Ultraprocessed Foods Now 2/3 of Calories in Children and Teen's Diets
August 11, 2021 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Two-thirds of children’s calories are now coming from “ultraprocessed” junk food and sweets. Researchers from Tufts University say these foods have a link to diabetes, obesity, and other serious medical conditions, including cancer.
posted by theora55 (193 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
There were no statistically significant differences in the overall findings by parental education and family income.
Huh! Though certainly there’s been lots of Clif Bar/Trader Joe’s/Tasty Bite work on ready-to-heat aimed anywhere on the SES scale.
posted by clew at 12:02 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Hi there, overweight 35 year old here to tell you that two eggos a day every day for the last three decades of your life is fine actually, and I can fight you on that because the high levels of enriched flour have given me all the niacin I need to kick your ass.
posted by phunniemee at 12:15 PM on August 11 [64 favorites]


I wish they were a little more clear about their definition of ultraprocessed. Is grocery-store sliced bread ultra-processed? What is it about fast food French fries that earns them that distinction? Flash freezing? Funny chemicals (idk hydrolized milk or whatever)?
posted by aubilenon at 12:16 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


This article about what "ultra-processed" means is cited within the Tufts link, and provides pretty interesting background on the development of the idea.

I've thought about this quite a bit, like when making a healthy snack for my kids that includes two vegetables and fresh fruit salad, that all adds up to maybe 200 calories. Then 2 oreo cookies and my healthful snack is now 50% processed food. I feel like a food-nazi if they don't get the cookies, especially when they're actually eating fruits and vegetables. I dunno.
posted by skewed at 12:16 PM on August 11 [42 favorites]


What's really interesting in here is that the percentage of calories from sugar in drinks was halved. It looks like the campaign against sugary drinks is working — but it needs to be broadened to cover much more.

But it's weird that the study doesn't include the change in total number of calories consumed, which seems important, especially as other studies have shown an increase in caloric intake with a diet high in ultra-processed food.
posted by ssg at 12:18 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


This includes all sweetened yogurt, cereals, energy bars, all packaged bread or buns, energy drinks, etc.
posted by all about eevee at 12:22 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


I know a kid who probably gets 50% of his calories from chicken nuggets, so this doesn't surprise me. He recently developed type 1 diabetes.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:27 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


From the article skewed posted

It is a mistake to make any judgement of food supplies or foods simply because they are ‘processed’. Further, attempts to distinguish between different types of processing by using undefined terms such as ‘highly’ or ‘heavily’ processed, or ‘fast’, ‘convenience’, ‘snack’ or ‘junk’ food, are also unhelpful.

Verdicts on food processing as such have little or no meaning. Food scientists and technologists and food manufacturers rightly emphasize the benefits of originally ancient and also relatively novel processes such as drying, non-alcoholic fermentation, chilling and freezing, pasteurization and vacuum-packing.

posted by lalochezia at 12:28 PM on August 11 [25 favorites]


Relatedly, I just started a podcast today presented by two UK doctors Chris and Xand Van Tulleken (if you're in the UK and have children you may know them from the BBC series Operation Ouch).

The background is that they are identical twins, but one brother is now 20kg heavier. I'm only one episode in so far but they seem to be looking at the differences between their habits, and TL;DR it seems to be related to ultra processed food.
posted by tyndyll at 12:30 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


From skewed's article:

Group 1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
Unprocessed (or natural) foods are edible parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals (muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature. Minimally processed foods are natural foods altered by processes that include removal of inedible or unwanted parts, and drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, refrigeration, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum-packaging. These processes are designed to preserve natural foods, to make them suitable for storage, or to make them safe or edible or more pleasant to consume. Many unprocessed or minimally processed foods are prepared and cooked at home or in restaurant kitchens in combination with processed culinary ingredients as dishes or meals.

Group 2. Processed culinary ingredients
Processed culinary ingredients, such as oils, butter, sugar and salt, are substances derived from Group 1 foods or from nature by processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling and drying. The purpose of such processes is to make durable products that are suitable for use in home and restaurant kitchens to prepare, season and cook Group 1 foods and to make with them varied and enjoyable hand-made dishes and meals, such as stews, soups and broths, salads, breads, preserves, drinks and desserts. They are not meant to be consumed by themselves, and are normally used in combination with Group 1 foods to make freshly prepared drinks, dishes and meals.

Group 3. Processed foods
Processed foods, such as bottled vegetables, canned fish, fruits in syrup, cheeses and freshly made breads, are made essentially by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances from Group 2 to Group 1 foods. Processes include various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients, and are recognizable as modified versions of Group 1 foods. They are edible by themselves or, more usually, in combination with other foods. The purpose of processing here is to increase the durability of Group 1 foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities.

Group 4. Ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food.

Ingredients of these formulations usually include those also used in processed foods, such as sugars, oils, fats or salt. But ultra-processed products also include other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations. Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten. Many are derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated or interesterified oils, hydrolysed proteins, soya protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

Additives in ultra-processed foods include some also used in processed foods, such as preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers. Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products include those used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and other colours, colour stabilizers; flavours, flavour enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants.

A multitude of sequences of processes is used to combine the usually many ingredients and to create the final product (hence ‘ultra-processed’). The processes include several with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and hydrolysation, extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying.

The overall purpose of ultra-processing is to create branded, convenient (durable, ready to consume), attractive (hyper-palatable) and highly profitable (low-cost ingredients) food products designed to displace all other food groups. Ultra-processed food products are usually packaged attractively and marketed intensively.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:39 PM on August 11 [83 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:41 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


I know a kid who probably gets 50% of his calories from chicken nuggets, so this doesn't surprise me. He recently developed type 1 diabetes.

It's a common misconception, but Type 1 diabetes isn't "caused" by a poor diet.

You are likely confusing Type 1 with Type 2.
posted by armeowda at 12:50 PM on August 11 [72 favorites]


Just as an FYI: the series from a few weeks ago about increasing obesity rates that became a post is still ongoing, and at supect #3 regular doses of lithium via water and or work

Hopefully all the research being done will identify some causes and give us some backbone to clearly define 'dangerous' types of food processing and either legislate or at least start healthy advertising campaigns to try to turn this ship around.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:09 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Worth considering:

Mexico’s obesity rates increased from 10% to 35% over the period 1980-2012 (according to our analysis sample including adult females). And among the already obese OECD countries, Mexico ranked second in 2015, surpassed only by the US (OECD 2017).

Coinciding with these profound changes in population health, Mexico has opened itself to trade in foods mostly with the US. Currently over 80% of Mexican food imports are American. In Figure 1, we show the evolution of Mexican imports of foods and beverages from the US over time. While overall food imports have increased dramatically, food that is typically considered unhealthy has surged quite spectacularly. Notably, exports of ‘food preparations’ are 23 times larger in 2012 compared to 1989.


Weight gains from trade in foods: Evidence from Mexico
posted by Omon Ra at 1:13 PM on August 11 [16 favorites]


And on the other side of the processed/unprocessed spectrum, there are the perils of "clean" eating. Everyone is confused as hell what "healthy" means.
posted by meowzilla at 1:25 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


Also worth stating going forward that reliance on heavily processed foods isn't simply a matter of poor personal choice but a function of how counties subsidize food, food access and people's time/ability to get non processed options.
posted by Ferreous at 1:26 PM on August 11 [53 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.

Also as cheap and as convenient.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:28 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


function of how counties subsidize food, food access and people's time/ability to get non processed options.

Yes, this raises the question of whether "suburban" families, for whom getting groceries is less convenient and have larger fridges/pantries, actually have worse diets than someone in an urban center, who spends less time commuting but also has greater access to a local smaller market/bodega. I know that I've lived entirely off a single Costco run for more than a week, and "fresh" items don't last that long.
posted by meowzilla at 1:39 PM on August 11 [8 favorites]


Mom with a 3 year old child here and I can attest to how difficult it is to feed children a healthy diet. It takes a huge chunk of my time and budget and vigilance. Due to some feeding issues at 9 months, I engaged a pediatric nutritionist who set up a basic meal plan I still follow. I cried/stressed for several months over how hard it was to feed him a healthy diet. I had to go grocery shopping 3 times a week, cook several times a week, deeply research all food items, tetris all the food items into my tiny NYC refrigerator and throw away tons of food while I learned how to manage food and cooking. This was all while working. In pre-child years, I ate mostly takeout and my refrigerator held condiments and alcohol. The learning curve was STEEP. I really wish they taught the rudiments of cooking and planning health meals in school.

Some things I learned: Organic berries are EXPENSIVE and they go bad fast. I had to buy small batches every 2-3 days. Later on, I figured out ways to extend the berries. Not all yogurt is healthy and most have amazing quantities of sugar. Tomato sauce also has a large amount of sugar. The best yogurt I found was plain, whole milk and local. I mix in mashed berries to provide flavor. I cook an enormous amount of dense lentil soup and meatballs once a week and freeze portions. I cook a giant fish and feed him fish and rice for the next 3 days. Same thing is true with roasted chicken and veggies.

Even with little tricks I learned, I still spend two times a week grocery shopping and many hours cooking and cleaning at night. It is also heartbreaking when your kid refuses to eat every now and again due to tantrums and learning to let it go.

I would LOVE the school lunch program that Korea and Japan offer with a healthy soup, fish/meat dish and lots of veggie side dishes. That would be my dream to not have to worry about my kid's lunches for the next 10-15 years of his life.
posted by ichimunki at 1:43 PM on August 11 [80 favorites]


Hello, first of all I feel it is worth risking a derail to say: non-"obese" individual over here asking that we not throw that term around as if it were, in itself, a meaningful metric for individual health rather than a con perpetrated by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, let alone an inherently dangerous/unhealthy state independent of the way the medical community chooses to treat those to whom it applies the term.

I really feel it ought to be possible on MeFi
to discuss nutrition trends in the US, with all their attendant baggage, without stigmatizing fat people. Thanks.

As far as TFA (and the JAMA abstract) go, the reliance on "24-hour dietary recall" gives me pause. People are notoriously bad at this, at least as concerns quantities consumed. As others have pointed out, "ultraprocessed" covers a much wider range of foods than the scary-sounding name would suggest.
Seriously, by their definition this category would include both Ho-Hos and Trader Joe's Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks.

The study's authors seem to be trying to pinpoint changes in ultraprocessed food intake in the context of larger questions (the import of which the study doesn't seem to feel the need to spell out) about the prevalence of "childhood obesity". Frankly the only useful public health information available here is use of ready-to-eat foods as a proxy for much more serious issues of overwork/worker exploitation, economic inequality, and sprawl/spatial mismatch/gentrification pushing folks (especially people affected by items # 1 and #2) into longer and longer commutes, thus reducing time available to buy and prepare what the authors define as Group 1 foods.

It would be interesting, though maybe not possible depending on what data was collected from individual participants, to break these results down by region. (ETA: or indeed by urban/suburban/exurban areas as meowzilla suggested upthread).
posted by TinyChicken at 1:53 PM on August 11 [55 favorites]


Mom with a 3 year old child here and I can attest to how difficult it is to feed children a healthy diet. It takes a huge chunk of my time and budget and vigilance.
QFT
Parent of an 18 month old and I am floored by how much more difficult it is to feed me, my partner, and my kid. And if it makes you feel better, ichimunki, cooking from scratch was my favorite hobby pre- child. It is still absurdly difficult to put healthy food on the table 5x a day (3 meals, 2 snacks), 7 days a week with the skills I had. And, of course, I have so much less free time in which to do it.
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:56 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


It would be interesting, though maybe not possible depending on what data was collected from individual participants, to break these results down by region. (ETA: or indeed by urban/suburban/exurban areas as meowzilla suggested upthread).

I don't think it would be particularly valuable, since the article states:
"There was a larger increase in the consumption of ultraprocessed foods among non-Hispanic Blacks (10.3%) and Mexican Americans (7.6%) than non-Hispanic Whites (5.2%). "

and
"There were no statistically significant differences in the overall findings by parental education and family income."

So race is a much stronger driver than any socioeconomic factor influenced by where people live.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:21 PM on August 11


The amount of ultra processed food in my diet is directly related to how much time/mental space I have for food prep. Well that and my love of assorted fake meat products.

I've had 1.5 hour meetings for non work things the last three days, so when it was my turn to cook last night, I turned on the oven, threw breaded fish fillets, tater tots and veggies (all from the freezer) on a sheet pan to bake for 20 minutes and called it dinner. I assume the fish and tots both count as ultra processed.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:28 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.

It's not the taste, it's the cost and time to prepare.
posted by explosion at 2:51 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


So race is a much stronger driver than any socioeconomic factor influenced by where people live.

I'm not sure how you're drawing this conclusion, unless you're making an assumption that people of one race only live in one place. Higher family income can mean either that you live in the 'burbs, where everything requires a car ride; or you can live in an apartment building that is above a supermarket and near a competitive restaurant scene. There aren't many places in the US where the latter is applicable though, and the inflated cost of housing as well as cultural expectations means that families often choose the former.
posted by meowzilla at 3:02 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how you're drawing this conclusion, unless you're making an assumption that people of one race only live in one place.

[laughs in Chicago]
posted by phunniemee at 3:06 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]




As the non-cooking member of a dual income household, we have discussed many times how cooking and associated tasks for a family of 4 is almost a full-time job. Mrs. Freecell does not particularly love her job either … without going back to enshrined “man works, woman keeps house” norms, it would be realllly nice if our economy and society made it easier to have one partner (if desired) be the team lead on old school household stuff and get proper credit and appreciation for it. I’m pretty sure in our case my spouse would just bail on the rat race if she could and maybe have a part time community role or stimulating hobby. The one other stumbling block is the fear of getting shafted, which has happened to both of us in past marriages. I.e. you do all the family and house stuff, get divorced, and are left with no financial independence or marketable skills.

