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"It's a privilege to want less."
July 2, 2014 7:10 AM   Subscribe

The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in farmer's markets, healthful cooking, and dismantling the industrial food system, spurred in large part by Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma. But the "food movement" of today tends to be dominated by affluent urbanites, and messages from Brooklyn and San Francisco often don't reach--or resonate with--the majority of places in between.
Guernica contributor Meara Sharma interviews food journalists Jane Black and Brent Cunningham about the juxtaposition of American working-class culture, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, and the idealized pastoral leanings of the modern-day food movement: Servings of Small Change.

On deeply-ingrained associations between food and class:
Barring very, very poor people, I actually think class-wise, fast food went from being modern and aspirational to the standard and just what you like. That's the dirty secret at the heart of the food movement. There's this idea that if everybody could have a roasted pasture-raised chicken and a fresh-picked peach, then they would eat it, and they would like it, and that's what they want. But that is absolutely not true. Given a choice between Alice Waters's roasted chicken and a McDonald's chicken sandwich, many people would choose the McDonald's chicken sandwich every time. Because they like it.
And the often-invisible luxury of choice:
Not wanting the quantity, and wanting the quality, is usually because you don't ever have to worry that there's not enough. It's a privilege to want less. It's a luxury to worry about how the animal was raised.

And that, I think, is what is lost in this whole national discussion about food. Because it's led by people who don't have to worry. It's not that people aren't aware of that, but it's totally different to really understand it—and to craft messages and strategies that account for it. We had that experience a number of times in Huntington [West Virginia]. You're sitting with people, and they're really poor, and their lives, because they are poor, are very chaotic. Somebody's brother is in jail, somebody is on drugs, somebody is working the night shift at the gas station, the kid has ADHD. And you're sitting there going, Have you thought about whole grains? It sounds, to them, like somebody saying, Oh, my private jet broke down.

Previous work by Jane Black:
Want to help feed people? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Volunteer to teach low-income children, adults, and families in your community how to shop for and prepare nutritious, delicious, inexpensive meals through Cooking Matters! Not feeling very creative? The Kitchn has some recipe suggestions for you.
  • Donate shelf-stable goods to your local food pantry! Check out this "most wanted" poster [PDF] for ideas. Spoiler alert: 100% fruit juice? Peanut butter? Whole grain cereal, pasta, and rice? Low-sodium canned vegetables, soups, and stews? Yes, please.
  • If you're a gardener, share your extra homegrown produce with a local food pantry through Ample Harvest! Fresh fruits and vegetables are highly prized in food pantries.
  • Throw money at it! No Kid Hungry, Feeding America, or your local food pantry would be happy to take your donations.
posted by divined by radio (104 comments total) 95 users marked this as a favorite

 
"We would joke that Brent was my “hillbilly fixer.” Isn't that cute.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:18 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Oh god I feel like jumping up and down and pointing at the "Small Change" article and saying "yes! THAT!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 AM on July 2


farmer's markets ... dominated by affluent urbanites

Talking with a vendor at the market last weekend, I learned that 1) eggs were the moneymakers, at $7-8 a dozen, and 2) they can't sell white eggs. The customers will only buy brown eggs, or speckled eggs.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:27 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Somebody I did some volunteer work with on an election campaign years ago made a cookbook as a capstone project for her food studies masters degree that provides recipes to meet the $4/day budget requirements of those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It's on-line for free.

She's currently kickstarting a print run with a buy-one/donate-one bent.
posted by whittaker at 7:27 AM on July 2 [40 favorites]


Talking with a vendor at the market last weekend, I learned that 1) eggs were the moneymakers, at $7-8 a dozen, and 2) they can't sell white eggs. The customers will only buy brown eggs, or speckled eggs.

Whaaaaaaat? The eggs at my farmer's market are half that, and are mostly white eggs that are fully beloved, and believe me, it's a pretty farmer's-markety kind of place. I suspect/hope that is a Results Not Typical situation.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:36 AM on July 2


1) eggs were the moneymakers, at $7-8 a dozen, and 2) they can't sell white eggs. The customers will only buy brown eggs, or speckled eggs.

At the farmer's market here in Troy, NY, we get eggs for like $3.50/doz at the farmer's market. No wonder he's got to charge $8/doz, if he's throwing all the white eggs away.
posted by gauche at 7:39 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]


whittaker, that is awesome! What an inspiring and thoughtful project. Now I just wish I could go back and include your link to the SNAP cookbook in my FPP. (Here's an alternate link for folks who are hitting a '403 Forbidden/requires login' on the previous link, btw: PDF!) She also has another free cookbook on her website, geared toward new vegetarians. So rad.

Thanks so much for posting it!
posted by divined by radio at 7:41 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the "no white eggs" thing is probably unique to just that one area.

However, it does not surprise me in the slightest that such an area exists.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


Somebody I did some volunteer work with on an election campaign years ago made a cookbook as a capstone project for her food studies masters degree that provides recipes to meet the $4/day budget requirements of those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

That is awesome; I will absolutely post it to the blue when the Kickstarter is over.
posted by lalex at 7:45 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


The farmer's markets here in Portland, ME pretty much only have brown eggs. But they are also only like $3 a dozen. I feel it's a New England thing to a certain extent, most of our eggs in the grocery store are brown eggs.

I grew up in a part of the midwest where we only had white eggs. It blew my mind when I moved out here, that there were even brown eggs.
posted by mayonnaises at 7:47 AM on July 2


"fast food is aspirational food" We didn't have a lot of fast food growing up until I hit my teens. Now I and the children are sick of it and have started meal planning to teach them to cook and shop and eat.

We are still at the heat-a-frozen-meal stage but we are slowly getting there. But I have the affluence of money and time to teach them these things. They have also been influenced positively by attending a school that had most of the students on school lunch programmes; the school encourages healthy food and does cooking hands on demonstrations as part of the yearly curriculum.

Eggs at the green market in our shiny remodeled downtown are $8 a dozen. Brown vegetarian non-ultrapasturized eggs, though, are nearly the cheapest on the dairy case at $3.25 or so. I don't care if they are brown, white, green, or purple, if they're vegetarian, but I can afford that. We've got an upscale styled CSA just launched around the county that has farm fresh brown eggs for about $6 a dozen as well, though raw milk is harder to obtain.

I had surreal a conversation with a cynical consumer who insisted that all the eggs in his state were white because the processors "blasted the brown off" before selling them. He is not the primary shopper in his household. That's when I noticed the eggs I were so picky about were also the cheapest in the case by the dozen.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:51 AM on July 2


Friend of mine worked with a charity that helped ex-convicts, usually poor to working class men, rejoin society after long imprisonments. One of the most popular programs were gift donations that the men could bring to thier wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers, etc when they got out - they asked and found perfume and soaps were the most asked for items so they then asked the much wealthier funders of the chairty to donate them.

They ended up having to repackage or store away half of what they got. The super yuppie, all-organic butcher-paper-and twine stuff was rejected for looking too poor and simple - it didn't look like it came from a store - or it didn't look like it came from any store they would frequent or recognize. The more overpackaged it was, the better it was received. A lot of the donors where putting in what they would like, not realizing there was a whole raft of unquestioned assumptions they where making in their decisions.

Understanding someone's culture is important even if you have all the best intentions.
posted by The Whelk at 7:52 AM on July 2 [52 favorites]


I feel it's a New England thing to a certain extent, most of our eggs in the grocery store are brown eggs.

When farm breeds were regional, layers in New England were almost exclusively Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks, both of which lay brown eggs. The jingle I heard growing up was "brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh." You ask me to imagine an egg, it's brown.

I recite that to my daughter and buy brown eggs exclusively unless they'll be dyed. You can buy white eggs in Greater Boston just as easily as brown, but it's a New England Pride thing to many of us.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:00 AM on July 2 [8 favorites]


Just another voice pointing out that the cookbook whittaker links to is fantastic.

