these threads, but omitted it this time). As to "declaring, for instance, that food prep time is a non-issue" I'm afraid I still hold to that - with the caveat that it does not apply to anyone with kids. It is a non-issue depending on dietary choices - something I certainly did declare from the get-go. If your primary end-point is health outcomes, then yeah, this is true for anyone (without kids); as to palatability, I love my diet - mostly unprocessed food focused on quality ingredients - but that's subjective so I won't press the point.

Let me also stress that I am addressing myself specifically to food prep time - not counting shopping. Yes, we could add shopping, but then why not add working for the money to shop. And then add education to get the job to get the money etc. So narrow point - food prep time. Why so narrow? Because I objected the idea that it takes 2.5 hours of food preparation in the kitchen.

Diablavert: Viking, the remark about food prep time was in reference to getting people to eat less processed food and cook more from raw ingredients.

You reply that you eat protien powder and boxed egg whites for breakfast and that takes no time at all. Well, yeah. But that seems orthogonal to the original discussion.


Yes. But my point was that not eating processed food, and mostly focusing on raw food - which we do - does not take the absurd prep time suggested 2.5 hours.
posted by VikingSword at 1:53 PM on June 14, 2012


But if you are commuting an hour or more each day and working long hours, and have weird days off, and get tired, it's hard to say how to plan healthy meals.

Slow cooker. Ours has an 8 hour timer + 2 hours of "keep warm" - so we can set it up at night (chop stuff up, throw it in, go to bed) and then wake up, turn it off, put it in a container, and parcel it out over the week. You have to take the time once a week is all - and it's more or less the same amount of time you're going to spend dealing with going out, ordering, paying, etc. Also: Lightyears cheaper. No matter what you buy, pretty much.

But it's a commitment we have to make every day - I have to stuff my lettuce into a container, grab my pre-cooked protein, etc, and my spouse has to make his sandwich and so forth. But we do it (most of the time) because we know that we physically feel better and that our wallet is healthier, too.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:55 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As is feeding oneself for maximum efficiency without foregrounding pleasure in food at all.

Well, that's not incompatible at all. Efficiency can be combined with pleasure in food. My breakfast features a not very tasty soup (for most people, even if I like it OK) and low/non-fat cheese, but it also features almonds, and fresh fruit and berries. Once you transition to mostly rawish food, you take pleasure in extremely good quality fruit and vegetables, which have amazing flavor. Also, we're big on spices for our beans etc. I love what I eat. Am I unusual? Possibly, but I know I'm not a freak, because there are plenty of people who love raw/ish diets and appreciate extremely high-quality ingredients. For example I source my olive oil extremely carefully. The move away from processed food need not be a move toward tasteless food. The move toward efficient non-processed diet also does not mean tasteless food.
posted by VikingSword at 2:01 PM on June 14, 2012


VikingSword, please don't tell us you're in favor of replacing kids' chocolate with carob...
posted by KokuRyu at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2012


I rather imagine you don't have any actual experience with my "diet and relationship to food", what you have is your own idea of what constitutes my "diet and relationship to food".

that and the 1000+ words you've written in this thread about your diet, sure

from that it SEEMS LIKE it's not for me, sometimes i want to wake up and be like "you know what I want to eat today? homemade pho" and then spend all day making that happen. does it sometimes turns out like the egg salad sandwich story from 40 year old virgin? yes.

anyhoo, carry on
posted by nathancaswell at 2:12 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one who wants to doesn't find the way to cook and eat real food. Most people actually don't want to and choose processed food because it looks good on TV and tastes better to them. The people who choose to take the stairs are the exception when the default option - the one that is advertised constantly and engineered to appeal to you, is so readily available.

So we're basically doomed, which is fine. Our grandkids will laugh at us the way we look back at people wearing radium watch faces.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2012


VikingSword: protein powders - fast and healthy (you control the amino acid proportions) … eggwhites from a carton

Sounds more "nutrients" than food to me. You believe in the convenience of prepared foods too, just like those who open a jar of pasta sauce for a 15 minute prep dinner; more power to you, if that's what you like, but reliance on processed, prepackaged foods as staples doesn't exactly match the tone of the rest of the comment.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:18 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


VikingSword, please don't tell us you're in favor of replacing kids' chocolate with carob...