I do a fair amount of housework (laundry, cleaning, dishes, yard, projects) but I see her cooking the traditional way from raw ingredients and man, she goes to the store like 3 times a week and there’s a ton of expertise in not just the cooking, but knowing exactly what is on which aisle in 3 different stores and who has the best chicken.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:16 PM on August 11 [22 favorites]


I'm middle class now, so have never had chicken nuggets, but have had plenty of chicken goujons at work buffets. Is there any functional difference?
posted by biffa at 3:38 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


she goes to the store like 3 times a week

The crux of my poor diet is that I simply refuse to do this. I am not capable of going to the grocery store that fucking much. I go twice a month and by like day four I'm out of fresh food but I CANNOT go more often without it exponentially increasing my stress. I know it's terrible for my health but I am not able to make it happen, so ultraprocessed it is because that's what keeps.
posted by brook horse at 3:47 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


Chicken nuggets range from lightly breaded chunks of breast or thigh meat to heavily breaded blobs of mechanically separated pink slime. So, you never know.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:48 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


You are likely confusing Type 1 with Type 2.

We should also steer clear of shaming people for developing type 2 as well, though.

Signed, someone who trades off between doctors worried about their blood sugar and doctors who don't give a shit because my weight is acceptable to them.
posted by hoyland at 3:49 PM on August 11 [38 favorites]


You know, there are lots of healthy foods to eat that don't spoil in a matter of days. It's not the case that only fresh, raw ingredients will do. Canned and frozen vegetables and fruit and berries are plenty good for you and don't constitute ultra-processed foods. Beans, rice, and dry pasta last forever. Bags of frozen chicken breasts or turkey burgers are not ultra-processed. Most breads are processed but not ultra-processed. Canned fish is ok. Eggs, milk, and cheese last a long while. Don't let better be the enemy of best.
posted by chrchr at 3:56 PM on August 11 [40 favorites]


Thanks chrchr, I am aware of those options and did not detail in my post all of the sensory and motor issues that severely limit what foods I can eat. I eat some of those foods when I can. Most of them do not work for me for various reasons. Most of the things that do work are either ultra-processed or spoil within a few days. I would love to be able to utilize those options, but I can't for various reasons.

However you did remind me I have some sweet potatoes in the pantry, which are one of the not-processed-doesn't-spoil things that work for me, so I am going to go have one of those now.
posted by brook horse at 4:05 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


I’m sorry if you felt I was addressing you specifically. I meant to subtweet a number of comments here that lament multiple grocery store trips per week required for healthy eating. Enjoy your sweet potato!
posted by chrchr at 4:14 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


I'm actually totally unclear about the boundaries of "ultraprocessed." I feel like for me, personally, that's not a helpful rubric, because I'd spend a lot of time thinking about whether tofu was processed or ultraprocessed, or whether peanut butter was ok, or what about condiments like ketchup or sriracha. It seems like a bad combination of vague and moralizing (this category of food is bad, but there's a fair amount of ambiguity about what falls into the category), and for me, that's a recipe for weird obsessing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:22 PM on August 11 [23 favorites]


I really feel it ought to be possible on MeFi to discuss nutrition trends in the US, with all their attendant baggage, without stigmatizing fat people. Thanks.

I had a roommate who would come home from work every day, get stoned, and plow through bags of gas station candy. He was in terrible shape, got sick all the time, and was as skinny as a bean pole.

If what we're concerned about is people's health, than surely we can just say "unhealthy people".
posted by calmsea at 4:29 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: a recipe for weird obsessing
posted by Phssthpok at 4:34 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


TinyChicken, asking in all seriousness, how ought we to approach and discuss the issue of the rise of fat accumulation and the connection between body fat on a population level and nutrition? I think people understand that BMI is a pretty flawed measure and understand that our health systems often fail people who sit on the higher end of the BMI spectrum, but how should we, in your view, discussion the broader public health issues, which are significant, without stigmatizing anyone?
posted by ssg at 4:38 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


Higher family income can mean either that you live in the 'burbs, where everything requires a car ride; or you can live in an apartment building that is above a supermarket and near a competitive restaurant scene.

I agree with that, but if it were so, then location (and therefore income as proximal indicator) would be a factor that was statistically significant. I didn't say it wasn't, the designers of the study did, which means they tested for income significance and location-significance even within income classes of the same race found it not significant.
posted by The_Vegetables at 4:38 PM on August 11


so
Unprocessed = a roast
Processed = deli sliced roast beef
Ultraprocessed = hot dogs from the rest of the cow
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:40 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


Yeah I was thinking: If I were to make French fries, they'd be processed food, but McDonalds throws in some weird stuff that is only used in industrial kitchens that "elevates" it to ultraprocessed status.

Effort and cost are a factor, but it's also true that ultraprocessed foods are delicious, as evidenced by all the recipes people keep writing for how to make your own clones of Oreos or Chicken McNuggets or Doritos from common household ingredients.
posted by aubilenon at 4:45 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


The article 3.2.3 links mentions hyper palatability as an ultraprocessed goal and has further citations. Also a summary of the definitions of processed, ultraprocessed, etc at the end.
posted by clew at 4:51 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


how ought we to approach and discuss the issue of the rise of fat accumulation and the connection between body fat

To the extent that "fat accumulation" is a problem, it can be a symptom associated with actual problems. Except the association is not perfect. So I don't see why we need to talk about fat accumulation if the issue of concern is Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure or something else.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:15 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


We should also steer clear of shaming people for developing type 2 as well, though.

Oh, absolutely. Generally speaking, the whole just-world fallacy thing is itself a public health crisis — see also, anti-vaxxers who insist the only people dying from COVID made “poor lifestyle choices.”
posted by armeowda at 5:30 PM on August 11 [6 favorites]


My children eat a lot of very processed foods. I'm not proud of it.

Hopefully these researchers are offering to come over my place and cook some better meals for them because fuck if I've got the time or energy or inclination. I had no idea when I became a parent how much I hated meal planning and cooking. I thought "I don't mind throwing together a meal for me and the spouse, how bad can it be to add on a baby or two?" Learn from my errors! Feeding my kids is far and away the worst part of having them.
posted by potrzebie at 5:44 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


Hopefully these researchers are offering to come over my place and cook some better meals for them

Eating a healthy diet is quite easy if you simply totally change the structure of society.
posted by chrchr at 5:52 PM on August 11 [53 favorites]


Neither the article nor the study make any specific recommendations or blame people for bad choices, it's just "this is happening".

A reasonable response to this information would indeed be society/government level action. I mean, I don't expect that in the US, of course. But this was not presented as "you make bad choices" nor should the expected fix be all about individual action.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:57 PM on August 11 [14 favorites]


Mom with a 3 year old child here and I can attest to how difficult it is to feed children a healthy diet.

What we did was, we cooked healthy food to begin with, and saved small portions that would be lunch-friendly, like fried rice with scrambled egg and lots of veggies! We sent our child off with those portions, augmented by snacks like vegetable sticks with hummous, fruit wedges, and cheese sticks. It wasn't hard, and the creche used our meal packages to help educate other parents.

THEN THEY STOPPED EATING.

First it was, I don't know, cheese sticks. Then raw vegetables. At one point we were down to white rice. Our smugness levels were critically low and TBH have never really recovered.

They're doing OK now, but they're still food sensitive. On the other hand, they're an adult and apparently I'm not allowed to break in and check what they've been eating, so shrug-emoji.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:10 PM on August 11 [34 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.

Perhaps they could come up with a process to do this. But regular processing probably wouldn’t cut it. Super-processing? Maybe. But hear me out, what if you did
posted by condour75 at 6:24 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.

They did, but the FDA made it illegal to use as a food additive. These are same folks who approved Vioxx and Aduhelm, so there are open questions about how the sugar industry would prefer not to have competitors that help improve the odds of making healthier food decisions. Obesity and resulting health problems like diabetes are more profitable overall, I imagine, even if more suffering results.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 6:24 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


To the extent that "fat accumulation" is a problem, it can be a symptom associated with actual problems. Except the association is not perfect. So I don't see why we need to talk about fat accumulation if the issue of concern is Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure or something else.

I think the tricky thing here is we have pretty solid evidence that having a higher proportion of body fat is associated with a lot of negative health outcomes, including mortality (plus coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, etc). But the tricky thing is that these outcomes generally happen significantly later. So you can study obesity in childhood, which we know is associated with negative outcomes decades later, but you can't easily study the connection between childhood diet and coronary heart disease decades later.

We also know that obesity is associated with all these negative outcomes, so it would be kind of weird to focus on these many health problems instead of what we believe is a major contributor to the risk of those problems. There are positive things we can do on a societal level (and perhaps to a lesser degree, on an individual level) about obesity, but if we take that off the table and focus on specific outcomes, our interventions are going to be a lot more limited.

And it's also true that on an individual level, people can monitor their own bodies in terms of fat accumulation, but they can't really monitor their own risk for coronary events until those events happen, at which point, they can't really go back in time and change what they did a decade or two earlier.
posted by ssg at 6:37 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


I'll tell my ultra-processed food story again. Because my first child died and also, society, I went through a very orthorexic period when introducing food to my eldest son. For his first year, I made everything, even crackers, from scratch and only made low-sugar versions and he had chickpeas and avocado for snack.

Then we were at a friend's one day for a playdate and she brought out a bowl of Gerber Strawberry Puffs. Puffed what? (corn I think) + fake strawberry flavour + sugar. And I mean, this friend was good people. I almost took the bowl away from my child, but sitting there in the sunlight in her living room full of the best toys and books, I realized that food is not just about Eating Healthy.

It's about family, and community, and sharing, and trying new things. And I thought then, as I think now, that what I want for my child is that he can go anywhere in the world and be invited into someone's home and try the food there...including, yes, the Gerber puffs. (Which my son ate, but didn't turn him into a raving maniac.)

For a while I tried to keep ultra-processed things sort of taboo/things that don't exist at home but then I kind of decided I was setting them up as like, SUPER great - i.e. the $7 bowls of macaroni and cheese my son could only get at particular restaurants downtown...until we actually did let him in on the secret that you can make Kraft Dinner at home.

It's pretty exhausting to be a parent hell-bent on less-processed food, and not just because it's a fair bit of labour. But because in our society you can spend your weekend washing produce and chopping it, fill a lunchbox with a thermos of lentils, onions and rice (mujadarah), with sides of carrots, cucumber, pear, a zucchini-carrot applesauce sweetened muffin, all cut and arranged Bento-style with cute sticky notes, and have your child come home with most of that uneaten and complain that you don't give him chocolate-chip chewy granola bars and a Lunchable like his friend's amazing mother.

I mean at that point -- this actually happened to me, and not just once -- you really want to scream bad things, and trying to play a 50-year long game is hard. Time to stress-eat chips man.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:46 PM on August 11 [44 favorites]


Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive and can go bad pretty fast; waste is really expensive. More expensive if organic. I just took 2 english cukes to the compost, sigh. The potluck was on the rain date and I was working and never made tabbouleh for a group. The quality of frozen is pretty good, but my freezer fills rapidly. The quality of most canned fruits and vegetables is meh. It's difficult to afford minimally processed, tasty food, and then there's prep time. It's really hard if you're low income, if the adults work jobs in addition to homemaking. Good, mostly whole grain bread is 2 or 3 times the cost of white mooshy bread full of corn syrup. Even Cheerios are quite sweet, though in comparison with with most, they don't seem so. Lunchables are so processed, and so easy, expensive, over-packaged.

Visit any grocery, including 'natural foods' and you'll be inundated with snack foods full of sugar, fat, salt, soda pop full of sugar of fake sugar, and a lot of foods are now using fake sugars. It takes more and more effort to stem the tide of junk food, and peer pressure makes it harder. But, you know, think of the children.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


NPR had something similar back in 2019, also *quoting Tufts.

I recall that, or a similar article on NPR, mentioning that if a food has no fiber, it's much more likely to be in the ultra-processed category. It's been a good rule of thumb.
posted by SunSnork at 7:16 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


I have said it elsewhere, but to me, the issue is the fixation on cooking at home as a moral good. Why is it that we have to cook at home, in order to get healthy food? We don't accept that in other areas of our lives.

Many—if not most—people don't have the time, inclination, or energy to cook at home every night. Why is this apparently a required skill? Weaving isn't a required skill in order to have clothes and not freeze to death. Making steel from pig iron isn't mandatory if you want a sharp knife. Hell, subsistence farming isn't a required skill in our society. It's perfectly fine to have no idea where asparagus (much less chicken!) comes from, or how to produce it at scale, but if you can't cook it yourself it's like you're some sort of monster, failing at being a Successful Human.

Why did we decide that that point in the supply chain is where the burden suddenly shifts to the individual? It's not even necessarily the point in the food supply chain that's the most easily preserved; it's more or less arbitrary, based on ideas of what constitutes food in its "natural" state on pre-industrial farms.

I'll put it bluntly: modern cooking is a social dick-measuring contest. It's a hobby that's outgrown its place. It should rightly be a specialist occupation, like virtually everything else in the modern world, from farming to ophthalmology.

Here's a thought: rather than trying to bring more farmers markets to food deserts, maybe we should work on making prepared, ready-to-eat food more accessible and healthier? We take for granted that ready-to-drink water is a collective responsibility, but food is apparently acceptable to deliver in (sometimes literally) a half-baked form.

It's all well and good to be able to buy raw vegetables, if you have the time, knowledge, and energy to prepare them—but many people don't. (And even absent all other responsibilities, it's not clear to me that most people should.) So providing increased access to raw vegetables is kind of a questionable use of resources. And not just on the distribution end: we mandate that every home has to have an entire goddamn room set aside for food preparation, with energy-hungry appliances burning hydrocarbons or electricity just so that the individual can do it themselves, generally with terrible inefficiency.

Why am I required to devote this room to the particular hobby of preparing food from inedible ingredients? I could think of a lot of other hobbies that I might use the same square footage and energy budget with—but if you don't prepare your own food, you're basically doomed to an early death based on what's available pre-prepared: the stuff is that bad for you.