I watched Food Revolution religiously when it was on, as a big Jamie Oliver fan. It was obviously a case of "this rich British kid coming in and telling us we're doing it wrong isn't the best possible approach," and it was so over-the-top edited and melodramatic, but it just made me so happy that people were talking about home cooking, and why it's such a great thing, during prime-time network television. I think it was such a net positive.
posted by jbickers at 8:09 AM on July 2


Given a choice between Alice Waters's roasted chicken and a McDonald's chicken sandwich, many people would choose the McDonald's chicken sandwich every time. Because they like it.

This is definitely true. Eddie Murphy says it better than I could.

Growing up with government cheese and powdered milk and such, as a kid, getting McDonalds was a treat for getting As on report cards or for getting out of the hospital. Don't get me wrong - I can cook, and I enjoy it - but sometimes, a McDonalds burger and fries with a chocolate shake is just the little pick-me-up that takes me back to simpler times.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:09 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I really liked the interview with Jane Black and Brent Cunningham, which gets at some things I've been wrestling with about food, the food movement, and my reaction to it. I think they're totally right that the food movement tends to focus a lot on fairly elite people and on urban poor people who are seen as objects of charity and uplift, and it tends to be really clueless about and kind of alienating to people who aren't either well-off or poor.

One thing I realize is that I often feel really judged and condescended-to by foodie types, often because of random throwaway things that they probably don't even realize that they're saying. For instance, a while back I was listening to back episodes of the Cook's Illustrated podcast, and someone called in with a question about how to cook their recipes on an electric stove. And the guy first said "the answer to that is to get a decent stove," before launching into a perfectly reasonable response about turning one burner to high and one to low and switching the pot between them when you need to lower the temperature quickly. And all I could hear was that "get a decent stove" and think that this over-privileged sack of shit had exactly no clue about the reality of my life. My landlady picked out my stove, and she's not going to replace it just because I ask. So is the idea that I'm supposed to choose an apartment based on the quality of the stove? People in my neighborhood choose apartments based on price, access to jobs, access to public transit, neighborhood safety, the perceived quality of the schools... a million things that are more important than having a gas fucking stove. Telling us to get a decent stove is basically announcing that we're the wrong kind of person to be listening to this podcast, and fuck that. Who needs that in their life?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 AM on July 2 [61 favorites]


My CSA* has an egg share, but the distribution gets all the eggs in one big crate and each person picks out their individual dozen or half-dozen from the crate. They're mostly brown, but once in a blue moon you'll see a couple green eggs in there. The first time I saw one, I eagerly grabbed it, saying "cooooooooool!" and the volunteer handing them out laughed and said everyone else before me had been avoiding it because "green eggs = weird".

And I was blown away because - it's a green egg! And it came that way naturally! It's an Easter Egg that came from nature! Come on, we had purple carrots two weeks back and everyone dug that, but a green egg makes you balk? Have you not read Dr. Seuss?

Hmpf.

* Yes, I know that referring to a CSA makes me sound super foodie-snobbie, and I realize I'm lucky to avail myself of this. Fortnuately the one I'm in isn't quite as Pollan-worshipper super-progressive foodie, and is more about "hey, it's food that tastes good, here's a cool way to get it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I have so much to say on this topic. Let's start with some facts:

1. I have an eating disorder.
2. Food is an incredibly difficult topic for me
3. I am a relatively upper-middle class white woman
4. I have chickens, bees and a fairly large food garden

I know that I am privileged to have a garden and space for my chickens and bees and time to keep my little micro-mini farm. It isn't something I would be able to do if I, say, worked 2 jobs or had little kids or made less money.

Sometimes eating food that I have grown with my own blood and sweat makes me incredibly happy and gratified. Sometimes, food is complicated for me and home grown tomatoes and fresh basil and fresh eggs or a freshly plucked guava is not what my lizard brain wants and only something that would make Jamie Oliver blanch will do. And I don't want to hear his shite because he doesn't know my life.

And even though this isn’t what people mean to say, what it sounds like to them is: You should spend more money on your food, you should spend more time shopping for it and cooking it... And if you don’t do it then you’re a bad person.

Brent Cunningham: And basically they’re like, “Fuck you.” And rightly so, on some level.


Jamie Oliver and other people coming in to tell communities what they should and shouldn't be eating or doing or thinking is so unbearably myopic and classist, I just don't even know what. People have complex lives and histories and issues and homegrown squash doesn't fix things just because you want it to.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:17 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


I really liked the Guernica interview. (It's all I've read yet.) Thanks for posting this.
posted by nangar at 8:18 AM on July 2


"The last decade has seen an explosion of interest in farmer's markets, healthful cooking, and dismantling the industrial food system, spurred in large part by Michael Pollan's 2006 book The Omnivore's Dilemma. But the "food movement" of today tends to be dominated by affluent urbanites, and messages from Brooklyn and San Francisco often don't reach--or resonate with--the majority of places in between."

Huh I didn't know farmer's markets and eating healthy were invented by rich hipsters. Thank you rich people for shining your enlightenment on us poors.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 8:19 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


All those rich urban farmers, donchya know.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:21 AM on July 2


Cyclopis, have you been to a farmers market recently? It's at least half rich white tall rail-thin couples drinking organic coffee, basically pod people you don't see at any other time of the week as they're usually able to insulate themselves from us commoners. (And their coffee is drank from disposable containers, somewhat ironically)
posted by Yowser at 8:22 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


Also, entropimericana, I know someone who sells their wares at a farmers market. She's a rich urban "farmer" only making herself richer, by selling value-added items. I don't begrudge her success, but the majority of stalls at a farmers market where I live are similar- value-add products, not corn fresh from the stalk.
posted by Yowser at 8:26 AM on July 2


Sometimes, food is complicated for me and home grown tomatoes and fresh basil and fresh eggs or a freshly plucked guava is not what my lizard brain wants and only something that would make Jamie Oliver blanch will do. QFT

I'm starting to realize that I may too have food issues.

When I go on a "diet", it is usually to reduce, as I use tend food as a drug.

I will, without hesitation, eat the same meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I can get away with it, simply because it is comfort and portion control that I have taught myself over the years. My food diary can just copy from day to day (in fact, with a single click - it's a feature!).

I can ease myself back into "real meals" eventually: flavorful tasty things that I am making to enjoy the flavor and texture of, the ritual of making, presenting, sharing, and eating it.

But I find myself wary of falling back into "using" food again. Simply eating and making whatever to mark the grooves in the grind between working and sleeping and getting up and doing it all over again. Substituting food for sleep. Literally feeding worries.

I don't eat mindlessly, I think. I eat to feed a lot of somethings when I should mostly be feeding basic nutritional needs and from time to time a feeling for creation and texture and flavorful enjoyment with the buoyant company of others.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 8:29 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I highly recommend discount green grocers. They get goods that the chains don't want. Prices are great. I bought flawless asparagus for $1/lb on Saturday.
posted by No Robots at 8:35 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Huh I didn't know farmer's markets and eating healthy were invented by rich hipsters. Thank you rich people for shining your enlightenment on us poors.

It kind of was ever thus. Michael Pollan gets invoked like King High Poobah by the current urban foodie movement, but his books do actually get at the heart of how the food business in this country got to be so fucked up. And actually, two other books I've read - M.F.K. Fisher's How To Cook A Wolf and Sallie Tisdale's Best Thing I Ever Tasted - also have some good analysis of just how food in this country got so weird.

In a nutshell: during the 20th Century, some corporations tried really, really hard to convince everyone that the proper, fashionable, and classy way to "do" food was to go for processed food. You had scientists trying to break it down nutritionally - both finding ways to process food to last a long time on store shelves, and then finding ways to fortify food so it would have this or that latest "nutrient" - and you also had the big-industry farmers trying to sell their stuff across more and more platforms, and you had the government trying to make both the farmers growing things and the housewives selling things happy by subsidizing the farmers but also keeping the housewives' pocketbooks fullish; and you had marketers trying to push convenience and quickness and "the latest science" over common sense.