Nope. I know you're joking... but funny how that comes out - because I do take in high-quality cocoa, which is not only enjoyable, but has many studies behind it showing health benefits, so... I would not replace kids' chocolate with carob, but I would insist on extremely high quality organic dark chocolate, ha!
posted by VikingSword at 2:21 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding kids: yes, that's a valid point. The rest, is nonsense again. Doing dishes: a few minutes, because we use few dishes - years ago I read a great article about ways of reusing dishes that really saved not only on the number of dishes used, but on the use of water and the time to clean.

Yes, I'm sure you and your wife use few dishes. My wife and I use very few as well.
posted by DU at 2:32 PM on June 14, 2012


Doing the dishes is the kids' job.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:18 PM on June 14, 2012


Sounds like a recipe for partially-cleaned dishes.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our intake of fat is based on the best understanding nutritional science has in the 21st century, and I doubt you - or anyone - would be able to suggest better.

Better- and I would argue that this is true for everyone, but absolutely vital to children- is eggs with yolk, full fat yogurt, full fat cheese, and actual food instead of protein powder (which, aside from being a con, is not food.) I'm not talking individual fatty acids here, I'm talking macronutrients. Children need about 35% of their calories to come from fat, more when they are younger.

You are comfy with your diet and lifestyle. Awesome. But let's not pretend it's scaleable in any meaningful sense. It simply isn't. Feeding yourself when you are part of a dual (I presume over minimum wage) income, childfree household isn't much of a trick. When I was a single adult, I spent less than $25 per week on groceries- all I ever had at my house was pre-made hummus and tomatoes. I worked in restaurants and ate there, for the most part. But the difference here is that I'm not suggesting that everyone live the way I do now, or did then, as a matter of a public policy- which is vitally important, because it impacts citizens' options. We have choices, but not as many as we think we do.
posted by Athene at 3:24 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kids need fat (the good kind) until their late teens, in order to facilitate brain and nerve development.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:40 PM on June 14, 2012


Sounds like a recipe for partially-cleaned dishes.

Since you can only judge based upon your own experience, I'm sure that would be true of your household. In my household, one way in which it's easier to keep everything sparkling clean is by limiting the number of dishes used - that way one can do a very good job cleaning just the few used.

Sounds more "nutrients" than food to me. You believe in the convenience of prepared foods too, just like those who open a jar of pasta sauce for a 15 minute prep dinner; more power to you, if that's what you like, but reliance on processed, prepackaged foods as staples doesn't exactly match the tone of the rest of the comment.

It's complicated. Not all processed food is worse from a health or palatability point of view - some is better, regardless of convenience. People use the term "processed food" differently. Olive oil, wine, coffee, tea, cocoa - all of which I consume - all are processed, but there's no other way to have them. I take one table spoon of fat-free yoghurt a day, for the beneficial bacteria, but I'd rather not intake the saturated fat, so it is fat-free therefore also processed... this is an example of processed being superior by one metric (health) to unprocessed - the whole issue of saturated fat is complicated and a derail (which is why I won't pursue Athena's nutrition-related points further), so I'm not going to dwell on that, I'll merely note that processed can be superior from a health point of view. Nutritional yeast - which I consume daily - is processed, and a great addition to a healthy diet. Protein powder is very complicated and a can of worms I don't want to open here (derail).

Bottom line, in picking foods to promote as a public health policy, processed food should not be seen as some kind of monolith. There may be health, economic and convenience benefits to some processed food. No single dietary regimen is going to fit everyone though, obviously.
posted by VikingSword at 5:33 PM on June 14, 2012


Sorry nathancaswell - in re-reading, I think my comment was uncalled for and I apologize.
posted by VikingSword at 5:43 PM on June 14, 2012


Buy local, buy organic, screw mega farming as much as possible.
posted by Windopaene at 5:50 PM on June 14, 2012


> The bagged salad is unhealthy because of the gases used to artificially prolong its life without preserving its nutrients

Is this true? I've heard other reasons to not buy bagged salads -- cost, mostly -- but never that the gasses were problematic.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:03 PM on June 14, 2012


The reason why I'm leery of pre-packaged salad greens is because of E. coli contamination.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 PM on June 14, 2012


> We have decided as a culture that opening bagged salad, tortillas, a carton of grape tomatoes, a package of sour cream, a can of refried beans, a jar of salsa, and a bag of shredded cheese is "cooking" if we heat two of those ingredients up. It's not cooking, though- it's assembling pre-made ingredients. We are so far removed from actual cooking that we have a hard time even identifying it. I don't say this as a criticism. It is unrealistic and unjust to expect the Mrs. to work eight or ten hours a day and still find time to soak beans, culture sour cream, and roll out tortillas, to say nothing of grinding grain and tending a kitchen garden. But historically, this is how most households, even urban ones, functioned until pretty recently

There is an enormous amount of middle ground that most certainly "counts" as cooking between pre-packaged food and rolling out your own tortillas.