I'd like to live in a place where I can go to something like an American cultural equivalent of a bar mleczny, or maybe just a diner that doesn't pretend we're all 1950s loggers about to head into the woods for a long day of felling trees and burning 1000kcal/hour. But ask restauranteurs, and they'll all fall back on the "special treat" defense: "my food isn't for daily consumption, it's meant as a special treat! For occasional consumption!" Well, that's great, except basically all ready-to-eat food is apparently a "special occasion" food. We shouldn't accept this excuse.

I know lots of people who would be happy eating every non-special-occasion meal in a DFAC, if it meant not having to have a kitchen, or deal with buying groceries, preserving food, managing leftovers, factoring in spoilage, and dealing with waste. But we have structured our society in a way—based not insignificantly on sexist assumptions of labor availability—that make that very hard to actually do.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:53 PM on August 11 [174 favorites]


I'm thinking the anti-avocado toast media brigade was funded by the ultra processed snack cartel.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:29 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Kadin2048, flagged as fantastic! I'd never thought about it in this way before. I guess one difference between the weaving/knife-making is that (fresh) food is perishable, so you can't just stock up on it once and then just eat nothing but that (unless you're a Soylent drinker or a MRE-eater). Fresh food has a short shelf life and a lower profit margin than a sweater or a fancy knife, so maybe that's why it's shifted to the individual? I don't know, I'm going to keep thinking about this. I do really wish there was a neighborhood mess hall with healthy options, and I could just cook at home once in a while.
posted by rogerroger at 9:10 PM on August 11 [9 favorites]


Kadin2048 (and, on preview, rogerroger), I love that idea of a communal mess hall. I think if people were willing to do food prep more communally, it could be a great solution.

I would love to see (in non-COVID times) something like having a communal kitchen and dining hall in every neighbourhood, where some people could be responsible for providing raw ingredients if they didn’t want to cook, and other people (who like cooking and have the time) could be responsible for the labour and expertise of turning the raw ingredients into food. Others who can’t afford to buy ingredients and don’t want to cook could be responsible for cleaning up. Then those who want company could sit down and eat together at a communal meal time, and those who don’t (or have different schedules) could take their food home and eat on their own schedule. Basically you contribute according to your ability and receive according to your need.

I’m an introvert and I like my alone time, but I would definitely participate in something like this. I think community building is really important for social health, and I can see a few non-food related issues this would mitigate…there are some really lonely, isolated people out there. Eating together with others would probably go a long way to easing some of that loneliness. As would cleaning or cooking with others, if that was something one was interested in. And if someone was interested in learning to cook but didn’t know how, this would be a good way to learn from experienced mentors.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:38 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


Kadin2048, I think the lack of cafeterias or restaurants that serve everyday food is a particular problem in rich western countries. In a lot of the rest of the world, I think these kinds of establishments exist. They might not be the healthiest type of food, but they are generally not that different from what people might cook in their own house. I think they tend to rely on a large labour force (often female) that is willing to work for relatively poor pay and on a lack of regulations or enforcement of commercial food preparation rules.

We could at least do something to make it easier for people to sell home-cooked food, which is happening in some places. It's kind of ironic that we probably cause available restaurant food to generally become less healthy in the name of protecting public health by prohibiting the sale of home cooked food.
posted by ssg at 9:40 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


This talk of labor has me thinking about recent articles I've read about the mistreatment of workers at Frito Lay and at meat processing plants during the pandemic. How the concept of ultra processed food has a way of disappearing the people it takes to produce such things at low cost.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:03 PM on August 11 [19 favorites]


Seems like they should figure out a way to make healthy food taste as good as candy.

Also as cheap and as convenient.

It's not the taste, it's the cost and time to prepare.


Fresh, local, in-season fruit tastes as sweet as cotton candy.* Plant it everywhere. Fill the public streets with public forests of foods.


*even more so once you quit eating refined sugars.
posted by aniola at 10:18 PM on August 11 [5 favorites]


Public forests of foods mean you go outside when you're hungry and grab an avocado or some blackberries or something.
posted by aniola at 10:20 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Car parking garages and car parking lots can be where the communal mess halls go.
posted by aniola at 10:21 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


In the meanwhile, there's food not bombs and similar.
posted by aniola at 10:22 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I am an ultra-processed food guy. Sorry, I know better, but I just am. However, I now often spring for the cane-sugar Coke from Mexico instead of Diet Coke, so that's being healthier, isn't it?
posted by maxwelton at 10:50 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


My local FNB supplies mostly processed foods (items donated from grocery stores that are about to expire).
posted by bq at 11:06 PM on August 11


Parent of an 18 month old and I am floored by how much more difficult it is to feed me, my partner, and my kid.

Bad news, it doesn’t necessarily get easier as they age.

I’m still struggling with the idea that I can’t control what my kids eat.
posted by bq at 11:07 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


Bee Wilson’s book, “the way we eat now”, covers a lot of the why and how this food situation developed. Would recommend for anybody who is interested (and has time to read instead of making pasta by hand). Spoilers: it was capitalism.
posted by The River Ivel at 11:15 PM on August 11 [7 favorites]


During the 1930s and -40s, quite a lot of housing in socialist and social-democratic countries was built with communal eating facilities, but it didn't work most places. People preferred cooking and eating their own food. Judging from some comments here, the concept seems more suitable for late-stage capitalism in the US than for early socialism in Europe.
The economy of everyday food is different in the different regions. As someone mentioned above, you can get cheap healthy food made from scratch in many countries where produce and labor are cheap. Actually it isn't even only on a country level: in the specific area where I live within a Western city, you can get a good bowl of daal for two dollars, and a homemade samosa for less. People elsewhere in the country don't believe me. But in some East Asian countries, you might not even have a kitchen in your home, and instead you can buy good food on the street.
Specially in the English-speaking parts of the Western world, that economy of individual street vendors has been replaced with an economy of industrial, processed food.
I'm wondering if there is an aspect of education and norms in play here as well. If a child here came to school with "chocolate-chip chewy granola bars and a Lunchable", the family would be put on observation by the school, no joke. They wouldn't be reported to the authorities just for bad eating habits, but add in one or two other transgressions such as being late often, or not doing homework and boom. This confuses immigrants from countries where your children's lunch is a personal choice thing. And you don't even need the authorities, it's a huge joke here that parents routinely police each other's children's lunchboxes. The bright side of this is that there is plenty of help for those who can't manage it, from cheap, healthy lunches for the kids to a home nurse who can help you get started with meal planning and cooking for a family. And if you grew up that way, it is normal, like taking a shower and brushing your teeth, that is what norms mean. When I look around my local supermarket, there is very little ultra-processed food, which I think reflects those norms. There is a growing market for prepared food -- made from scratch with local products, but they are expensive, I can't imagine anyone eating them every day.
Another result of the norms: European food is much more regulated than American food. If I want to buy a jar of marinara sauce, I can easily find one without additives, but if there are additives, a lot of those used in the US are illegal here. If I just stick to the plain jar of tomatoes, which is cheaper and almost as simple to cook, it will have no additives because it is illegal to call it "tomatoes" if you add anything but salt. If there is a teaspoon of sugar in the jar, as there often is in the US, they are no longer "tomatoes", but "tomato-based sauce". I wonder what's going to happen in the UK, after Brexit.
posted by mumimor at 11:42 PM on August 11 [26 favorites]


I listened to the Van Tulleken podcast tyndyll linked to above (there's only 6 episodes). They put the finger firmly on ultraprocessed foods.

In support of that claim they mention a fascinating study. In a food lab one group were given ultraprocessed food, another normal food but with the same amount of sugar and fat. The participants were told to eat as much as they wanted, were not allowed to weigh themselves, and were given loose-fitting clothing so they couldn't tell if they were putting on weight. The ultraprocessed eaters ate about 500 calories per day more, and gained about a kilogram per week.

It's a good study, but just one study isn't conclusive. It could be for instance that the regular food they were given wasn't as nice. Or it could be that in real life people notice they're getting fatter and cut down.

Against the theory that ultraprocessed food is bad, I haven't seen any convincing evidence that whole food diets are better than other diets. Also the National Weight Control Registry which has studied people who have maintained weight loss in the long term doesn't seem to find them avoiding ultraprocessed food.

The things they do find helpful are:
1. engaging in high levels of physical activity
2. eating a diet that is low in calories and fat
3. eating breakfast
4. self-monitoring weight on a regular basis
5. maintaining a consistent eating pattern
6. catching “slips” before they turn into larger regains

Overall though, I think people at the moment are a bit too doubtful about the usefullness of dieting. It's true that it's hard to change your appearance in the long term and most people put back a lot of the weight eventually. But the health benefits are excellent:

1. If you don't have diabetes, you become 58% less likely to get it.
2. If you have diabetes, you experience 11% fewer hospital visits over ten years.
3. You have a 15% reduction in all-cause mortality.
4. Even losing 5% of bodyweight is beneficial for obese people.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:01 AM on August 12 [13 favorites]


My wife moved up to the North East UK to live with and look after her elderly parents who struggled with dementia and other conditions. One of the old rustbelt towns, mining and ship building long since gone. The first time I tootled off to the aircraft hanger size supermarket I was stunned to see whole aisles stacked to the rafters with fizzy sugary drinks alongside more aisles dedicated exclusively to giant multi packs of crisps (chips) and their salty, fatty like. There were whole aisles of white bread and white cakes, "miles and miles of it" I half believingly exaggerated, aisles of dirt cheap sugary biscuits. Then there were the ready meals - shelf after shelf, rack after rack. And the prices! So cheap you could barely get a bag of spuds in my local market at home for the price of one of the instant meals in one. And the contents! Well, that explained the prices........ I was amazed and intrigued but left puzzling, where is the actual food in this vast 'food' palace? Got anything green, mate? And, who eats this sh*t? The answer wasn't long in coming. At the check out lines, I learnt who. Everybody. That's who. Shopping trolleys the size of Spanish galleons, packed to the gunnels with 2 litre bottles of sugar drinks , white food (6 giant loaves of white bread anyone? ) and ready meals for every day of the week. That stuff is simply not on offer in my little town, no wonder I make different choices.
posted by dutchrick at 2:19 AM on August 12 [12 favorites]


When I travel in North America I mentally rate grocery stores on an apple to Coke scale. This started when I visited my sister in Fort Worth and the store (I think it was a Kroeger’s?) only had 2 kinds of apples, one of which was Red “Delicious,” but like…a wall of variations on Coke. Whereas my local average store usually has about 8-10 varieties of apple and 5 of Coke.

I’m not proud my brain works this way, but it does. Anyway yes I think that matters!

My brain also grew up in the 70s and I still have the urge to try every new flavour as if it’s a lifetime event. It’s so weird.

I don’t believe in weight as a measure of health (with my family & medical history I am almost certainly at higher risk of stroke in my lifetime than most overweight people.) But I also do not think that ultra processed foods as a group are great to eat even if I’ve striven to get over my issues with orthorexic thinking.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:09 AM on August 12 [9 favorites]


The lithium hypothesis is interesting - this is completely anecdotal, but I took lithium for about three years in my mid-20s, and within six months of stopping I lost 15kg without trying at all. It was so fast and so unexpected that I spooked myself into thinking some other kind of health problem was causing the weight loss.

that and my love of assorted fake meat products

This is definitely a contributor to processed & ultra-processed food consumption in our vegetarian household. I've been vegetarian for more than half my life now, but not in the NYT "oh I'm not vegetarian but don't you just love vegetables" produce fetishist kind of way. I spent my early adult years wondering why I felt like shit all the time eating breakfasts like fruit and porridge and cereal that other adults always claimed made them feel great, and learned the hard way that my body needs consistent protein in order to feel good - and much as I love beans and tofu, it's often extremely convenient to be able to consume that protein in the form of a processed tube or puck of some kind of meat substitute. I've heard plenty of "why bother being vegetarian if you want to eat a sausage anyway/why eat the stuff that's pretending to be meat when you could just eat vegetables" from non-vegetarians over the years, which always struck me as missing the point (the point being, body needs protein and a sausage is a convenient and culturally-familiar format for getting that protein into my body).

I have a lot of sympathy for the parents trying to do this right with their kids in the context of a culture that has such horrible narratives around food and bodies, let alone the availability, time & prep issues. It's one of the many, many reasons why I'm not having kids; like many people, I have a history of disordered eating, and the idea of somehow managing not to inflict that on any kids of mine the way it was inflicted on me seems near-impossible, particularly in the cultural context. I used to scorn my own parents a fair amount for bringing me up on a near-exclusive diet of ultra-processed "kids' food" - nuggets, chips, etc., but I understand more now I'm older how hard that job was for my mother (who has always hated cooking and was also dealing with undiagnosed autism & anxiety and the attendant executive function challenges those issues bring). I'm still mad as hell at my dad though, for making it very clear from as early as I can remember (certainly around the time I was four or five) that he considered my (higher-than-he-would-have-preferred) body mass solely my own fault and responsibility, in spite of me having no control over the food I was consuming and being fed a diet almost solely composed of the ultra-processed foods in question here. The only times I'm sad he's dead are the times when I wish I could punch him in the nose for laying that crap on me as a tiny child.
posted by terretu at 4:11 AM on August 12 [8 favorites]


I eat pretty healthy about 80% of the time, but I've absolutely given up trying to get anyone else in my family to do the same. They're all adult picky eaters, which is a mentality that I simply can't fathom. I can't understand thoughts such as "I can't eat the same thing two meals in a row," "I'll eat THIS brand of frozen onion rings but not THAT brand of frozen onion rings," "There's only two kinds of bread I'll eat -- white and Hawaiian!" and "I don't eat cabbage."

Every six months or so, my brother will vow to "go keto" to lose weight, and it lasts all of 3 days. Because he has to have Hershey's miniatures, ice cream, ginger ale, instant mashed potatoes, and frozen pizza in the house at all times.

I give up. I honestly give up.
posted by Chronorin at 4:29 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Spending on food proportional to income over time US

Spending on food proportional to income by country

(Upper to date data no doubt available, but I have work to do. Something to think about, though.)
posted by BWA at 4:53 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


In support of that claim they mention a fascinating study. In a food lab one group were given ultraprocessed food, another normal food but with the same amount of sugar and fat.