So the processed stuff had the weight of advertising and half-assed science behind it, and that became the aspirational way to relate to food, and the actual healthy food got shunned as being too "poor" because it went bad, you had to put in labor to cook it, etc. You know? Being able to afford Campbells' was a sign that you were affluent enough to save yourself the labor. And so going all-processed was a keeping-up-with-the-Jones' kind of thing, spurred on by Madison Avenue, and we bought it.

Pollan's advocation of healthy food (I just read "In Defense of Food") is more about the science of things; it isn't as simple as "brown rice and whole grains and quinoa because it's more rustic", it's actually a good breakdown of how the people who have been doing research into how food works, on a nutritional level, kind of....don't know what they're doing. His approach is actually a much more common sense one; he sees that people read reports that go on and on about why the beta-carotene in things like carrots are important, and then people go all crazy trying to get beta-carotene in their diets and food companies start synthesizing beta-carotene and injecting it into everything, and his only question is, "rather than going crazy trying to get beta-carotene fortified bread or rice or whatever, why not just eat a fucking carrot?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on July 2 [18 favorites]


Cyclopis, have you been to a farmers market recently?

We have one every Friday in a lot a few block from my house in the Gifford Park neighborhood of Omaha. A lot of stuff is sold by the Big Muddy Farm, which is just about a block away from that, in a part of town with a long history of economic depression. It is, however, a pretty active community -- the neighborhood group is one of the most active in Omaha, doing things like developing empty lots into community gardens and pressing to have the actual park the neighborhood is named after have soccer nets. There's also been an explosion of urban chickenkeeping, which means that I walk past a handful of yard coops when I go to my bus.

It's a mixed neighborhood, with some relatively well-off residents, a fair number of students, and a lot of poor people. The farmer's market has tried to make sure it has something for everybody. The prices are reasonable, and sometimes better than grocery store prices. I see all sorts of people use it.

I also see a huge variety of people at the amazing number of local restaurants that have sprung up in the past few years that are part of this food movement, localvore, farm to table, etc. A locally sourced Mexican street food place opened up a few blocks from me, and their tacos are $2.50.

People will eat what they can afford and what is available. I ate Taco Bell for years, because it was all I could afford and get to. Now I have more and better options, and I take advantage of them, even though my income has dropped back down to where it was when I was really struggling. I eat better now than I ever have, in fact, and it helps that I can make my own meals, thanks, in part, to urban farmer's markets.

Omaha may be unique, for whatever reason (I don't think it is; I have seen a similar shift in my home city of Minneapolis), but if this food revolution is limited to rich, rail thin white people, it is because of cost and location, primarily. And that's easily addressed. Hell, most of the food trucks I see around here are part of this foody revolution, are reasonably priced, and wander all over town.

I think North Omaha is mostly still ignored -- it seems like a huge food desert. But I work here in North O, and when I bussed along my route this morning I noticed a dozen people clearing two lots and planting food.
posted by maxsparber at 8:47 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


And let me add, when I first moved to Omaha in 1996, it was a terrible food town. A lot of national chains, a few stakehouses, and some upscale dining that was well-liked but unspectacular. I went away for a while and I don't know what changed, but Omaha is now one of the best restaurant towns I have been to, with tremendous variety, and much of it seems inspired by this food movement.
posted by maxsparber at 8:51 AM on July 2


This is wonderful! I love the action list.
posted by amaire at 8:52 AM on July 2


and you had marketers trying to push convenience and quickness and "the latest science" over common sense.
I think, though, that sometimes wanting convenience and quickness *is* common sense. If you don't get home from work until 7:00 at night, it's common sense to want to make a dinner that is convenient and quick. I think the food movement does itself a disservice by pretending that people who want convenience are just lazy or victims of false consciousness. Instead, in the short term let's talk about better ways to make quick and convenient food, and in the long term let's talk about reforming society so more people have the time and energy to cook.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:58 AM on July 2 [20 favorites]


Jamie Oliver and other people coming in to tell communities what they should and shouldn't be eating or doing or thinking is so unbearably myopic and classist, I just don't even know what. People have complex lives and histories and issues and homegrown squash doesn't fix things just because you want it to.

The obvious question here is what should we do then?

It's at least half rich white tall rail-thin couples drinking organic coffee, basically pod people you don't see at any other time of the week as they're usually able to insulate themselves from us commoners.

Seriously? Now we don't like farmer's markets because they are full of yuppies? What's left for me to like anymore?

Clearly there is a problem in this country with food, and it's a problem that is costing us all a lot of money. We've tried better diet standards for kids, but that didn't work out. We've tried giving diet guidelines, but that process was upended. We could try regulating the food industry to be more nutritious, but apparently that's both regulation and elitist. Good luck getting that through congress.

What I see Jamie Oliver's organization doing is attempting a multifaceted approach to this problem that uses education and shows kids what real food is. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it's a damn sight better than putting another salty pizza slice on their plate.

It might sound condescending, but if we can't educate people and we can't regulate what they eat and we can't just say "Look, we've decided to replace SNAP with some McDonald's gift cards because at least then you'll eat." what should we do?
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:06 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I think, though, that sometimes wanting convenience and quickness *is* common sense. If you don't get home from work until 7:00 at night, it's common sense to want to make a dinner that is convenient and quick.

No, you're right on this front. What I'm getting at, though, is more like -

Okay, an example is the best way to describe this. Hamburger Helper is often pitched as a "quick meal" solution; just brown meat, dump in the packet of seasonings and some water, and voila, there's dinner, without you having to "cook". After a lifetime without ever having had Hamburger Helper, I got curious and got a package to test that argument; was it really faster and easier? I even got all scientific about it, and selected a flavor which replicated a dish I've made a lot from scratch - beef stroganoff.

And what I found is that the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff takes maybe 25 fewer seconds to make than actual beef stroganoff. There's some extra hands-on "work" - measuring one spice, measuring out sour cream, chopping an onion - but that's it.

I do respect, mind you, that I'm comfortable in a kitchen and know how to cook. I also respect that there are people who don't know how, and need to be taught how. What I'm looking at, though, is the advertising for things like Hamburger Helper which give the impression that the actual act of cooking is much harder than it really is, and takes longer than it actually does - because I suspect a lot of those messages are scaring some people away from trying to learn to cook because Madison Avenue is depicting the learning curve as being much steeper than it is in reality. There's a learning curve, sure, but it's more like climbing to the top of the local sledding hill than it is Scaling Mount Parnassus.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


In Seattle the farmer's market situation seems almost entirely about younger urbanites showing off their kids and buying products produced from what I loosely define as the "white guilt industrial complex"

-Vaugley ethnic chotchkies
-Smelly soaps sold by pseudo-hippies
-Poorly stitched (yet obscenely expensive) "artisanal" handbags
-Hemp candy
-Scrap-metal windchimes
-Hats. So many fucking hats

I call it that because people who buy this stuff often tend to have an idea that their mere existence is fucking pretty much everybody over, and buying this stuff somehow balances out their karmic scale a bit. It isn't just consumption, it's making a statement. You are buying authenticity at an incredible mark-up. Also, you can count the number of brown people walking around on fingers and toes. The whole class thing is really, really obvious if you open your eyes a bit. Weirdly, my most hyper-progressive acquaintances go to these things every week.

That's fine I guess, but I find it insufferable. And there is hardly any goddamn food! If there is, it's very expensive and usually pickled or dried.