> Yes. But my point was that not eating processed food, and mostly focusing on raw food - which we do - does not take the absurd prep time suggested 2.5 hours.

Protein powder and boxed egg whites are not raw foods. They are manufactured, processed, pasteurized convenience foods.
posted by desuetude at 9:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The corpse in the library, yes it's from a study by the Rome Institute for Food and Nutrition conducted in 2003. They looked at salads bagged using the modified atmosphere process (MAP). The researchers noted that several antioxidant nutrients (which protect against ageing, degenerative disease and cancer) such as vitamin C, vitamin E, polyphenols and other micro-nutrients, seemed to be lost in the MAP process. You can read a bit more about it here. I read about it in the book Not On the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence which is slightly outdated now (2004) but I still highly recommend it.
posted by hazyjane at 10:29 PM on June 14, 2012


Apart from the convenience! processed food is often way cheaper than making something ffrom scratch, no matter how you're buying or preparing your food. You can get a frizen pizza for a euro in Ireland; it may be terrible for you, but there is nothing I could make myself that would cost less. I'm less amazed that people eat poorly than that they ever go for the more expensive and healthier option.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:48 PM on June 14, 2012


There is an enormous amount of middle ground that most certainly "counts" as cooking between pre-packaged food and rolling out your own tortillas.

Aye. The older I get, the more I also find myself turning to raw foods. Making a raw salad is maybe not "cooking" per se, but it's certainly meal preparation, and it's certainly nutritious. Avocado and raw nuts have shitloads of fat.

there is nothing I could make myself that would cost less

Potatoes? Turnips? I mean, it's already been said many times, but if you're just going for maximum calories for minimum price, go for soda.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:12 AM on June 15, 2012


A euro's worth of turnips or potatoes would be a delightful dinner, I am sure.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:59 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I am not disagreeing with the importance of eating healthy and making your own food, but I just think it's worth remembering that you cannot make food from scratch as cheaply as frequently can buy something processed. Not even if you buy in bulk and in season.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:02 AM on June 15, 2012


A euro's worth of turnips or potatoes would be a delightful dinner, I am sure.

Agreed! (I also agree with your general point: industrialization will always make processed food cheaper.)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:25 AM on June 15, 2012


There is an enormous amount of middle ground that most certainly "counts" as cooking between pre-packaged food and rolling out your own tortillas.

While I would concur that there is a middle ground, it is not enormous. Yeast baking is time consuming and finicky, and it is also something that can save the average household a significant amount of money if you are comparing apples to apples: you can get off-brand Wonder-type bread for under $2, but it's trash. Good bread costs $4-$5 and up, even though the basic ingredients (whole grain flours, yeast, water, a tiny bit of fat and wee bitty bit of sugar) cost about $0.50. But baking skillfully takes a while to learn, and a lot of time that may not necessarily be hands-on, but requires you to be hanging out at home. Tortillas, when compared to yeast baking, are really easy. Now that I'm practiced, I can make 8 tortillas in less than ten minutes, plus griddle time (since most folks griddle packaged tortillas, I don't really think that time counts toward homemade production).

I'm not making the argument that packaged tortillas or packaged pasta is somehow nutritionally inferior. They usually aren't. I'm pointing out that we, as a culture, don't even think of them as things that are made, they are nearly always things that are bought, even though they are simple dishes that are within the grasp of most people to make, from ingredients readily available at any store, and with common kitchen implements. Contrasting this to, say, cheese- you usually can't buy rennet at a supermarket, most people don't have a press, etc.