Previously on the blue.
posted by chrchr at 6:13 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Yes, this raises the question of whether "suburban" families, for whom getting groceries is less convenient and have larger fridges/pantries, actually have worse diets than someone in an urban center, who spends less time commuting but also has greater access to a local smaller market/bodega. I know that I've lived entirely off a single Costco run for more than a week, and "fresh" items don't last that long.

Indeed. Prior to marriage, I lived alone and carless in the downtown of a major urban centre. I was within ten minutes’ walk of three different grocery stores of the supermarket type, and two or three more small specialty ones. I did my grocery shopping maybe twice a week, bringing home typically one bag each time. At any given point there were perhaps a dozen things in my refrigerator.

Now I live on the suburban edge of a bedroom community. The closest thing to my front door that is not someone else’s front door is (luckily) a modest-sized grocery store. My wife has driven for decades and believes that grocery shopping should be a carload of bags every couple of weeks. We have a refrigerator with freezer above and a separate standalone freezer: at the moment (as usual) all three are so crammed full that one would be hard-pressed to get anything larger than a pound of butter into any of them.

This of course means that 80% of what is in them is not visible without a dedicated excavation, and fresh food gets overlooked for days or weeks and ultimately tossed because it’s gone off. When I lived on my own, I reckon maybe a fraction of a percent of my groceries would be thrown away because I could see what I had and I knew what I had.

I am certain that by weight we throw away more food than I used to eat as a single person. I find this depressing and appalling, but negotiations to rethink this scheme of having Always Way Too Much food go nowhere.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:18 AM on August 12 [11 favorites]


"I'll eat THIS brand of....

I mean, brands do taste different? I definitely prefer certain brands of things. That's helpful when it gets to snack food, in the sense that (as a not picky eater) if I can't get my preferred chips and french onion dip, then why bother; I'll have an apple instead.

I could also see why picky eaters may prefer processed food in some cases: you're getting a consistent taste and mouth feel. The picky eaters in my family generally prefer fresh produce, but that may be due, in part, to the fact that my mom always made sure those were available and easy to get to snack on. Processed stuff wasn't verboten, necessarily, but just not as freely available.

. I did my grocery shopping maybe twice a week, bringing home typically one bag each time. At any given point there were perhaps a dozen things in my refrigerator.

Things were so much easier when I just had to feed myself. And it's not like my husband is no help in the kitchen. But two people managing close but not perfectly aligned pallets is trickier than it should be. It got a bit easier when I worked from home for the past year, but now, when we're both busy with work and it's a week I'm spending in the office, the slack isn't there and plans (and food) go to crap. It's definitely a lucky to have problem, but I need to recalibrate meal planning again.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:00 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Here in the UK, Talking Pictures TV occasionally shows Eating Out With Tommy Trinder, a 1941 public service film showing how great the British Restaurants could be, where you'd get good nutritious food at a cheap price so you could fight the Nazis.

And seeing it right around the time when everyone was having VE-Day Parties while the government was trying to stop food vouchers for families it just really drove home the cognitive dissonance that is life in the UK today.

I just wish there were British Restaurants now. Because sometimes I am so tired and just having a place where I could sit down and eat even bland stodgy old-times British food for very little money...that would be bliss.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:04 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


find this depressing and appalling, but negotiations to rethink this scheme of having Always Way Too Much food go nowhere.

I clearly have food issues because I am drawn to these threads like fly to honey. :)

Anyways, I struggle with what your wife does. In my case it's not about the means of transportation, it's about how I grew up - with a scarcity mentality endemic to my home. My great-grandmother's precarious financial situation became my grandmother's alcoholism, became my mother's anxiety and need for absolute control over her environment, became my pantry/fridge/freezer being full. Maybe in the next generation the stain will be removed?

Pre-pandemic, I had gotten to where a fridge that was close to empty on grocery day, at least during non-farm-share-overflow periods. Not so much right now, but I'm working on it.

That said - given that the food waste bothers you, is there a reason you personally are not excavating the fridge, cooking up minestrone or making pesto with the greens etc. and maybe even volunteering to take over the shopping and planning? Because for me, having my spouse take over for 6 months when I was pregnant was kind of a circuit breaker for my issues.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:06 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


I know lots of people who would be happy eating every non-special-occasion meal in a DFAC, if it meant not having to have a kitchen, or deal with buying groceries, preserving food, managing leftovers, factoring in spoilage, and dealing with waste. But we have structured our society in a way—based not insignificantly on sexist assumptions of labor availability—that make that very hard to actually do.

In the late nineties, I had a student job at a university in the healthcare area and somewhat regularly bought lunch on campus. At that time, there was a university cafeteria, staffed by unionized workers with benefits, and you could get, like, regular food. Some of it probably wasn't literally the healthiest version, but any day of the work week you could get, eg, a homestyle main and two veg (say, chicken, broccoli and squash) or a baked potato with toppings. There was always enough variety to put together an adequate vegetarian lunch. Funnily, I had my first winter squash there - my parents don't really like it and we never had it at home, but it was ideal for the giant cafeteria oven and in fact they did it very well. Two veg, a roll and a drink would set you back about $5.

In the 2000s, they axed the cafeteria and replaced it with a...convenience store-ish thing selling expensive, really bad sandwiches (like, not gourmet ones, just damp and icky), donuts, lunchables and some okay but not great pre-packaged salads with gross dressing. This of course meant they got to fire lots of union staff (their major goal since the union was voted in back in the mid-nineties) and probably save lots of other money as well. Also, all the lunches are the kind of thing designed to eat at your desk - you couldn't really do squash and buttered noodles in front of the computer.

Anyway, I would absolutely eat at a homestyle cafeteria a few times a week if there was one handy. It wouldn't need to be fancy - in fact, I'd rather it wasn't fancy, since fancy on the cheap is usually disgusting - and I'd be happy enough with, eg, a relatively wholesome casserole or a simple salad bar with a small number of plain choices.
posted by Frowner at 7:09 AM on August 12 [28 favorites]


two eggos a day every day for the last three decades of your life is fine actually

I shall put this in Google Calendar to start doing when I turn 70.
posted by srboisvert at 7:33 AM on August 12 [7 favorites]


That link upthread which purports to define ultraprocessed food mentions, as examples, french fries and frozen meals.
Examples include: sweet, fatty or salty packaged snack products, ice cream, sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolates, confectionery, French fries, burgers and hot dogs, and poultry and fish nuggets.’
[...]
Ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes
So I'm utterly lost about what "ultraprocessed" is supposed to mean. Because french fries are just potatoes dunked in hot oil and sprinkled with salt, and the "Smart Ones Angel Hair Marinara" frozen entree I just grabbed out of my freezer lists its ingredients as the same things I would use in making pasta at home. (The only scary sounding chemicals turn out to be the iron and vitamin B1 sources with which the flour is enriched.)

I honestly don't see how these examples are consistent with the definition the same link actually gives for "ultraprocessed" yet it presents these examples as if there is no contradiction.

So until someone gives me a more consistent definition of "ultra processed" I'm going to keep believing the thesis of the main link of the other open thread on nutrition, which is that basically no one knows what's healthy.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:50 AM on August 12 [16 favorites]


I'll put it bluntly: modern cooking is a social dick-measuring contest. It's a hobby that's outgrown its place.

That's rough. Alternatively, it's a pleasurable means for family and friends to show love and appreciation for one another in a small communal setting, to pass on culinary traditions handed down over generations, to build memories of meals brilliant or entertainingly catastrophic, to explore variations on the possibilities of food and drink without having to wonder, what exactly am I eating here?

Cafeterias from a glass half empty perspective - utilitarian factories, suitable for schools and prisons.

Different strokes.
posted by BWA at 7:51 AM on August 12 [18 favorites]


I know that I've lived entirely off a single Costco run for more than a week, and "fresh" items don't last that long.

I used to think this but I've recently put more effort into storing my fresh stuff properly and the payoff is pretty big. It was partly driven by getting tired of salad leaves wilting and also by a desire to reduce grocery store visits during the pandemic.

A big thing to learn is to unpack the packaged fresh food you buy at the grocery store before you put it away. I repack the clamshell salad leaves by keeping a spare clamshell so that they are not as densely packed and I put in paper towel between the leaves and the plastic. I also air them out a bit. Fresh salad leaves will easily last about 20 days. After that you have to be diligent about pulling out the wilted mushy leaves (leaves that are still on the stem (ie heads of lettuce) last even longer) Mushrooms get removed from their plastic wrapped carboard containers and put in paper lunch bags. Fresh fruit goes right into the fridge except clementines which I just leave out in a bowl (and rotate every now and then to watch out for the ones that mold). TJ's mini avocados go into the fridge and I take them out a day before I plan to eat them and put them on a window shelf to ripen.

I've been pretty pleasantly surprised by how a little preparation extends the life of what I used to consider rapidly perishable food. Of course the real trick is to actually eat the perishable food regularly enough that their lifespan isn't a big consideration but that is a challenge for one or two person household with a typical american diet but I suppose that is the point of trying to eat healthier less processed whole foods.
posted by srboisvert at 7:52 AM on August 12 [24 favorites]


Anyway, I would absolutely eat at a homestyle cafeteria a few times a week if there was one handy. It wouldn't need to be fancy - in fact, I'd rather it wasn't fancy, since fancy on the cheap is usually disgusting - and I'd be happy enough with, eg, a relatively wholesome casserole or a simple salad bar with a small number of plain choices.

I had to/got to (depending on one's ever-changing feelings of civic duty) be part of a jury selection process yesterday, which meant spending all day in a courthouse. Or since I live in a medium-sized city, a justice complex, and one large enough to have its own cafeteria. This was especially nice as it meant I could stay on the "sterile" side of security screening and have a hot meal.

The place had a very institutional feel to it, which I found oddly comforting, as not everything has to be fancy. I'd like more places that are just "humans are hungry, other humans made food, hey look we have solved a problem" with no pretense. There's also something to be said about seeing lawyers, jurors, government workers, and the occasional probationer/parolee (visiting to take care of their periodical paperwork drudgery) in the same line for the hot bar. But I digress.

To tie it back to TFA: relatively healthy food, easy to access, more please.
posted by pianoblack at 8:34 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


I've recently put more effort into storing my fresh stuff properly and the payoff is pretty big.

How To Keep Your Produce Fresh For Weeks from the Wirecutter.
posted by chrchr at 8:48 AM on August 12 [10 favorites]


The things they do find helpful are:

Over the last seven years or so I've gone from 265 to 183Lbs (as of this morning) and I'm pretty sure I've added a fair amount of muscle mass over that time (strength training will do that). It's amazing how closely this aligns with my own experience.

1. engaging in high levels of physical activity: Caloric deficit/surplus is more important but this has been huge.
2. eating a diet that is low in calories and fat: Protein and fat are usually about 4Kcals per gram vs. 9Kcals per gram in fat. It's really hard to eat a low calorie diet unless it's also low in fat.
3. eating breakfast: I'm the opposite and from talking to others it seems HIGHLY individual.
4. self-monitoring weight on a regular basis: I weigh myself three times a day!
5. maintaining a consistent eating pattern: I cannot stress enough how key this is.
6. catching “slips” before they turn into larger regains: Hence the thrice daily weigh in.

Unprocessed foods tend to be less calorie dense and therefore more filling for the same calories but I've done just fine eating plenty of ultra-processed foods. It's basically a question of whether I want to be lazy more than I want to feel full(-ish, I haven't really been FULL full for years).

But having easier access to fresh produce consistently would make it worlds easier for me to keep getting in shape. I've been eating a low-FODMAP diet and subscribed to a service that makes prepared low-FODMAP meals delivered weekly and that has made it a ton easier because I can just make whatever for my wife and kid and then for myself I just pop the thing in the microwave, scarf it down, and then go on about my day. The meals don't taste amazing but it's unprocessed and a LOT more filling.
posted by VTX at 8:51 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


engaging in high levels of physical activity: Caloric deficit/surplus is more important but this has been huge.

I think this is one area where I don't trust the science which says diet trumps exercise. I think there's a big difference between the short term and the long term.

A rule of thumb for runners is that you can improve for about 7 years after you start running. Only then have you really reached your aerobic capacity.

For bodybuilders, about a pound of muscle gained per month is pretty reasonable over the long term. So again it takes years to reach your potential.

For both running and lifting, it's a lot harder to make gains when you have a calorie deficit.

Almost all the research done into diets that relies on interventions or randomized control trials is done over a much shorter period, just a few months usually. Doing that for years would be incredibly costly, and in a publish-or-perish world not great for a scientist's career. But a few months isn't long enough for exercise to change your body very much.

So I think that for long term weight maintenance, exercise is underrated.

It's also interesting that the National Weight Control Registry members do a lot more exercise than the WHO guidelines of 150 "intensity minutes" per week. That's 21 minutes of moderate exercise per day, but intense exercise counts double so it would only be 11 minutes of intense exercise per day. The NWCR members are averaging about an hour per day of exercise.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:09 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


VTX, I don't say this as to make assumptions about you, but to illustrate the differences between people.

If I weighed myself weekly, let alone multiple times a day, I would be back in eating disorder hell within about three days.
If I never ate enough to feel FULL full I would be back in eating disorder hell within about three days.

I always want to do proper unethical studies on the effect of diet on people, feed a thousand people a maintenance amount of calories of oreos, and the next group the same of my grandmother's deserts. Measure the effects on their mental health before, during, and after for the next decade. These studies as they currently exist rarely go ob for enough time, and people are measured exclusively in the lab, or exclusively rely on self reporting.
posted by Braeburn at 9:43 AM on August 12 [13 favorites]


>> I'll put it bluntly: modern cooking is a social dick-measuring contest. It's a hobby that's outgrown its place.

> That's rough. Alternatively, it's a pleasurable means for family and friends to show love and appreciation for one another in a small communal setting, to pass on culinary traditions handed down over generations, to build memories of meals brilliant or entertainingly catastrophic, to explore variations on the possibilities of food and drink without having to wonder, what exactly am I eating here?