Luckily, there are a ton of fruit/vegetable stands in the less-wealthy neighborhoods. Real fruit stands where Hispanic and Ethiopian moms go to feed big families and you can get a bag of big, beautiful romaine hearts for a buck-fifty.
posted by lattiboy at 9:17 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


And what I found is that the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff takes maybe 25 fewer seconds to make than actual beef stroganoff. There's some extra hands-on "work" - measuring one spice, measuring out sour cream, chopping an onion - but that's it.

But doesn't require that you have a container of sour cream - which goes bad in like a week. If you don't eat a lot of that, then it's a waste to have any around. Onions, like some veggies, keep a bit better but not much.

So the time saving in HH isn't in the cooking - it's in the gathering.

Eating fresh means shopping every couple of days. If you only have time to shop on weekends, then you risk things going bad before you can consume them. If money is tight to start with, waste is bad - not to mention the extra costs (gas/time/etc.) required to make the extra trips.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:20 AM on July 2 [25 favorites]


People in my neighborhood choose apartments based on price, access to jobs, access to public transit, neighborhood safety, the perceived quality of the schools... a million things that are more important than having a gas fucking stove.

People who want a gas stove just add "gas stove" to lists like that. It's not you need to be at a point where all that other stuff is taken for granted to care about the stove.

And even though this isn’t what people mean to say, what it sounds like to them is: You should spend more money on your food, you should spend more time shopping for it and cooking it... And if you don’t do it then you’re a bad person.


Haha. Well I know first hand that that's exactly what some people mean to say.
posted by deathmaven at 9:28 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


And what I found is that the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff takes maybe 25 fewer seconds to make than actual beef stroganoff. There's some extra hands-on "work" - measuring one spice, measuring out sour cream, chopping an onion - but that's it.

Hey there, I don't have a dishwasher. Having to wash two measuring cups, a spoon, a knife and a cutting board by hand also adds extra time vs. just dumping in a packet and tossing it. Maybe it only takes 25 seconds less time if you've got a dishwasher but not if you are also creating more dishes to wash.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:28 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


And what I found is that the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff takes maybe 25 fewer seconds to make than actual beef stroganoff. There's some extra hands-on "work" - measuring one spice, measuring out sour cream, chopping an onion - but that's it.

Often times, people don't have that one spice, sour cream, or an onion. Meanwhile, Hamburger Helper stays good on the shelf for months, if not years, and all you need to add is ground meat and water out of the tap.

I write this as someone who was raised to nuke a convenience meal for every single meal, ever, as soon as I was big enough to climb up on the countertop or pull a chair over to reach the microwave, someone who didn't eat any fresh vegetables at all aside from the occasional potato until I was well into adulthood, and someone who has now been happily and healthily vegan for over a decade. I am never unaware of how outrageously lucky and fortunate I am to have arrived in a place where I can eschew entire food groups as a matter of what boils down to personal preference. And I've spent that entire decade building up a pantry of spices, seasonings, and dry goods that I hope will continue to serve me when I return to the kind of poverty I was raised in, because that fear has never left me.

Spices are a pretty serious luxury to a lot of folks on food stamp budgets; they're incredibly expensive when you're in a situation where literally every single penny counts, especially considering you can't eat them on their own. Growing up, we had a shaker full of iodized salt and absolutely no other seasoning whatsoever. I remember very, very vividly when someone inexplicably donated a giant box of packets of bay leaves to the food pantry -- we felt so lucky to get there early enough to grab some, and when the food pantry folks told us they were meant to be cooked with beef stew, we felt so fancy adding them to our stovetop preparations of tinned Dinty Moore. It took me years of extremely patient instruction to learn how to cook ANYTHING from scratch, and learning about how much flavor just a touch of seasoning can add to a dish was totally revolutionary.

tl;dr - Donate herbs and spices to your local food pantry, then volunteer to show people how to use them!
posted by divined by radio at 9:30 AM on July 2 [15 favorites]


I also respect that there are people who don't know how, and need to be taught how.

I have mentioned this before: there are people who have no desire to learn how to cook, and most of them would be pretty insulted that this implies some personal moral failing because they feel this way. I am related to a person like that, who has good-naturedly humored my foodie attempts to teach her basic dishes to feed her family instead of the cabinet of processed horrors I encounter when I visit. But I stopped because my sister had begun to wonder if I was judging her because she doesn't eat as much fresh veg as I do, or that because I turned up my nose at something dang thing or another at some point. I realized that I was bringing my own food classism/prejudices to bear on someone I care about. So I stopped trying to change her diet because I was acting like some Do-Gooder Asshole Who Will Teach You to Eat Properly.

In the end, she is getting there on her own. She has become more physically active and more interested in nutrition for her and her family. And when she asks me about some grain/leafy veg she has never heard of, she will call me and I will help her out. Again: only if she asks.

Believe me, I wish people had more time/income/skills/desire to cook, but it's not for me to don the judgeypants if they don't.
posted by Kitteh at 9:30 AM on July 2 [12 favorites]


The always brilliant Charlie Brooker doesn't just talk, he shows how Jamie Oliver's real war is against lower class people, by juxtaposing Jamie's school campaign against Jamie allowing his name to be used by a company selling expensive, sugar laden cookies.
posted by Yowser at 9:31 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


But doesn't require that you have a container of sour cream - which goes bad in like a week. If you don't eat a lot of that, then it's a waste to have any around.

...Um....not in my experience? Granted, I do use things past the recommended "use-by" date and trust my nose when it comes to figuring out when something goes bad, but I've had sour cream last for about a month in my fridge. And - you can use it for a way lot of things (tacos? baked potatoes? burritos? dips?) so...buy it once, have it for a month, you'll probably end up using it for a lot of things.

I hear you about waste being a concern, but...you can cook from scratch even if you only shop once a week. And besides, you're focusing on one dish, and if the big obstacle to your making something from scratch is that you're afraid the sour cream will go bad, then...uh, maybe make something else. It's a big world with a lot of recipes in it, and there are even some that are budget-friendly and pantry-staple friendly.

My point is more about the skill set required to cook as opposed to the ingredients.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


People who want a gas stove just add "gas stove" to lists like that. It's not you need to be at a point where all that other stuff is taken for granted to care about the stove.
The chances of finding an apartment with all those things and a gas stove are pretty much zero in my neck of the woods. I mean, I am one of those people who would like a gas stove, but tough luck for me, because I couldn't find an apartment that met all my other criteria and has a gas stove.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:33 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]


Eating fresh means shopping every couple of days. If you only have time to shop on weekends, then you risk things going bad before you can consume them. If money is tight to start with, waste is bad - not to mention the extra costs (gas/time/etc.) required to make the extra trips.

Pogo_Fuzzybutt, if you look at the links above, especially the most wanted poster I think you'll see that most "boots on the ground" organizations understand this problem. That's why things like low salt canned veggies or frozen are great to have, even for the cooks among us. I'm a relatively affluent, food conscious guy who gardens and shops and the farmer's market, but 10 months out of the year I'm opening a can of tomatoes to whip up a 10 minute sauce or to throw in the crockpot. I shop weekly because I work a full time job and have a family, but that doesn't have to limit you.

It brings us back to the education element. If a person can just learn how to roast a chicken, make a stock and make some soup or a pot pie, all of which can be done in an afternoon for a few dollars and will provide them with quick meals for several days, they've made a massive impact on their life. The same goes for a tomato sauce or some roasted veggies. No one is saying, "No hamburger helper" we're saying "Let's make it possible to get a decent meal on the table and possibly some leftovers once or twice a week."
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:35 AM on July 2


And what I found is that the Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff takes maybe 25 fewer seconds to make than actual beef stroganoff. There's some extra hands-on "work" - measuring one spice, measuring out sour cream, chopping an onion - but that's it.