The reason people don't cook like this is two fold: there is no economic incentive to do so, or one so small as to be negligible, and they don't have the time. This is not a moral assessment. I don't think people who cook are somehow better people. I'm just pointing out that we have entirely normalized processed foods. And I'm not talking about yeast breads or cheeses or wine or beer or olive oil, things that require specialized equipment and a good chunk of time, especially at first, to learn how to do well. I'm talking about things that are simple and relatively quick to make. Relatively quick isn't quick enough anymore. Quick is salad. Quick is stir fry. Quick is opening a box of pasta and a jar of sauce. None of these dishes are bad, but my point is that cooking from scratch is a dying art (which, I agree, is a big part of the rise of foodie culture).

I don't think that this is a bad thing, entirely- I'm a feminist, so the argument that "we should get back in the kitchen" always raises my hackles, and makes me wonder who, precisely, is we. I also don't think this is a cause of our industrialized food system but an effect of it. This is the heart of the point I've been struggling to make, and it's also where my concern comes in: is it worth monocrop farming and perverted subsidies to make wheat so cheap that the cardboard of the pasta box cost more than the noodles inside? Is is worth antibiotic resistant bacteria and worker exploitation so that hamburger costs $2 per pound instead of $5? Is it worth it to allow food prices to rise as a method of combating these evils, even if it means letting a child skip breakfast so her parents can afford to feed her supper? Is it worth it to fundamentally change our economy so that it makes financial sense to have a stay at home partner to cook all the meals, if it means losing the gains that feminism has won? Make no mistake: electric appliances and processed foods are what allowed women to go work en masse. That's the problem with the options here: there are serious downsides to all of them. These issues aren't simply widespread, they are systemic. Our modern food system grew almost by accident, and now here were are, facing multiple crises: the health costs associated with obesity and diabetes; the linked, rising prices of food and oil eroding the spending power of the median wage; the environmental crisis wrought by hydrocarbon consumption, desertification, and vast pools of feedlot feces runoff; the loss of genetic diversity in food plants and food animals; and the irrefutable fact that no part of our current system is sustainable. We know it will break, it's simply a question of when and how bad, and of whether we'll have made any progress in figuring out how the fixes will work.

I love to cook from scratch. I love to cook at home. I'm good at it, I find it fun and satisfying, and I think the homemade food from my kitchen beats the pants off nearly anything I can buy from a store or a restaurant in terms of nourishment of the body, senses, and soul. But I don't think my cooking preferences and choices becoming widespread will change our disastrous food system. I think my purchasing behaviors becoming widespread might have a small effect, but still, nothing nearly impactful enough to fix this. Changes this big are going to have to be governmentally implemented: farm subsidies and regulations being rewritten is the logical place to start. But there is not anything close to enough voter awareness or concern to make it a political issue. We are consumed with economy, civil rights, healthcare, the military. While that stuff is all incredibly important, when I think of the contrast, I'm reminded of the proverb:
“Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money.”
posted by Athene at 11:29 AM on June 15, 2012


> it's from a study by the Rome Institute for Food and Nutrition conducted in 2003. They looked at salads bagged using the modified atmosphere process (MAP)

I'm trying to tell if it's the gas in particular that causes the drop in nutrition, or that the vegetables are older than the ones that aren't in packaging. I want to make the distinction because I buy a lot of boxed baby arugula and other greens; they're not in air-tight bags, but they are washed and ready to eat (if you don't mind gambling with bacteria) and keep for quite a while.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2012


> >>there is an enormous amount of middle ground that most certainly "counts" as cooking between pre-packaged food and rolling out your own tortillas. >While I would concur that there is a middle ground, it is not enormous.

When I say "pre-packaged," I'm not talking about dried pasta, or sausage, or yogurt or cheese.

Cooking:

Saute or braise or roast vegetables, add some salt and lemon and make pan sauce by deglazing with a glug of alcohol and a pat of butter or splash of olive oil, served over pasta or rice. Or add more broth with the glug of alcohol, hit with a stick blender, maybe add a splash of cream gives you soup. Lean meat can be pounded thin and sauteed. Cuts with a lot of connective tissue go into a crock pot with liquid and spices and a rough-chopped onion and or celery and or carrot. Leftover beer and a past-its-prime onion go into a pan with a fat sausage and simmered until the sausage is done and everything else caramelized. Leftover anything can be reinvented through quiche or on pizza dough (which is pretty forgiving as long as you roll it out thin.) And so forth.

Nothing really tricky there.
posted by desuetude at 9:35 PM on June 18, 2012


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