And it can also be something that takes half an hour a day and makes a fairly healthy, pretty tasty meal. A chore, but not a horrible one, and one that is rewarded by fresh food... that is the food that you want to be eating today.

Cooking is no more a hobby for me than doing the laundry is. But I like clean clothes, and simple tasty food.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:01 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


french fries are just potatoes dunked in hot oil. Unless the oil is replaced very frequently, it turns into nasty stuff. Deep-fried food is generally not healthy, then add gobs of salt.

Not cooking at home: Restaurant and cafeteria food is very often prepared elsewhere, frozen, re-heated. Restaurant food is made to be sold, so it's full of salt, fat, sugar, topped with butter and more salt. Because if it isn't, people don't buy it. I like a bran muffin for breakfast, got tired of baking them. They're hard to find, but it's easy to find chocolate chip or pina colada muffins. I'll have to start baking again once the weather cools, because muffins should be lightly sweet, not high-fat, versions of bread, not super-sweet, greasy versions of cake. Cooking, like lots of things, has become fetishized. Holy crap, I used to make a lot of bread, and now I find that I need many more fancy tools. I'm in my 60s and I prepare a lot of the food my Mom made, plus some things I've learned along the way. A few things are blog-worthy, but most are just pretty tasty, pretty nutritious, not too difficult. If I'm cooking foods my Mom wouldn't recognize, it's still mostly family foods somebody makes in some country.

Kadin2048, there are pretty good prepared foods at many grocery stores; I picked up Indian meals yesterday, popped them in the freezer for later. There are some pretty good frozen meals, too, but you have to read ingredients and nutrition content. You can also see if local hospitals have cafeterias; sometimes they have quality & healthy options. Most disk-size-wars are about upmanship, and there's no draft.
posted by theora55 at 10:33 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


And it can also be something that takes half an hour a day and makes a fairly healthy, pretty tasty meal.

And those of us who really don't like cooking find that time trade-off not worth it when there are other alternatives. Especially since cooking is a craft and takes (perhaps minimal) time to get good at.
posted by maxwelton at 10:38 AM on August 12 [5 favorites]


maxwelton: those of us who really don't like cooking find that time trade-off not worth it when there are other alternatives.

Sure, that is a choice you get to make. If there are other (preferrably good) alternatives.
Cooking your own meals is not a moral imperative.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:41 AM on August 12


If I weighed myself weekly, let alone multiple times a day, I would be back in eating disorder hell within about three days.
If I never ate enough to feel FULL full I would be back in eating disorder hell within about three days.


As far as weight loss (assuming that's the healthy choice) goes my take is that there are some very high level strategies that are consistent, basically that you can't lose weight in a caloric surplus, and then there are a handful of some kinda wildly varying strategies for how to achieve that. Of those, there are probably one or two that will work best for any given person but exactly which one is going to be the best fit for them is anyone's guess.

So you get studies where intermittent fasting worked well for some, just okay for others, and not very well for another group. If you had done a study with a different strategy with the same groups they'd break out about the same way but exactly which participants fell into which bucket would change. On top of that, personal circumstances can make what might otherwise be a "sub-optimal" strategy be best. Maybe, say, you had an eating disorder so while physiologically maybe intermittent fasting would work best, overall some other strategy will actually be more effective long term.

As far as exercise studies. PREACH IT!

The vast majority of studies basically keep telling us what we already know. If you take untrained 20-somethings and have them train for six weeks, they will get stronger. They might find some measurable differences within that group but those differences are just NOT helpful or indicative of anything that people who strength train as a hobby actually care about.

I think this is one area where I don't trust the science which says diet trumps exercise. I think there's a big difference between the short term and the long term.

So when it comes to this....I dunno. I can say with a high degree of confidence that it's absolutely true for me. However, I have definitely been in periods where I haven't been getting lighter but have been getting leaner when I think it's likely I was in a caloric surplus (I mean, I track calories but I don't really trust the numbers completely). So you can probably get a lot leaner and healthier on a surplus. It helps me to keep my nutrition and exercise separated mentally but in reality they overlap in positive and negative ways all over the place. For example, I'm less hungry on days I lift but more hungry on days I don't.

In my experience and with my goals, diet definitely trumps exercise. But I expect that it varies quite a bit on an individual level and what I've heard from other lifters backs that up.

For diet and exercise both my stance is that everyone should try stuff as best they can until they find what works best for them. Someday I hope we'll have the knowledge to be able to tell people what that is likely to be but right now we just have a handful of general strategies that seem to work for some people.
posted by VTX at 12:04 PM on August 12


theora55: Holy crap, I used to make a lot of bread, and now I find that I need many more fancy tools.

Well, our current kitchen is not even 6 sq.m (60 sq.ft), and most of our bread is what we bake ourselves. Ingredients: some grain flour mix, dry yeast, water, a tablespoon or so of sunflower oil. This goes into a breadmaker, and three hours later it's bread. Nearly always yummy bread, and in the few cases it's not it nearly always has a clear cause, like forgetting to put the fins in. No fuss, no fancy tools, and the only space it takes is the square foot for that breadmaker, and a mid-size Ikea Samla for the flour mixes. We're probably luckier than others in that we have a real milling windmill not a mile away, but we managed just the same with supermarket stuff before we moved here. That was ... different because we bought those in Germany where those mixes often contain sourdough as well as yeast, plus larger amounts of rye and occasionally potato flour, but not notably worse than the mixes we use now (which are just flour, add your own leavening).
posted by Stoneshop at 12:11 PM on August 12


"Because french fries are just potatoes dunked in hot oil and sprinkled with salt..."
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:50 AM on August 12

Actually, Fast food French Fries are really not just potatoes, oil, and salt. This article from about 4 years ago outlines what exactly it takes to make a fast food fry different.

The money quote: "The Carl's Jr. website lists 19 ingredients for their Natural Cut French Fries, Wendy's uses 17, and McDonald's has 10."

I think Five Guys makes their own fries in-house, and you can tell, based on how floppy they are. Still delicious, but it's really obvious how different a Five Guy's fry is from a Wendy's or McDonald's. They all use proprietary fry coatings to keep them crispy for an optimum time frame (about 7 minutes) from when they come out of the fryer to when they're supposed to be consumed. French fry coatings are big business! For a "simple" fry!
posted by sharp pointy objects at 12:34 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


this category would include both Ho-Hos and Trader Joe's Organic Roasted Seaweed Snacks

Unless I'm misunderstanding something, HoHos are ultra-processed cat. 4 and the Seaweed snacks are processed cat. 3 (because of the expeller pressed canola oil) according to the rubric posted above.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:39 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast about McDonald’s fries describes the weird toxic oil they use in their fryers in an attempt to replicate the flavor and texture of fries made with their old beef tallow blend. The beef tallow was shelved in the 90s due to concerns about saturated fat.
posted by chrchr at 12:40 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Frowner's comment reminded me that I work at a technical university (I forget the strangest things now because of corona), and when it was built during the sixties, 95% of the students and teachers were male, and it was assumed that they would not be able to feed themselves, so all of the dining halls, cafeterias, street vendors and staff lounges provide three meals a day. Since there is a big nutrition department, the food always adheres to whatever is the current scientific recommendation. And since there have always been a lot of international students, you can get vegan, kosher and halal food. For students and teachers with ID, the discount is large enough that you really don't need to cook, but anyone can come in from the street and buy a healthy meal at a very fair price. I don't know if anyone does. At my old workplace, an architecture school, naval officers from the nearby navy yard came over for cheaper and healthier lunch, but now sometimes I wonder if all the people who live and work next to campus also work on campus. They all look like engineers.
Anyway, for those of you who hate cooking, maybe check your closest university, they might have good open cafeterias. I'm a total foodie, but I don't bother to pack a lunch, I know I will be able to find something worthwhile somewhere within the campus.

And in spite of what Frowner actually wrote, some hospitals might also have good cafeterias for the public. In my home town, it's fifty-fifty. Some hospital managements rightly think it would be insane to run a hospital with a junk food cafeteria, and others just think of the bottom line and outsource the business to chains.

Because of this discussion, I looked at the ingredients in frozen fries in my local supermarket: there's dextrose in them, probably to aid crunchiness. Some time ago I was standing in the line there and spent the time looking at the list of ingredients of a plain loaf of fresh bread (I thought). There were 16 ingredients. That is not OK: I haven't bought bread there since. I think one big issue is that we often buy things thinking that they are safe and sound, and then it turns out they are filled with additives and the produce going into the food is contaminated with pesticides and antibiotics. But there are lots of good frozen foods, and canned foods. You don't have to spend half your life scrubbing vegs. You just have to read the labels.
posted by mumimor at 12:43 PM on August 12 [7 favorites]


I bet if you gave people french fries made fresh from potatoes with nothing more than oil and salt they would eat less calories worth than if you gave them McDonald's fries. That would be an interesting experiment to try: just give people unlimited french fries and weigh how many they eat before they don't want any more.
posted by ssg at 12:44 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Whenever I said I loved In-n-Out fries, my friends would complain that they “taste like potatoes”. It’s not an uncommon complaint even among hamburger fanciers who otherwise stan for their California fave. That’s what happens when you stick to potatoes/oil/salt. McDonalds knows what the people want in a fry and it takes a lot of unpronounceable ingredients to get there.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:46 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


Making food is WORK - menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking are the big three, and then all the necessary tasks such as cleaning and proper storage (pro tip from a produce killer: put a paper towel in with your leafy greens! wrap your cucumbers in paper towels so they go moldy slower). It's the labor of (social) reproduction. So much of that labor has been shunted to the family, and in many households, due to time, skill or inclination, it works out pretty well. For others, it's a horrible chore. For people living alone and for people with limited mobility like seniors, the food preparation effort to reward matrix can look very different.

I totally would be up for communal kitchens. My current strategy is to buy takeout that makes good leftovers (thank you Punjab Market!).

I dearly miss the cafeterias on campus at Seoul National University. Each cafeteria was run differently. The ones by the dorms had pretty good stews and braises (usually 2 options for a set menu per day, the main dish was the thing that varied, the sides tended to be the same). The one in the college of social sciences was a la carte and back oh, 15 years ago, I could get a bowl of rice, a side soup (miyukguk), and three veggie side dishes for 1000 won, which was the equivalent of one U.S. dollar!!! But also need to acknowledge the comments earlier that cafeteria operation and pricing relied on an exploited and underpaid workforce of women.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:00 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Going back a bit, I would just like to second Kadin2048's brilliant comment upthread. The way we collectively shame people who don't want to cook their own meals always bugged the hell out of me, but I could never quite explain why - that comment NAILED it.

I still remember a neighborhood block party last year where my wife and I started chatting with a neighbor we didn't know. Somehow the topic of cooking came up, said neighbor is apparently in the more extreme of make-your-own stuff. OK that's great, but she completely flipped out when we mentioned that most of our meals are takeout or ready-to-eat type meals (frozen veggies, pre-marinated chicken breasts and throw-in-the-oven premade dinner stuff makes up a lot of our meals - hey, we work full-time, I don't like to cook, and my wife refuses to cook for complex reasons). And I do mean LOST it - like basically yelling at us that we're lazy people and should feel bad. It was a really weird experience. Unfortunately, it is also a very common view. Even here on MeFi in this thread a few years back on Blue Apron-type delivery services. I still remember finding that thread and being appalled at comments like this (that was upvoted by 56 people!) - "get with the program", really??

It's puzzling behavior that I have never understood - nobody is going to shame me for calling an electrician instead of wiring my own breaker panel, or hiring a lawn service to mow my yard instead of getting the mower out. But if I don't want to get creative and figure out a meal plan and be in the kitchen all the damn time, I'm told to "get with the program".
posted by photo guy at 1:02 PM on August 12 [18 favorites]


I think both Kadin2048 and BWA are right (food prep can be both those things), but Kadin2048’s comment gets at something that is rarely acknowledged: we’ve structured our society around the assumption that everyone will cook for themselves, and if you don’t want to do that labor your options are expensive and unhealthy — and you're judged for it! The expensive part *might* be unavoidable since you’re essentially paying someone to do labor for you, but as Kadin2048 hints at we’ve achieved efficiencies by having experts make things in bulk so it’s not a given that it must be as expensive as it currently is. So anyone who has trouble cooking for themself gets less-healthy food and pays a big premium for it. And it’s not just “laziness” or a choice that might make cooking difficult — plenty of people have mentioned that cooking can be difficult for people who are exhausted from jobs or caregiving, have a disability, etc.

photo guy mentions meal kit delivery, which is the individualistic and capitalistic attempt to fill this gap somewhat. Naturally those only partly solve the issue and only for those who can pay.
posted by Tehhund at 1:30 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]


kadin2048: but food is apparently acceptable to deliver in (sometimes literally) a half-baked form.

Dinner, in whatever state you bring it home, nearly always needs some processing before you can put it on a plate and eat it, even if it's just five minutes in a microwave. And in my view those five minutes in a microwave can equally be used for five minutes throwing a couple ingredients (some fresh, some deep-frozen, a few condiments and maybe a ready-made sauce) into a pot, shoving that in the oven for half an hour or 45 minutes or whatever, then doing something else entirely during that time, like answering mail, reading Usenet, just anything. I had a fair amount of silly-easy base recipes for those meals when I lived alone, with the occasional "oh, let's try it with Y instead of X" or "ah, out of Z, well, Q will do". And even when I commuted 100km one-way each day (for several years) I managed to pop into a supermarket on the way home when I needed to, get fresh produce on Saturdays and use that over the next couple of days.

If you see cooking as a dish-size war, fine, that's your view. It's not one I share. At all.
posted by Stoneshop at 1:42 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Cleaning up. I hate it. Chopping, paying attention to a pan/pot, etc I'm fine with and even like. I listen to podcasts and feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Cleaning up and shredding cheese for some reason. I hate them both, even if I'm listening to a podcast. I don't know why, it doesn't seem like they should be that different. If I'm wiped out from a busy day it's the thought of clean up that will push me towards the less healthy less work option.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:51 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


sharp pointy objects: I think Five Guys makes their own fries in-house, and you can tell, based on how floppy they are.