That's because 1) you've got the immediate money on hand to shell out money for an entire bottle (or bottles) of spices (which is a lot for something you're not even really going to eat) and sour cream which goes bad unless you're having it regularly, and 2) the ability to quickly chop an onion which is something you don't know automatically. If you don't know how to chop an onion or can't afford to buy the spices, it's going to be either undoable or take longer than 25 additional seconds.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:37 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Jamie Oliver and other people coming in to tell communities what they should and shouldn't be eating or doing or thinking is so unbearably myopic and classist, I just don't even know what. People have complex lives and histories and issues and homegrown squash doesn't fix things just because you want it to.

> The obvious question here is what should we do then?

Just for starters, you might try reading the interview with Jane Black and Brent Cunningham the OP linked to and some of the other links in the FPP that talk about that. (I'm pretty you wouldn't be interested, though. If you were interested you probably would have read some of the linked articles already.)

> Now we don't like farmer's markets because they are full of yuppies? What's left for me to like anymore?

No one's telling you can't shop at farmers' markets.
posted by nangar at 9:44 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Bulgar, like I was telling Pogo - you're focusing on the ingredients themselves, and not the actual skills needed, which is what I was looking at.

I even acknowledged that people need to be shown how to chop an onion. My point, though - which I stated originally, but clearly need to state again - is that someone who maybe is thinking about wanting to learn could end up deciding against because "oh, it sounds so hard though" - and part of the reason why it sounds so hard is because Don Draper-types have been spending 20 years claiming that it's way harder than it is ("you need to have the spices on hand and you need to chop an onion and you could hurt yourself and who needs that, just buy Quik-o-Meel!")

As I said - I know that there is a learning curve when it comes to knowing how to cook. I am pointing the finger at Madison Avenue for making that learning curve out to be a learning mountain rather than a learning hill.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I gots one litmus question about these US food fads: do they help prevent our enormous food waste problem, or worsen it?

I like to:
1) eat as close to the plant / animal as possible ( processing costs money and makes me pay for ingredients I probably don't want to eat - read the bread wrapper) ... and
2) balance that with how much waste I can avoid (another cost). That includes (expensive) packaging (recycled).

I can use those savings to afford better quality.
posted by Twang at 9:50 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Also, the desire for tasty convenience meals is not something limited to the 20th century. I recently found a restaurant that sells containers of ngapi kyaw. It's similar to balachan; garlic, shallots, red pepper and dried shrimp fried until it is dry and will keep for months. I fell in love with it because not only was it good, it helped me avoid being tempted to swing by and pick up Taco Bell or some other fast food when I was tired and driving home. Getting home and making a quick salad seemed dreary, but once I thought "but I could just heat up some rice and add some spoonfuls of ngapi kyaw", I had something delicious to look forward to.

And then I discovered that in Burma it is loved as a rainy day meal -- when you are busy, or when it's too nasty and wet to cook a proper meal, you could just top up some rice with it and have some fresh vegetables as a side, and boom, a dinner to look forward to.

Any program for better meals that doesn't accept the human desire to have delicious things with minimal effort is going to fail.
posted by tavella at 9:52 AM on July 2 [13 favorites]


And yes, 20 minutes of cooking can look like an unpleasant mountain when you are tired, especially if _you don't like to cook_. And not everybody likes to cook, just like not everybody likes to knit or build furniture.
posted by tavella at 9:55 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty you wouldn't be interested, though. If you were interested you probably would have read some of the linked articles already.

This is sort of hostile, don't you think? If you'll read my next comment, I think you'll see I understand this as much as anyone.

I used to be on food stamps. I support my local food pantry with a monthly bank draft. Food is hard, I get it.

But the immediate animosity toward people who are not addressing it in exactly the way we think it should be addressed is upsetting to me. Can't different people attempt to solve the problem in different ways and not be working at cross purposes? After all, the core of the article is "we need to eat better". They mention churches, Michael Pollen, low cost farmers markets, the "real cost" of food as related to wages and worker abuse. Obviously they understand that there is a complex problem here. Why is OK for them to come into a community and tell people how to eat, but not Oliver? Because they support churches and other grassroots organizations?

We all want to same thing, just because one organization is approaching the problem one way does not make them bad.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 9:59 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Trying one more time to explain that my beef is with advertisers for distorting things, rather than actual reality.

If you don't want to cook, fine. If you are too exhausted to cook something even though you know it only takes 10 minutes, fine. It's when you wish you could cook but you're too afraid to because you think it's gonna take you five hours because that's what all the ads selling fast food make it look like, that's my complaint, and it is a complaint against the ads.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Welp I knew we'd get a few of these "but it's so EASY and CHEAP to cook" comments. They happen in every single food-related thread. It's really annoying because there's always a subtext of "what is wrong with you if you can't figure this out." For a poor person, there is a lot of risk in trying something that may turn out to be inedible. I burned something in the oven the other week and I cried because it was $10 worth of ingredients I had to throw away. Whereas - I can't fuck up mac & cheese. I can't fuck up microwaveable meals. It may not be the best tasting or healthiest stuff but I will be able to eat it.

It might sound condescending, but if we can't educate people and we can't regulate what they eat and we can't just say "Look, we've decided to replace SNAP with some McDonald's gift cards because at least then you'll eat." what should we do?

There are larger issues at play here, namely access to food, access to free time, and the stress of being poor.

Those aren't easy or quick to solve; increasing access to better food involves developing and maintaining a better transportation infrastructure, or attracting businesses to lower income neighborhoods. If something happened to my car, it's a really long walk to get any decent kind of food. Or: a bus ride and a shorter walk down a steep hill. Or: a bike ride up/down that same steep hill. Those options range from difficult to impossible based on some physical limitations I have. (Delivery is not an option because it will get stolen.)

Access to free time may involve increasing wages so that people don't have to work 2-3 jobs to subsist. Increasing wages would also alleviate the stress of being poor. If you've worked a 12 hour day on your feet, you don't want to come home and eat a salad, you want a reward like junk food. Poor people can't necessarily go get manicures or buy new clothes or other luxuries. Food is the luxury.
posted by desjardins at 10:00 AM on July 2 [15 favorites]


Alright, I'm following the "three comments and out" policy. People clearly aren't interested in listening to what I'm actually saying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Bulgar, like I was telling Pogo - you're focusing on the ingredients themselves, and not the actual skills needed, which is what I was looking at.

There isn't a lot of skill involved in cooking. Or rather, the cooking is the easy part. The skill is in the preparation and the planning and making the time to shop, prep, and clean.

Cooking fresh things means having fresh things on hand. You can get away with frozen, but not all fruits/veggies freeze well and even then assumes also you have a freezer that works well enough to not burn the shit out of them. Dairy products go bad pretty quick, too.

So, you need to plan out your menu to use everything, or you risk having that half an onion or 3/4 tub of sour cream you didn't use go bad before you use it again.

The planning requires time, the shopping requires time, and preparation requires time, and the cleanup requires time. In comparison, HH is brown the meat dump the box and done. It's little wonder people rely on it.

It was a staple of my childhood (along with Government Cheese) - and I grew up with a mother who canned her entire garden every September and had a chest freezer stuffed with beef liver and frozen onions. When you get one paycheck a month, you do one shopping trip per month and if you buy salad greens, you better eat them that week or they are compost.

Frankly, I think efforts will be better served teaching people how to dress up things like HH. Add some canned mushrooms or peas or some shit to it. Hell, if it weren't for spam and peas mixed with mac and cheese I doubt I would have survived the 70s.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:02 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


I think we're listening, Empress, but we don't necessarily agree. I mean, I agree that advertisers work really hard to market unhealthy, high-tech food products to consumers. But I also think that they've been so successful because they've tapped into real problems and real needs. It's not just an issue of advertising. People who like convenience food are not just dupes who aren't as educated as you.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:03 AM on July 2 [18 favorites]


And another thing.

Priorities. Everyone does not have the same priorities. While your priority may be getting people or even just yourself to eat more fresh fruits and veggies, other people's priorities might be getting 7 hours of sleep or a job that pays at least enough to pay the rent and utilities or to be able to visit mom in Philadelphia before she dies.

Food and the healthy eating of it, while it just freaking galls some people to no end to admit it, is not a priority for everyone and if eating Taco Bell makes getting something else accomplished easier, then it is none of my damn business.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:06 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


For a poor person, there is a lot of risk in trying something that may turn out to be inedible.

Yes, a thousand times this. And then what? It's too late to start over, your family is hungry NOW, you and your spouse are tired from work, the store is far away/has inconvenient closing hours/you have no car/etc etc etc. It can be a substantial risk for people on a tight budget. Plus, when you're planning to cook big and have 2-3 days worth of leftovers, yes, individual meals may cost less than something faster and more convenient but if it doesn't work out as planned then you're not only out the money you laid out initially but out the money you spend on a pizza delivery or similar.

I'm not going to pretend that I have a single fucking clue how scary it must feel to realize that you might not be able to feed your family for a day, or two days or more, but I'm also not going to pretend that this fear doesn't exist or is invalid because others have figured out how to do it themselves.
posted by elizardbits at 10:08 AM on July 2 [12 favorites]


The Hamburger Helper thing is also pretty much orthogonal to the issue of healthy eating. Being able to imitate a Hamburger Helper meal is cooking, and it's healthier, but homemade beef stroganoff still isn't really that healthy.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:08 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I don't understand this at all. They're complaining that the "food movement" is an urban coastal phenomenon that hasn't reached "the majority of places in between"? A food movement defined by glorifying traditional farming and local eating isn't relevant to those "in between" the places defined by their distance from "the land".

Who are these poor people who are supposed to be naive to the traditional cooking that "affluent urbanites" are characteristically skilled in?

They complain about the classism from people trying to send messages about healthy eating to the poor, but they're interested in the same type of patronizing.

There's not really a problem with Americans, especially poor Americans, being underfed. So we're not in some crisis mode were a large population, through poverty-borne ignorance, can't manage to get enough nutrients in their bodies. I don't see any issue besides guilt that people with more money can afford to eat better than poorer people (but not the ones with direct access to the farms).

Their problem just sounds like a bunch of people eating what they don't want them to eat. They even say that straightforwardly, and they still don't let up on treating that as some sort of problem.
posted by deathmaven at 10:11 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


The obvious question here is what should we do then?

We should have fewer food deserts. We should make information accessible. Other than that, why, why, why do we need to DO something? Why do "we" need to be paternalistic guides of how other grown-ass people eat? Do you think "they" don't know? Are the masses too stupid? Who are "they" anyway?

Different people's realities and priorities are different. Why can't that be ok?

And swear to Maude, if someone mentions insurance costs...I don't even know.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:13 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


I respect that some people don't like cooking and some people genuinely don't have the time (looking at you, working single parents!) but for the rest of us, the more you do it the faster and easier it gets. I just made myself a stir fry out of fresh veggies in twenty minutes, cleanup included. There are leftovers that I'll take to work tomorrow. I don't have a dishwasher, I go to the grocery store once a week and will run to the corner store occasionally mid week, I have a food budget of $150 a month, and I work full time. I also don't have an oven cause my landlord sucks.

But I have spent some time cooking so it is easy for me. I don't use a measuring cup to measure anything, I just eyeball what I toss into the pan (which is in the end one pan to wash), I know how to combine whatever I have in my fridge into something edible so none of the food goes bad, and I don't have to pay that much attention to whatever is cooking so I can clean while it's on the stove. I didn't learn this as a kid, I learned it from following recipes and cooking with roommates.

I think this is what Empress Callipygos is saying-- wanting to cook requires faith that cooking is not all magical and mystical. Once you realize that, it becomes more do-able.
posted by geegollygosh at 10:17 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


> There's not really a problem with Americans, especially poor Americans, being underfed.

You are very, very wrong.
posted by gilrain at 10:25 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Oh, I am all in favor of reducing food deserts, providing cooking skills, etc. But I don't live in a food desert, I have plenty of income and I can cook, and I even like cooking. But I still sometimes find Taco Bell or In 'n' Out a more delightful prospect that getting home and having to cook something. So assuming that people only do fast food or prepared meals because they are stupid and brainwashed by corporations is going to get pushback, and rightfully so.
posted by tavella at 10:27 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


There are larger issues at play here, namely access to food, access to free time, and the stress of being poor.

I totally agree, and that's the point. I'm not in a position to resolve larger issues. I can't raise wages or open a grocery store in a low income neighborhood. I can't fix poverty.

What I can do is donate some cash to my local food bank and hope it allows someone to get something on the table other than McDonald's, whether by providing access to better food or to programs that teach people to prepare it.

I cannot fix social inequalities, but I firmly believe that people will be healthier and happier if they eat just a little better and I support programs that do that, whether it's Oliver's focus on food education or my local food bank's canned vegetables.

What I am upset about is the hostility towards the idea that people might eat a bit better if given the opportunity.

The point here is that no one is in a position, or should be in a position, to change what anyone eats, whether by regulation or magic, but it is possible to make someone's life better by just opening up some doors if they want to walk through them. That's the point of the article, small changes, and we seem to have lost sight of that by looking at huge social issues.
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 10:28 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


So assuming that people only do fast food or prepared meals because they are stupid and brainwashed by corporations is going to get pushback, and rightfully so.

I don't think people are stupid. But I do think that agricultural policy and uneven urban/rural development have caused people to form habits of buying more heavily processed food because it became cheaper and easier to access than fresh food. I don't think efforts to swing that pendulum back the other way are necessarily paternalistic, if done right.
posted by geegollygosh at 10:33 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


You are very, very wrong.

I think there's a difference between food insecurity and a realistic threat of chronic malnutrition, let alone starvation.
posted by deathmaven at 10:34 AM on July 2


Look at history; cooking, like laundry, is one of those things that as soon as people got above absolute poverty they would put out coin to avoid doing, even if they were still quite poor overall. Cheap food stalls are something that goes back thousands of years.
posted by tavella at 10:34 AM on July 2 [10 favorites]


Is there a lot of skill involved in cooking? In some ways, yes, in some ways no.

Not just gas to electric or chop vs julienne vs throw it in a proce$$or. One of my yummiest cookery friends did most of her cooking on the bbq grill but had shit knives. Enough so that I bought her a pretty good $30 knife for her birthday one year. She makes good money, eats mostly non-prepack foods that she makes, but had no clues about non-serrated knives that don't flex when you lean on them lightly.

But the time to figure out what you're going to eat for the week and plan it rather than walking down aisles and filling your cart with what is handy or affordable and quick.

Time when you get home to make those meals you eat there and take to work.

Space - a clean enough kitchen, children not underfoot (or if they are, helping), pets not under foot, not extra work.

If you don't have the ability to sort through what you know, what you don't know you know, and how to plan out how to figure it out and make it work, it's a Huge Ass Deal.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:35 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


That's the point of the article, small changes, and we seem to have lost sight of that by looking at huge social issues.


But it makes sense, too, to look at the huge societal issues. Bring back home ec in schools and offer it to the parents as well in addition to erasing food deserts and normalizing gardens when possible. Normalize it in the popular sphere, too, which is part of what this particular Jamie Oliver show did.

If you really can say that about a show that is pretty much Reality TV
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:36 AM on July 2


I love to cook. I cook homemade meals at least 4-5 nights a week, plus breakfasts and lunch on days I'm not in the office. I have done it for a long time, and it's mostly easy for me: I'm good at chopping, making up meals without a recipe, measuring, etc. Rarely do my meals turn out poorly.

Additionally, I am affluent and able to afford just about anything I might need to make a meal - both ingredients and tools - and I have a dishwasher and a partner who does most of the cleanup. I also have a physically easy job with the free time to cook.