Around here you can find chips shops where you can see the whole process starting from peeled potatoes to finished fries so you can pretty sure that they're just deep-fried potato strips with salt (usually too much, but it's fine to ask that your portion is taken from the yet-unsalted batch coming out of the fryer), and they're rarely floppy.
posted by Stoneshop at 2:04 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Whenever I said I loved In-n-Out fries, my friends would complain that they “taste like potatoes”. It’s not an uncommon complaint even among hamburger fanciers who otherwise stan for their California fave.

I don't like In N Out fries much, and I would not say they taste more like potatoes than other places. I also don't think a raw 'number of ingredients' is very useful for determining if something is processed or not; if I was making fries at home, it would probably involve more than 3 ingredients, because I like spices.

And in that very article, they claim "The idea of hand-cut potatoes and never-frozen products sounds great in theory, but it turns out that frozen potatoes actually make better french fries

Read More: https://www.mashed.com/169180/how-fast-food-restaurants-really-make-their-french-fries-crispy/?utm_campaign=clip"

where I assume 'better' isn't healthier or simpler but rather 'a majority of people like them more as evidenced by taste tests'
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:08 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how people will, regardless of the comments from other people, moralize about how great they are at cooking for themselves. Like, Stoneshop, you realize your experiences are universal, right?
posted by sagc at 2:10 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


Stoneshop, I just popped a meal into the microwave and then walked off to do something more interesting. If I had to pedal my microwave, I guess I'd do that but it just seems to do its thing without requiring supervision.

This is the amount of "processing" I'm comfortable with / capable of doing. Sometimes my pre-made meals require a bit more prep (remove from container, separate / mix together the components) and that can get stressful for me or even detrimental to my mental health.

I have other strengths. If I went around telling people how I don't understand why they can't "manage" to get a 50-mile bike ride in a few times a week, I wouldn't blame them for avoiding me like the plague. Yet here we are.
posted by tigrrrlily at 2:11 PM on August 12 [17 favorites]


Dinner, in whatever state you bring it home, nearly always needs some processing before you can put it on a plate and eat it, even if it's just five minutes in a microwave.

Nah, maybe it's just me, but when I bring takeout or whatever home 90% of the time what I do is set it down, go wash my hands, and then unwrap/unbox and dig in. I eat right out the container and don't bother with my own dishware. I know a lot of folks earlier in the pandemic nuked their takeout for a few minutes to kill covid, but I don't think that was ever necessary. So, since I'm a good handwasher the "processing" for me when I get home is about a minute only.

But I must mention that I only get takeout from places that are about 10 minutes away or less, so the temperature keeps.
posted by FJT at 2:23 PM on August 12 [8 favorites]


photo guy mentions meal kit delivery, which is the individualistic and capitalistic attempt to fill this gap somewhat. Naturally those only partly solve the issue and only for those who can pay.

And who don't have food allergies. A person in my household is allergic to wheat, almonds, dairy, soy, and eggs, and it makes those services unusable.

Kadin2048 (and, on preview, rogerroger), I love that idea of a communal mess hall. I think if people were willing to do food prep more communally, it could be a great solution.

I would love that too. I used to enjoy cooking but then I moved to another country where the collective palette is wildly out of sync with mine. I still cook, usually twice a week, but very basic meals: salmon and veg in the oven with rice in the rice cooker, or chicken and veg and potatoes in the oven. Once a month or so, I get inspired to look up recipes but mostly I just chop things up, put them on a baking sheet, add a spritz of oil and some salt, pepper, and spice, and stick them in the oven. It's a boring routine but it's acceptable food for everybody. I have two other people in my household who also cook (I live in a four-adult house and only one of us doesn't cook, though he makes fancy desserts and cleans) so I don't have to do the bulk of it like a lot of women, and I still resent the time spent.

I would resent it less if I wasn't also working 8-10 hours/day but...

I'm pretty happy about the rise of salad places though. I don't remember there being multiple take-out salad places (not restaurants that sell salads, but restaurants that exclusively sell salads) prior to the pandemic, but my app shows like 5 of them here in Nashville. I don't know if they're ghost kitchens or what, and they're expensive (like all delivery there's a premium) but at least they're good for you unlike most of my other options.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:27 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Cleaning up and shredding cheese for some reason. I hate them both

I agree 100% about shredding cheese. I think it's two things, mainly: it's a clunky physical manoeuvre and it makes your hands stink. I assume there are some nice, top-of-the line cheese graters available that would alleviate both problems, but for some reason I always end up buying one of those cheap aluminum cowbell-shaped devices and just having to cope with my shred dread.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:34 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


And even when I commuted 100km one-way each day (for several years) I managed to pop into a supermarket on the way home when I needed to, get fresh produce on Saturdays and use that over the next couple of days.

If you see cooking as a dish-size war, fine, that's your view. It's not one I share. At all.


Stoneshop, with all due respect I think you're kind of proving my point. Perhaps recognize some people view cooking differently than you, or maybe they just never picked up on that particular life skill, or maybe they just don't have any interest in it. Just because someone dislikes food prep doesn't make them lazy.
posted by photo guy at 2:43 PM on August 12 [18 favorites]


re: shredding cheese, the Salad Shooter kinda kills for shredding cheese.
posted by minsies at 3:54 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Just so people know, it's really helpful to hear how different people approach the task of cooking.

That blue apron thread from a while back really opened my eyes on this subject, and taught me how lucky/unusual I was to have grown up cooking from scratch, why that wasn't everyone's experience, and that homecooked food isn't a moral imperative any more than ironed and folded laundry is.
posted by Braeburn at 3:58 PM on August 12 [9 favorites]


It's amazing how people will, regardless of the comments from other people, moralize about how great they are at cooking for themselves.

It helps to remember that this is MetaFilter, the site where one user will post an Ask about simple cooking to which another user will respond by suggesting a pasta machine.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:01 PM on August 12 [13 favorites]


Dinner, in whatever state you bring it home, nearly always needs some processing before you can put it on a plate and eat it, even if it's just five minutes in a microwave.

I haven't owned a microwave in more than 20 years, and yet my spouse and I eat take-out and delivery food regularly. The degree of "processing" we do for this kind of thing is at best "transfer it from the delivery container to a plate or bowl". Maybe, if we're lucky and on the up side of the produce-decaying-in-the-fridge cycle, we add some parsley or cilantro. (Ha ha ha no we don't do this.)

And I'm someone who identifies as "I love cooking". I'm also someone with a lifetime history of major depression, who's spent most of the last year and a half inside a one-bedroom apartment with another human being, and I find that the mental space I have for actually planning meals and cooking is... basically gone.

At this point I'm thankful for good-quality ramen/ramyun that I can dress up with some lightly-cooked veg or a soft-boiled egg or what have you. (Samyang curry noodles, looking at you. 🥰)
posted by Lexica at 7:26 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


A lot of comments relate to the 'difficulty' or 'lack of time'... experience blah blah regarding food consumption (you do NOT need to cook to eat well). Like any other life operational task, planning and foresight are important. Mrs. Underpants is Pescatarian (which is a bit like being Lutheran without praying) and I am not. Putting aside the basics, we grow a lot of summer crops and preserve can/freeze/dehydrate etc for ingredients towards 'meals we will have, and also keep a good supply of staples from which any meal can be made. [Anyone want a zucchini? Please take at least two... Add a VERY mixed herb/spice cupboard and a range of cooking utensils and we are all set. Well... almost. The base ingredients of rice/pasta/dried beans/flour/potatoes... etc are also good on standby.

We both have VERY busy lifestyles but prioritize the preparation of 'good' food. Note the quotes there. Having used this approach for many years, we have achieved the ability to produce a wide range of nutritious (important) and tasty (VERY important) meals at around $4 or so for a multiple serving meal/s. We often freeze portion size ready to ding meals from those as well for the times when we have ZERO available time and simply want to eat in the same way you stick gas in your car.

I note people do not elevate eating as a priority. By this I mean ensuring you have a balanced intake of food which does not have an excess of sodium/fat.... place your preferred descriptor here...... or is consumed on a regular basis likely to have long term effects on your well-being. You may miss out on different nutrients that different foods provide if you eat the same foods every day. For instance, cashews and pine nuts are a good source of magnesium. But if you don’t occasionally eat sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, too, you may be skimping on your vitamin E. The same rule applies to foods’ color. Each color of the rainbow brings unique nutritional benefits, essential for optimal health. For example, green veggies and fruits provide you with lots of plant-based phytonutrients like chlorophyll. But you may lack the phytonutrients from red, orange, yellow, and blue/purple plant-based foods.

There is ZERO wrong with eating ultra-processed foods. Just not every day and without mixing it up a little.

The key is variety and balance. And not fretting when a recipe asks for an ingredient you simply do not have or would even know where to get it. Wing it! No need to even have chicken either or even stick to the recipe!

It is kitchen science and certainly not rocket science.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 7:37 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a ton of mental load, to be honest, and it's just not something I want to centre my day around.
posted by sagc at 7:43 PM on August 12 [6 favorites]


Like, IndelibleUnderpants, I'm not sure if you're attempting to respond to the people who are saying that cooking is hard, but responding with "Just start to grow your own veggies" after calling the complaints "blah blah blah" is a rough look.
posted by sagc at 7:45 PM on August 12 [19 favorites]


I don’t particularly enjoy cooking and two things have totally transformed my kitchen experience and confidence over the past year: 1. an Instant Pot (chop and plop ingredients, turn on, half an hour later I have a week’s worth of dinners) and 2. buying minced garlic in a jar (every cooking website advises against this, but if you hate chopping garlic it’s a gamechanger).
posted by oulipian at 8:04 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


A lot of comments relate to the 'difficulty' or 'lack of time'... experience blah blah regarding food consumption

we grow a lot of summer crops and preserve can/freeze/dehydrate etc for ingredients towards 'meals we will have

Are you…serious? This all takes a lot of time! Planning, maintaining, and harvesting a garden takes a lot of time and energy. Canning and preserving take time and energy. Making meals so you can freeze them for later takes time and energy. Yes, once you invest the time in all that prep, you then have a store of food you can draw from. But what some people are saying is, for a variety of reasons, they don’t have the time or energy to invest in doing all that prep.

And that’s before we even get to your long paragraph about how to ensure you’re getting a good balance of micronutrients. Like, that takes knowledge. Yes, people can research and learn that stuff, but again: time and energy.

Now, like you, my partner and I like gardening and cooking! And we have the time and energy for it. But our situation just doesn’t apply to everyone: we don’t have kids, we work jobs with flexible hours, we don’t spend more than a few minutes commuting to work, we live in a house with a backyard, we live in a small city with easy access to good ingredients. It would be tone deaf for me to drop into a thread full of people saying, “I don’t have the time or energy for food prep” and tell them how much easier it would be if they invested their nonexistent time and energy into food prep.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:21 PM on August 12 [14 favorites]


I'm the kind of person who cooks homemade meals, cans homegrown veggies and forages wild mushrooms and plants and fucking Christ those are not at all reasonable means to getting food on the table daily.

I've spent a good chunk of my adult life working in restaurants and you know what? It's laborious exhausting work, and that's when you have a commercial kitchen and a dedicated dishwasher.

Every single post like this I'm just waiting for the asshole to swing in and bring the hot take of "well actually I only buy whole chickens because you can part it out for meat, render the skin for schmaltz and make stock from the carcass. That's how you get value from food purchases." so that I can scream in rage into a pillow so the neighbors don't think a murder is happening.
posted by Ferreous at 9:15 PM on August 12 [18 favorites]


During covid me and my partner caved and did one of those meal delivery programs, where they ship you the ingredients and all you have to do is follow instructions to cook them. I actually like to cook, RJ likes to grill, but neither of us likes grocery shopping or meal planning. Anyway, the delivery service is wonderful but way more expensive than shelf-stable processed food. And you still need to cook. And theres so, so, so much plastic waste from all those tiny, individually portioned sauces and spices.
posted by subdee at 9:21 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Important to note re several follow on comments.

At the outset I state "(you do NOT need to cook to eat well)". I was not being dismissive re people stating they do not have time. I KNOW THIS as we too are very time constrained. The fact we grow food has zero to do with eating and preparing a 'balanced' diet - and yes a garden does take a LOT of time and planning. As does canning / preserving in its many forms. Freezing extra portions means an instant 'be kind to your future self' time when you do NOT have to cook or prepare, multiplied by the number of portions stored away.

The key is to have options to select from to make the preparation easier. Having a garden is part of the supply of ingredients and applying thought to what you have available in order to make something - exactly the same can be achieved by going to you local farmers market IF you have one. You can eat a wide and varied 'good' diet simply by making good choices in a freezer aisle. There of course you need to check out the other ingredients over and above the main. When you note on the nutrition guide that 32% of a dish is sodium then you would be kind to your pocket book and to your body to not regularly consume this. Food manufacturers are interested in profit and being able to shift units that people will come back to again and again. Closer examination of this will soon make you realize that extended consumption would not be good for you in a variety of ways.

I love Indian food and have all the requisite spices (and more) allowing the creation of a true to type Indian recipes from scratch. For the main part though I will (if I remember) take a protein (e.g. chicken) from the freezer the night before and dump a jar of [insert favorite Indian sauce/paste here] sauce over before placing in the refrigerator. Add onion/garlic and whatever you need to a pan, fry till ready and cook on medium while you cook rice or simply open a pack of insta-rice. All done typically in < 1 hour or even in a slow cooker where it will be ready and waiting.

Never mentioned 'micronutrients' nor did I say I enjoy it. The 'balance' is ensuring that you do not get into mono-consumption. Nothing wrong with 'junk' food as long as there is variety of base ingredients. Overdo salt/fact/starch and you will mess up your body.