Yet every week, the idea of coming up with my grocery list and meal plan for the week feels almost insurmountable. I can't just go to the store without a plan and a list, or I'll end up with a bunch of ingredients that don't make a meal or go bad before the end of the week. Every Saturday I do sad Pinterest and AskMe searches trying to come up with something good to make for dinner the following week.

And sometimes I plan for a more labor-intensive meal to make enough food for a couple nights' dinners, or dinner plus lunch and then the yield isn't quite enough and I can't stretch it out as planned. Not a big deal for me, I can just order Thai or pizza or whatever. Definitely scary to contemplate for someone less fortunate. At least with a box of mac and cheese you know exactly how much it makes.

I guess I just want to say that there are barriers to home cooking that may seem pretty small and easy to overcome but physically/emotionally/financially they can add up to being - or at least feeling - significant.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't try, but more that like the article states, the small incremental changes are probably the best way to approach the issue. Even adding a bag of frozen peas to your hamburger helper as Pogo_Fuzzybutt mentioned above - hey, it's some veggies and it's not all that far from how I started out cooking.
posted by misskaz at 10:37 AM on July 2 [13 favorites]


> I think there's a difference between food insecurity and a realistic threat of chronic malnutrition, let alone starvation.

You are moving the goal posts, then. You said there wasn't a problem with poor people being underfed in the USA. That is wrong, and you can read the study by the USDA for yourself.

If you think that being underfed isn't a problem unless poor people are actually dying of starvation in great numbers, well, we have a fundamental disagreement.
posted by gilrain at 10:39 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


The obvious question here is what should we do then

Send money.

People who want a gas stove just add "gas stove" to lists like that.

I live in earthquake country. One of the little joys I have in life is daydreaming about what will happen to the foodie yuppies and their fancy stoves when the next Big One hits and the gas lines rupture. Boom baby.
posted by happyroach at 10:41 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


I don't think wishing for people's homes to explode is very nice.

And, you can turn off gas lines.
posted by FJT at 10:47 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


their fancy stoves when the next Big One hits and the gas lines rupture. Boom baby.

Generally speaking, the booms tend to come from larger-diameter supply lines, which tend to run through less-advantaged neighborhoods and industrial areas (which are often surrounded by less-advantaged neighborhoods).

...but yes, it is enjoyable to spend a few hours imagining poor people being incinerated in their homes. I certainly chuckle from time to time, thinking of that immigrant family of six screaming as they burn to death. Ha!
posted by aramaic at 10:48 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Why are gas stoves preferable to foodies, anyway? I have an old one and I constantly burn the shit out of things. Even "really really low" seems too hot, butter melts instantaneously. It's entirely possible (probable!) I'm doing something wrong though.
posted by desjardins at 10:49 AM on July 2


For the sole purpose of being pedantic I'm going to point out that the original comment referenced wealthy yuppies with fancy stoves.
posted by elizardbits at 10:50 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Farm Fresh Girl blows past this discussion with a carefree twirl and a giddy smile, and you might not even notice the sick, anticipatory gleam in her eye.
posted by adipocere at 10:52 AM on July 2



Why are gas stoves preferable to foodies, anyway?


I've been renting the past 9 months, and that stupid electric range is going to be the death of me. It takes 9 years to heat up. 18-24 months to cool down. Doesn't get that hot.

Cook over fire, like God and your Caveman Ancestors intend.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:56 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


One aspect of this debate I don't think gets enough attention in these big debates is how personal food is to people. I know from my own life that how well I and the people around me eat depends on their mental and emotional state are a bigger issue and a clearer barrier than anything to do with class, access and education.
posted by Middlemarch at 10:58 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Why are gas stoves preferable to foodies, anyway? I have an old one and I constantly burn the shit out of things. Even "really really low" seems too hot, butter melts instantaneously. It's entirely possible (probable!) I'm doing something wrong though.

I feel like I can venture into this thread again because this is off topic, but there are three things:
  1. They are hot immediately, no waiting for the element to come to temperature.
  2. The obvious corollary is that they get cool immediately. To remove something from heat, all I need to do is turn off the burner.
  3. Therefore, you have immediate and fine-grained control over the temperature.
All that said, I cook on an electric range.

As Mario Batali says:
"Only bad cooks blame the equipment. I can make almost every dish in my restaurants on four crummy electric burners with a regular oven — as can just about anyone else who cares to.”
posted by Jacks Dented Yugo at 11:04 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Cook over fire, like God and your Caveman Ancestors intend.

Can we use yuppie foodies for fuel?
posted by happyroach at 11:06 AM on July 2


I... I don't understand it either. A gas stove was what my grandmother and my mother had in their kitchens back in the 80s. As soon as we could we all changed to electric because the buthane was a pain in the ass. I guess we could upgrade to convection, but honestly I cook fine with the electric stove.

I don't know, are your hipsters over there already extolling Victorian cooking ranges or what?
posted by sukeban at 11:22 AM on July 2


Desjardins, gas is much easier. But mostly, the authorities won't let you turn it down to very slow, so you have to invest in a pan with holes in it which you can put your pans on for very slow cooking. It I knew what this thing is called, I would provide a link...

More relevant to the post - part of this is that Americans work longer hours than just about anyone - and you guys spend less time on cooking than anyone else. I'm not particularily thinking about old Europe, where everyone knows we are lazy and still collect huge wages. All Asian countries home-cook more - even Japan. All South Americans home-cook more.
posted by mumimor at 11:23 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


They are hot immediately, no waiting for the element to come to temperature.


.... so what about gas ovens, do they not need preheating? Is that why I'm burning stuff?
posted by desjardins at 11:23 AM on July 2


No, I think all ovens need preheating?
posted by elizardbits at 11:27 AM on July 2


All ovens need pre-heating. When you turn the knob on your gas stove, it increases or decreases the amount of gas, which makes it hotter or less hot. That happens instantaneously. With a standard electric stove (the kind with the coils, not the fancy ones with the heating elements that are flush with the stove top), it takes a couple of minutes to heat up and then a couple of minutes to cool back down again. You have much less control over temperature. So if a recipe says to bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low, the best way to do that is to pre-heat one burner to high and the other to low and then switch the thing from one burner to the other. Similarly, to take something off the heat, you have to remove it from the actual burner, rather than just turning the stove off.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:28 AM on July 2


In my experience, burning stuff in the oven is a result of criminally inaccurate temperature dials. I measure across a few temperatures in each new apartment, and I have yet to see an offset of less than 15 degrees.

I use an infrared thermometer to measure after preheating, but even a standard, cheap oven thermometer, while not super accurate, is better than relying on the dial.
posted by gilrain at 11:28 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


All this Yuppie hate makes me feel like it is 1982 all over again! Man, that was a great year. A great year for hating yuppies.
posted by maxsparber at 11:30 AM on July 2


There are a lot of people out there who fundamentally don’t understand that what they eat affects their health. They say, “Well, I have ‘the sugar’—diabetes—so I take a pill.”

While eating health may not be everyone's top priority, it's statements like this that make me think that, yes, somebody should be telling people to eat better. If there are simple steps that one can take to improve the quality of life, then why shouldn't we be yelling in people's faces about it? HEY YOU DON'T WANT YOUR LEG AMPUTATED? HOW ABOUT A SALAD ONCE IN A WHILE?

I've volunteered with kids from poverty for the past decade or so, including some time on an urban farm. It's not surprising to me that they have never seen many of the vegetables that are grown; heck, it took me until my 20's to figure out which vegetables were which. But what does surprise me is that when I meet their parents, and they don't know what a zucchini is, or even what you would do with one.