Again, "prioritize the preparation of 'good' food." does not mean take all of your time or make it the be all and end all of your 'free' time. A perfectly good (tasty etc) meal can easily be prepared with 5 or fewer ingredients and in under 15 minutes. e.g. for emergencies I do have Pot Noodles stashed away but also bags of dried noodles, frozen veg, and even the standby of soy or sriracha sauce to add to this will, with the addition of [insert protein name here], become wholesome and, in quantity provide for the potential of several meals for a couple of days. 'all that prep' I am confused about - you can buy pre-cut vegetables but spending a few minutes cutting up a range of vegetables, throwing into a pan, adding some other ingredients, and waiting while they cook is not a lot of prep. Nor is it a time sucking part of your life as it seems to assume food prep for one person when stepping up quantities can feed a couple or a family of five or so.

There is NOTHING wrong with getting a take out. Getting a take out multiple times a week is perhaps not so good. Eating a limited or repetitive range of foods is certainly not good for you. There is NOTHING wrong with opening an instameal packet/jar/can/freezer every now and then. You need to eat. Making sure you eat 'well' is therefore important... I spend way too much time on surfing the Interwebs and one thing I do note is how, often, the recipes presented as easy are unnecessarily complex or require ingredients a corner bodega simply does not have.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 9:37 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Honestly, IndelibleUnderpants, you did good work in that comment until you hit the whole "15 minutes" thing - It's clear you've got a system that works for you, but I guess you're just not really understanding the mental, physical, or time limits that make your system fail for others.

And yes, cutting up veggies, throwing in a pan, and "adding other ingredients" (what ingredients? When did I have time to buy them? Are they still edible, after a week in my fridge?) - that all sounds tough if you're dealing with basically any barriers! And, to be honest, it doesn't sound nearly as appetizing as many of the other options which are much, much easier - which is the problem people are trying to describe to you here.

Not even going to get into the assumptions that are inherent to the whole "stepping up quantities" thing, but it's definitely not that easy.

But yeah, I wish every person who commented in this thread with "these are my problems with the current food ecosystem" hadn't been replied to with "Just try this one weird trick and all this planning and check every label and dedicate some of your free time to this and also make sure you're making enough to freeze and be happy eating the same thing every day", which has happened like three times in this thread?
posted by sagc at 9:50 PM on August 12 [16 favorites]


This is such a little thing that it's going to sound silly, but here it is in case anyone finds it useful. I'm not saying it's a world changer but it made a lot of recipes more accessible for me.

Cookbooks lie about how long it takes to caramelise onions. It takes about an hour, maybe half an hour if you stand over them and stir continuously and add things that spoil the taste but accelerate the reaction. And prepping lots of onions is a pain.

But! You can buy frozen, chopped onions. I put four 500g packets (about 4 1/2 pounds) in a skillet and cook them down. You can start on a really high flame, because they're frozen, and after a while they'll turn into a sort of soupy goopy onion mixture. Add salt then turn them down to a simmer, and when they're dry enough to start catching turn them way and stir every few minutes until the mixture is genuinely caramelised: rich in taste and dark brown. This mixture keeps for about two weeks in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer, and you can just add a spoonful to any lying, deceitful recipe that thinks you can brown onions in five minutes. Or you can just eat it with a spoon, your choice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:21 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]


In this discussion of cafeterias I'd like to mention the People's Potato, which was a program that ran at Concordia University in Montreal. Not sure if it's still going, as I haven't checked in nor do I still live there. They had their own garden, run by an ever-changing roster of volunteers, which would provide some of the more expensive spices and raw materials that went into the meals. These meals were free, and paid for by the school. Anyone could come in off the street, and it wasn't uncommon for the homeless to choose a much more vibrant vegetarian meal made by hippies and undergrad anarchists over whatever was available at the soup kitchen. They were the best meals I've ever had in a community setting. I have no idea what it cost to run, though the fact that volunteers were involved at every step must have lowered the expenses significantly.
posted by constantinescharity at 10:41 PM on August 12


I have been taking the opportunity during the pandemic to figure out how to eat. So far I've learned that, at the very least until menopause, I basically need to be eating legume-based dishes nearly any time I'm hungry. Plus a stick or two of daily kale for vitamin K, a carrot or two daily for vitamin A, and I'm still figuring out what else I'll need to be eating every day to make sure I'll get all my nutrients. B12 has gotten relegated to vitamin supplement because I don't want to eat an oyster every day, and my next one to figure out is a good source of calcium.

But my main takeaway for myself so far has been "just eat lentils and beans until the end of time* and vary what you put on them. Sorry, if you don't like it, deal and hide the flavor better."
posted by aniola at 10:52 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]


*mainly for iron, protein, and fiber. But also various micronutrients.
posted by aniola at 10:53 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I'm still figuring out what else I'll need to be eating every day to make sure I'll get all my nutrients.

have you considered caramelised onions
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:59 PM on August 12 [24 favorites]


posted by sagc at 9:50 PM on August 12

"the whole "15 minutes" thing" - Err... a simple search of the interwebs for "15 minute recipes" will reveal several thousand such recipes. Separately I have a go to recipe where it is divided into simple categories each one would substitute for a different 'type' of food. 1. Starch - rice, noodles, pasta, potatoes etc 2. Protein - chicken, bacon, pork, lamb, feta, tofu, more bacon....etc. 3. Vegetable - Include here onions and garlic along with ginger (both available in powder form and chopped in jars)frozen or canned, fresh. 4. Flavoring - Spices as basic as Bay Seasoning, BBQ sauces, ketchup, ethnic sauces, spice pack left over from last take-out, soy sauce...

"It's clear you've got a system that works for you" - no. Just created several delicious meals using the above basic recipe so many times the actions (e.g. prepping a pan of water for category 1 ingredient) are semi-automatic. If time allows I indulge myself with adding something exotic to the mix like bamboo shoots or kale stems and switch it up to a stir-fry. Remember that several things can be going on at once.

"it's definitely not that easy" - please tell what is so problematic with the above. I'm confused.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 11:46 PM on August 12


no. Just created several delicious meals using the above basic recipe so many times the actions (e.g. prepping a pan of water for category 1 ingredient) are semi-automatic.

Wait, what? What else do you call a basic method or framework that one can use to put together individual components that then become a whole? Isn't that the very definition of a system!?
posted by FJT at 12:34 AM on August 13 [8 favorites]


As someone who has "helped" in the kitchen since I was lower than the table, and who loves to cook and eat, I have struggled with MetaFilter food threads. Now, I'm grateful for learning about the thoughts and feelings of those who hate cooking, thanks all. You helped me become a bit less judgemental.

In spite of the social norms I described above, which means almost everyone in this country cooks most of the time, I know lots of people who resent it, and this thread reminded me that someone who is 25 today might be the fourth or fifth generation of people who don't know how to cook and find it stressful or boring or just a waste of time that could be used for more important/interesting stuff. As someone said above: cooking is a skill, even plain everyday cooking is a skill which needs to be taught and learnt, and a year or two of home economics classes at school is not going to do anything if you haven't learnt to cook at home. Obviously, it isn't realistic to imagine everyone should take a year at a cooking school after high school (though in this country, young ladies of the upper middle class did just that up till the early seventies, and still hated cooking).
Apart from the craft element of cooking, which one learns through practice, and here the 10.000 hours definitely apply, there is a knowledge element, of understanding why things work like they do, so one can improvise and invent. One can speed up the learning proces through education, including reading, but then we have gone far beyond "easy".
And this whole learning proces will through its very nature involve failure. Not everyone wants to try again after having produced an inedible meal, or several in a row. If you didn't learn the basic principles of cooking at home when you were young, you have to dedicate yourself to learning it, and then it does become something like a hobby. And when you have that approach to cooking, for some it may become a bit too ambitious for everyday life, and in some cases even competitive.

I've discovered, through the discussions here on MetaFilter, that I am actually a picky eater, it's just that what I don't like is opposite from what other picky eaters don't like, so I seem adventurous. So the other day I was invited out to a home where I know the hosts hate cooking and I offered to bring the vegetables for the meal, the part they hate the most. They were grateful, and I didn't have to eat something I don't like. The entire reason they weren't ordering in was that they had people staying and they had exhausted their usual ideas.
Now I know that it took me almost exactly an hour to prepare three vegetable dishes, because I timed it. That is not nothing, and I am a skilled home cook. One of the dishes was not exactly like I wanted it, so kind of a fail (though the guests liked it). When I arrived the host was grilling the meat and boiling potatoes, and I really get why they mostly rely on order-in or restaurant food. It all seemed so stressful and they ruined some really expensive meat.

But to get back to the problem outlined in the effing article: not wanting to or being able to cook from scratch becomes a problem if the alternative makes you unhealthy. And while perhaps we don't all have to have a BMI under 25, obesity carries several health risks at the individual and population levels. It seems fair to say that we should all have access to healthy food, regardless of our cooking skills, if society isn't going to spend many more hours teaching little kids how to cook. (They do that at Freinet Schools, so it is a possible solution)
posted by mumimor at 12:56 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Food discussions on Metafilter always remind me of the quote from Don Delillo's White Noise, "Eating is the only form of professionalism most people ever attain." Are we all so invested in our personal systems of eating that our imaginations and empathy fail us when faced with the idea that our system won't work for everyone? Do people genuinely not understand that other people may find "simple" tasks insurmountably difficult because of sensory defensiveness, chronic pain, executive function issues, PTSD, or crushing fatigue? Or any of the other conditions that make it hard to prepare food in a way that many Mefites would find morally acceptable? There is a real undercurrent on the site of "Well, if you don't buy whole Montessori-educated chickens from local farmers and ride your bike to the co-op to buy organic vegetables, you're clearly a worthless worshiper of sloth who wipes their ass on endangered baby pandas because it's NOT THAT HARD."

It is that hard. For some people, feeding themselves actually is that hard. If you are a person who finds cooking easy and/or enjoyable, I am telling you now from dark experience to enjoy that ease and pleasure while you can because time and circumstance will likely take it away from you in ways you never expected. Being able to prepare food easily is a privilege to be treasured, as it is not granted to everyone.
posted by corey flood at 12:58 AM on August 13 [24 favorites]


IndelibleUnderpants: please tell what is so problematic with the above.

It's not problematic. It's very easy...
... once you have the basic conditions in place, which you clearly have, and not everyone does. You've had them in place for so long that you apparently don't notice them anymore.

I can buy fresh vegetables at 10 minutes by bike. But I should keep in mind that I can't tell the whole world to 'just ride their bike to the supermarket'. There are a whole lot of things* in place that make it possible for me to do that, and they aren't available to everyone.

*and not all of them are even visible
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:59 AM on August 13 [11 favorites]


There are a whole lot of things* in place that make it possible for me to do that, and they aren't available to everyone.

Indeed, but that's as much the problem as the complaint. I don't like cooking for myself and rarely do it, other than making soup from a can or something equally simple, which still involves a "system" of course, though obviously a very basic one, but talking about preparing food as a "hobby" that would be better off made a process that requires no self investment isn't really better as food is a necessity that shouldn't be just left to the corporate world to provide to make our lives an easier fit for other corporate demands.

It'd be great to have cafeterias with solid unprocessed meals available for purchase or cheap options for healthy food available near to hand, wherever that may be, but it is also important not to thereby shunt off food preparation to something done by others to make our lives easier as that convenience is coming at a cost as well and is as much made necessary by other systemic demands that we would all be better off addressing than by making food preparation just another element of individual disempowerment by having to rely on a broken system to provide.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:12 AM on August 13 [3 favorites]


I just Googled 15 minute recipes and picked the first one that came up, BBC Good Food Prawn laksa curry bowl.

Ingredients include:
2½ tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 vegetable stock cube
2 tsp fish sauce

Then I went to the supermarket I usually order from and picked the first selection for each ingredient.

Tesco Red Thai Curry Paste 200G:
INGREDIENTS: Water, Red Pepper (12%), Onion, Red Chilli (5%), Lemongrass, Garlic Purée, Modified Maize Starch, Lime Leaf, Tamarind Concentrate, Ground Coriander, Salt, Chilli Powder, Coriander Leaf, Colour (Paprika Extract), Rapeseed Oil, Flavour Enhancer (Potassium Chloride), Flavourings, Maltodextrin.

Tesco 10 Vegetable Stock Cubes:
INGREDIENTS: Salt, Palm Oil, Potato Starch, Milk Sugar, Sugar, Yeast Extract, Dried Vegetables (5%) [Celery Powder, Carrot, Onion Powder, Onion, Leek, Rice Flour, Spinach Powder], Dried Parsley, Flavouring, Turmeric Powder, Celery Seed, Colour (Plain Caramel), Garlic Powder.

Blue Dragon Fish Sauce:
INGREDIENTS: Anchovy Extract (68%) (Fish), Salt, Sugar, Water

There's a whole ton of ultraprocessed stuff in there which I've bolded.

It's still ultraprocessed food, you're just mixing it up and heating it.

Now, I'm sure you can find 15-minute whole foods recipes if you look for them. But it's effort and work to do that. Ultraprocessed food is the default now.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:25 AM on August 13 [11 favorites]


TheophileEscargot: It's still ultraprocessed food, you're just mixing it up and heating it.

And adding other stuff. How many % of the finished dish will these ultraprocessed foods be by the time the food ends up on your plate?
Amounts matter.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:38 AM on August 13 [2 favorites]


I would guess that the total amount of flavouring, sweetener and colouring in the finished meal is similar whether it's a ready meal, or a concentrate that you're mixing in. You're probably getting less preservatives.

Shame we don't know what, if anything, is causing the actual problem.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:55 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


TheophileEscargot: Rapeseed Oil, Flavour Enhancer (Potassium Chloride) are group 2, processed culinary ingredients, not processed/ultraprocessed food. Potassium Chloride is just salt but with potassium instead of sodium, and not having the inherent negative properties of standard table salt.
Same downgrade to group 2 for sugar and palm oil.
posted by Stoneshop at 4:12 AM on August 13


This article was about kids and teens though and I honestly don't think people get the food landscape for kids until they have kids.