Many of these parents are worried that their kids are going to be shot. But they also worry about heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, and the time, money, and quality of life lost by their poor eating habits. I might not be able to directly fix any other of the societal garbage life throws at them, but if I can say "chop it up, sprinkle some salt (not too much) and pepper, and put in the oven for 15 minutes" and it helps to make their life incrementally better, then why not?
posted by photovox at 11:36 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I... I don't understand it either. A gas stove was what my grandmother and my mother had in their kitchens back in the 80s. As soon as we could we all changed to electric because the buthane was a pain in the ass. I guess we could upgrade to convection, but honestly I cook fine with the electric stove.

And now I'm totally lost. We have a gas stove; the gas is natural gas and comes piped in from the region-wide system - there is no propane tank in the yard or anything. Our oven has a convection setting that I don't use very often but is convenient when I want to.

It does not heat instantly to 350 degrees, or any degrees, nor has any other gas stove/oven I've ever had. Still needs pre-heating.

Love the stove especially - I much prefer cooking on gas to electric, but everyone has their preferences.
posted by rtha at 12:19 PM on July 2


No, you had to use containers of buthane gas like these. They're the size of a big beer keg. Once in a while the butanero would come to your home to get the empty canisters and lug new ones inside. We still use these at our beach apartment.
posted by sukeban at 12:33 PM on July 2


But mostly, the authorities won't let you turn it down to very slow, so you have to invest in a pan with holes in it which you can put your pans on for very slow cooking. It I knew what this thing is called, I would provide a link...

Heat diffuser.
posted by aws17576 at 12:45 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


A gas stove was what my grandmother and my mother had in their kitchens back in the 80s. As soon as we could we all changed to electric because the buthane was a pain in the ass.

Most gas ranges refer to either natural gas or propane. As noted, the advantage is the they are instant on, instant off - and better yet, get far hotter than electric ranges do.

Gas ovens on the other hand, still need to preheat (though they do it faster) and tend to have hot spots and sometimes wacky tempurature fluctuations from poorly designed/maintained thermocouple control circuits. Electric ovens don't suffer from that and tend to heat more evenly and predictably. Most pro-sumer ranges now feature a gas range paired with an electric oven.

But, no, we aren't talking about butane or white gas cooktops here. I only ever see them when I'm well off the grid.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:46 PM on July 2


I'm kind of curious; has anyone done comparison studies of food education? It'd be pretty interesting to take randomized people who have signed up for help with a better diet and try to figure out what works bests in the long term -- cooking lessons? Financial support for better kitchen equipment? Education on what sort of take out or hot prepared food is better and knowledge of what is in them? All of them are likely useful, but what gets the most bang for the buck? What has the longest lasting effects?
posted by tavella at 1:35 PM on July 2


No, you had to use containers of buthane gas like these.

These are commonplace in Europe and not in the US so maybe this is why people are confused.
posted by elizardbits at 1:37 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Huh I didn't know farmer's markets and eating healthy were invented by rich hipsters. Thank you rich people for shining your enlightenment on us poors.

They definitely weren't, but one of the things the article touches on is that the interviewees actually met local farmers who wanted to set up an unpretentious, no-yuppie-bullshit farmers' market in Huntington, and they weren't able to. From the article, "They were essentially trying to start a farmers’ market with no premium prices. They were going to get local food and sell it and not make a big deal about it. First, we thought they were brilliant—trying to bring this unfetishized local food to a mass audience at a price they could afford. And then we realized the economics absolutely did not work." So the problem seems to be that most of today's farmers' markets have a business plan of catering to the super-affluent (or aspirationally so) as per lattiboy's comment.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:33 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


For decades, north-west Toronto had the Weston Farmers's market. I don't know when it started, but it was going strong in the early 80s through late 90s and is still running today. When we shopped there in the 80s & 90s, it was all cheap food directly from farmers. Nothing organic, but bushels of tomatos, big baskets of peaches and apples, flats of strawberries (20 pints). The apple people did have unusual varieties, because the farmer wanted a crop with an extended ripening season. But the raison d'être of the market was cheap food through direct retailing.

Haven't been back since I moved, but I should. I wonder if Grampa Ken still sells peameal back-bacon sandwiches there?
posted by jb at 7:15 PM on July 2


mayonnaises, please tell me who sells eggs for $3 and at which public market in Portland. I haven't seen them for less than $5 in ages.
posted by mneekadon at 9:40 PM on July 2


And Jamie Oliver has invaded Sobeys in Canada. Blech. Sobeys is overpriced anyways, this just makes switching markets an easier decision.
posted by Yowser at 10:09 AM on July 4


Excellent post, divined by radio - thank you.
posted by jammy at 5:51 AM on July 5


I had backyard chickens for a while. And after seeing chickens be chickens, I came to understand the $6 egg cartons. As with many other creatures, chickens require a certain amount of physical space in order to do their chicken thing. I am grateful to have the means to support minimum standards for living conditions.

Also I refuse to buy vegetarian chicken eggs because it tells me the vendor doesn't know enough about their chickens. Chickens are not vegetarian. They are happy to eat bugs and worms and spiders.
posted by aniola at 10:15 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I think this is what Empress Callipygos is saying-- wanting to cook requires faith that cooking is not all magical and mystical.

No, wanting to cook requires wanting to cook.

It took me a long time to understand that when someone in a food thread says they don't want to cook it does not mean they want me to tell them how to cook.

Anyway, the farmers markets in my neighborhood are outrageously expensive. One of the few exceptions is the egg lady who sells flats of jumbo eggs for $3.50/white and $4/brown. They are local and cage-free but not the super-free-range/omega/organic/whatever fanciest eggs she sells. That's a lot of protein for under $5.

There are other egg...farmers (are eggs farmed?) at the market and their eggs are in the $5-6+ range others have mentioned. They do take EBT/SNAP stuff and have a program for seniors, but I consider almost everything other than the eggs a splurge.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:16 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Do you mean a flat as in one of those 36 egg trays? That *is* cheap, if so!
posted by tavella at 12:35 PM on July 6


If you're a working parent, by the time you get home with the kids, convenience food looks pretty good. I grew up in the 50s and 60s when 'convenience food' referred to canned soup, frozen vegetables, and jello (not all at once, in most recipes anyway) and I remember when a microwave was a new thing. With 6 kids, when we had mac-n-cheese, it was homemade with velveeta. My Mom was a pretty good cook, and we weren't poor, and food was made from scratch. When I was broke, I made most food from scratch, and it's not hard, because my Mom taught me most of it. It requires a different approach to shopping and cooking, but you can shop once a week.

But you don't go to the Internet and look up a new recipe every day that requires specific ingredients. you make tacos one night, and use the rest of the spiced ground beef to make shepherd's pie the next night. If you have pork chops, which you do a lot because pork chops are often affordable, everybody gets 1 pork chop. First time I went to somebody's house where there were 2nds on something like steak or pork chops, I thought they lived large. You have lots of rice and potatoes all the things you can make with them. It's also healthier. Processed food is full of salt, saturated fats, and added sugars, mostly corn starch. If you have health restrictions, processed food is a hassle because soy and dairy and gluten get added to things that don't seem like they should have soy, wheat or dairy. I seem to recall that rates of diabetes are higher among poor people.

If you want to learn to cook, and are literate and reasonably competent, it's eminently doable. There are a few cookbooks that are geared towards healthy affordable food. Plenty of poor people are smart and excellent frugal cooks. Not wanting to cook is all well and good, but if you don't have cash, and want to eat well, I recommend it as a strategy.

I blame tv. From the article: "cornbread and beans is seen as “poor people food.” Whereas fast food is aspirational food." Advertizing is effective, people are exposed to lots of it.

Many poor urban neighborhoods lack a store with quality foods, but that's not the same issue.
posted by theora55 at 5:08 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Do you mean a flat as in one of those 36 egg trays? That *is* cheap, if so!

No, just 18 eggs but they're Jumbo!
posted by Room 641-A at 6:16 PM on July 6


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