My Gerber Puffs example was just the start (and I will stick to my feelings about the social aspects of food.) My kids have been handed ultra-processed food at every event and if not every day, close to it, much of it outside of my home and only nominally in my control.

There are so many reasons. One is, in North America we conceptualize children's food as processed from the first ground up rice cereal box through to Mr. Noodles in university. The "kids menu" in North American restaurants is usually a combination of nuggets, fish sticks, and Kraft Dinner. There is a reason for this to have developed (before you yell at me about kids and curry please keep reading*) - kids' sense of taste is really strong as is their sense of texture and restaurants don't want parents upset that the kids didn't eat, and one thing ultraprocessed food is is consistent.

At 3, which is the age where you are starting to eat more as a family and less things flung off the high school, kids are peaking in their neophobia (for good reason, also the age they probably would have wandered into the woods to eat poison berries or whatever) and so you can very easily slide into the trap of making things bland, which makes the ultra-processed food taste better.

* In my area the kids do eat traditional foods (our Montessori's menu for a number of years had curry, dal, roti, jerk chicken, tandoori chicken, souvlaki, jollof rice, etc. in their rotation) but when their friends come over, their various-cultured parents pull out the processed stuff to be hospitable. (This is also how you get God's incredibly double-inauthentic gift of a bowl of butter chicken over Kraft Dinner, but I digress.)

Next, you have snacks. We all have to be allergy-aware these days, which means at my school and locals teams/events/etc., you cannot send any of the following for shared snacks: homemade baked goods, non individually-wrapped baked goods, or cut fruit. You CAN send things labelled and wrapped that are nut-free which includes like, applesauce cups, but this removes an entire category of less-processed food.

Every celebration follows suit. All of my child's birthday parties have featured vegan cheese pizza, because his friends include people who eat only Halal, vegan, picky eaters, etc. - and he's lactose intolerant. A baked potato bar + cake is a really tough thing to get 15 over-excited kids through in the 45-minute timespan the local laser tag or playspace allow and he's a January birthday.

Finally, you have the heightened expectation of extra-curricular activities. As I've shared before my family does aim for non-processed food at considerable cost of time and money and I absolutely will not judge anyone else, food is not a moral issue even if food production may be. However, almost every time we've caved in to convenience and take out, and we have, it's because we were exhausted by commuting/got caught between activities hungry/had a schedule that went like: daycare until 6, swimming at 6:30-7, other swimming at 7-7:30.

It's actually really hard, and I've done it, to tell your child who is happily enrolled in martial arts, swimming, rock climbing, and pottery that they cannot now sign up for T-ball with their best friend because you want to eat at a table more than twice a week. And sure, you can use every trick in the book - thermoses, homemade empanadas/samosas/hummus wraps/platters to get healthy food into your child on the go (no nut oils on the fingers!! No food poisoning from tuna and mayo in a bag that was in the sun during practice!) but it. is. exhausting.

And then you hit the teen years. Show me a North American teenager that has not absorbed that a gaming night involves pizza and super spicy Doritos.

Anyways, food is complicated.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:58 AM on August 13 [26 favorites]


Yes, warriorqueen, everyone exists within a culture, and you can't just decide you want to feed your kids like the Japanese or French if you are in the US. For not-at-all food related reasons*, we actively worked to make our home to be the social hub of the kids' life, and it had the side effect of all the local kids fitting in with our diets rather than vice-versa. Luckily the daycare / school and parents were ok with it.

One of the challenges you will experience if you go from living from processed and restaurant food to home cooking is that when you don't know how to cook, your food won't taste as good, and it will be less satisfying. If you aren't very interested in taste, but more in health, that might not be a problem. But if you seek comfort and joy in your meals, it is a huge issue. A cooking failure once a week is perhaps OK, but several days in a row is just depressing.

I looked at when you will have had 10.000 hours of practice cooking as a home cook (not professional), and thus be able to feel completely safe in the kitchen and make those 15 minute meals from whatever is in the fridge. If you start cooking two meals a day for yourself and others when you are 18, you will be skilled at about 30, given that you do it right from the outset -- if you develop bad habits, it can take ages to unlearn them. Knife skills aren't important, but using too much salt is bad. This fits with my own experience (though I started at 17). For many young people 18 might be a bit early on, they may still be living at home, and later they might be eating at dining halls at college.
This is accumulated knowledge, so at 19, I was actually quite good at making brisket and broccoli. And sometimes rice and baked potatoes. But nothing else. At 25 I was good at salads, pies and red sauce in addition to the brisket and broccoli, but all the rest of "food" was still a challenge. If someone wants to try this, the good news is that the learning curve is kind of exponential, by 27 I had a good range of restaurant grade meals under my belt. Since my first child was born when I was 29, I was ready to handle it. My daughter is a younger mother, and though both she and her husband are far better cooks than their parents were at their age, they are still figuring out what to do.

I've brought my kids into the kitchen early on so they don't have to work too long before getting consistent results. But all in all, this is slow unless you take the "hobby" approach where you spend a lot of your free time reading cookbooks and trying out recipes. And reading recipes is in itself a skill. Until very recently, I hadn't even tried food from countries I haven't visited, because I needed the sensorial experience to understand the recipes. What does "finely chop" mean? If I haven't seen and tasted the food, I don't know. Youtube is a great help for that, but still, you don't know how it is supposed to smell and taste.

*We were worried about the kids getting into drug use or crime because this is a complicated area. So we wanted to make sure that the kids would always feel safe to call us if anything went wrong, and knew this had to be established in daycare rather than 6th grade. It worked through real crisis more than once, if any of you are wondering.
posted by mumimor at 5:43 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


2. buying minced garlic in a jar (every cooking website advises against this, but if you hate chopping garlic it’s a gamechanger).

Seriously seconding this. I love garlic, I grow garlic, I'm fussy about garlic, but I also have lousy knife skills, and there are times when I'm cooking when, like, I've already chopped the broccoli and onions, now I gotta peel and mince this TOO? and then I reach for the magic jar. It's not the same but it'll do.
posted by JanetLand at 6:01 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


The problem with 15/30-minute meals is that these recipes generally explicitly don't include prep time (as this NYT article/non-paywalled version mentions under the 'I also needed to read recipes differently' header), because it's impossible to control for the wildly different amount of time it takes different people to get to the stage where all the ingredients are prepped and ready to begin cooking. The 15 minutes is how long these recipes are supposed to take when one's mise is firmly en place and ready for the cooking stage to begin.

So a 15-minute meal might genuinely only take 15 minutes (or 30) if you've got bountiful energy and strong knife skills, or it could take you an hour just to get to the point where you're able to start the 15mins of cooking. As amply outlined above, not everyone has the physical or mental stamina, the executive function etc. to make a 15-minute meal in literally 15 minutes. Something that seems fast and simple for people who have the skills and the setup can pose a very real accessibility barrier for people who, for whatever reason, don't.
posted by terretu at 6:07 AM on August 13 [16 favorites]


Yeah, for sure there is a way to address it but with everything that you do as a parent, food is just one thing. I had dreams of making our house the hub but with an introverted spouse, and my jobs have always involved evening work on a short-notice basis for very different reasons.

I'm not sure it would have changed the food issue that much anyway. Both my kids had teachers that rewarded students with food. And when you're talking about a percentage of total calories, even in a home where I make our own bread, and assuming we're in a month where my Instant Pot and I are on our game and all our meals are homemade, one snack from a teacher at 180 calories and one snack in an after-school event at 220 calories is what, 22% of a kids' 1400 calorie intake already and my child is just going to have only half a bowl of pea soup.

If the cat got out in the morning when my husband left and I had to get him out from under the car and therefore didn't make oatmeal for breakfast and my kids had, gasp, Cheerios, that would probably get us close to 1/3 ultraprocessed food already right?

This is why I say it's a landscape; commuting sucks the lifeblood out of you, knowing that you have to get back on email from 9-10 pm sucks it out of you, it's Thursday. Absolutely there are tips and tricks to handle all that and I feel like I'm a lay expert on them but I've spent a ton of life energy on it.

I'm not upset about it, my kids swim in the ocean we live in. If parents are reading my lifelong tip is the same - my kids cook with me and starting at 14, my eldest has been responsible for planning and preparing about one meal a week (it's not hardcore if he's tired out.) We ate quite a few meals of scrambled eggs, rice, and frozen peas, but his repertoire has expanded out well.

But again, it really does take life energy and honestly looking back and around, I definitely have had less energy to put into say, homework, as a result.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:10 AM on August 13 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure it would have changed the food issue that much anyway. Both my kids had teachers that rewarded students with food. And when you're talking about a percentage of total calories, even in a home where I make our own bread, and assuming we're in a month where my Instant Pot and I are on our game and all our meals are homemade, one snack from a teacher at 180 calories and one snack in an after-school event at 220 calories is what, 22% of a kids' 1400 calorie intake already and my child is just going to have only half a bowl of pea soup.

Exactly, that is why from a food perspective it was so important that the school and the parents signed on. But food wasn't our concern at all at the time. It was a positive side effect. One of my daughter's classmates is lame from the waist down because of a shooting incident, and a parent who tried to intervene was shot as well, but recovered. You know, I'd rather have fat kids than dead kids but in the end, for us, it worked out as a symbiosis. I think we are probably living in different contexts -- where I am, the social issues took precedence because we could literally end up with dead kids. On the other hand, my rent is low and I didn't have to work full time to pay it, and as I mentioned above, food is cheap in this "ghetto". Everyone does the best they can under the circumstances.
posted by mumimor at 6:21 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Like any other life operational task, planning and foresight are important.

Previously on the blue

Seriously: when people say things are unnecessarily hard, believe them.
posted by Tehhund at 7:47 AM on August 13 [14 favorites]


What do you MEAN I've got an invisible knapsack?

Every time I try and tell one of my partners how to cook something I'm reminded how many unspoken assumptions I make about how easy something is to cook. For example:

For example, to make a basic dahl my partner asks:
- How to cut the onions (Strips? Diced? What happens if he gets it wrong?)
- how hot should the oil be before the onions go in? (hot enough that they sizzle when they hit the oil)
- how long should they cook for? (until translucent, who has time to caramalise?)

Ok, the onions are in, what other ingredients does he need? They're not out or chopped, so now he's stressed that the onion is burning while he cuts the vegetables, so what I find relaxing is suddenly stressful and uncertain. He's not good at using a knife so it takes longer to cut them, he doesn't realise he can take the onion off the heat, because he worries that it will make the meal take longer, or that it will make it taste bad, etc, etc, etc. We haven't even got to the lentils!

It's obviously, not like this any more because we cooked together a few times, and talked about how to make it easier and less stressful.

There's so many assumptions at every single point of making a meal, you have no idea are even there. I didn't, because my parents had me in the kitchen when I was a literal child. They had me there because they like cooking, so it was fun, not stressful, and I didn't worry that if I burnt something or made it taste bad we wouldn't have enough money to get more food.
posted by Braeburn at 11:22 AM on August 13 [17 favorites]


Previously on the blue
Seriously: when people say things are unnecessarily hard, believe them.


I'm not even neurodivergent, I just fucking hate every aspect of cooking. That should be enough. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by phunniemee at 11:44 AM on August 13 [13 favorites]


Seriously: when people say things are unnecessarily hard, believe them.
Yeah, it’s not rocket science.
posted by corey flood at 12:19 PM on August 13


That "15 minute" recipe for Prawn laksa curry bowl:
claims to be 5 min prep, 10 min cooking

Cooking time, as mentioned in the recipe:
1 min cook the oil (after heating it, time unspecified)
1 min after adding curry paste
?? Bring to boil after adding stock cube (dissolved in boiling water, no time given) & can of coconut milk
3-4 min after adding fish sauce & rice noodles
2-3 min after adding lime juice and prawns

Prep time, assuming you just have all the ingredients on hand:
Assemble tools: saucepan, whatever you're using to boil 3 cups/700ml of water, stirring devices, cutting board & knife ("1 red chili, finely sliced"; "coriander, roughly chopped"; "2 limes"), can opener (coconut milk), measuring spoons.
Acquire cooked prawns. If you need to cook them, that's a lot of extra time. If they were refrigerated or frozen, that's time to thaw and maybe warm.
Slice a chili. Chop some coriander. Open a can.
Pour results into two bowls, add lime wedges & sprinkle with coriander.

That does not look like 5 minutes or less of prep, even if these were ingredients I had on hand and worked with so often that it was quick and comfortable to grab them all. And of course, "prep time" never includes "cleanup time."

This is actually one of the better ones; it looks like it really can be done in less than half an hour, if you have all the parts and are used to that kind of cooking. I've seen "15 minute recipes" that mean "15 minutes of direct heat application" and totally ignore prep of all sorts. And then there's a "15 minute" BLT Pasta Salad that includes "fry bacon, boil pasta, slice cherry tomatoes" - I suppose it thinks you have bacon and cooked pasta lying around and were trying to decide what to do with them.

Not mentioned in most "there are hundreds of quick simple recipes" discussions: Yes, there are. Thousands of them. And thousands more that claim to be quick and simple but either are just not, or do not fit your ingredients, cooking skills, or food requirements. Finding relevant recipes is part of the time-drain of cooking.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:56 PM on August 13 [15 favorites]


"it's definitely not that easy" - please tell what is so problematic with the above. I'm confused.

You listed a "basic recipe" that has no ingredients, measurements, cooking times, or prep instructions. People are supposed to pick, say, potato, lamb, broccoli, and bay seasoning from your four categories and make something in 15 minutes? I have no idea how to cook lamb. I wouldn't have a clue if I'm supposed to assemble your random ingredients in a pan or a pot, how long to cook it, what temperature, how much lamb, should I cut the potatoes or just plop them in. Is there water involved. Should I be boiling something? Your plan is a Swedish Chef sketch.
posted by Mavri at 6:17 PM on August 13 [15 favorites]


^ And if I can find a recipe that roughly tracks with the same proteins/veggies/seasonings, it's often not exact and I don't have the expertise to know how different ingredients or implements might change the recipe. I just had a crockpot fail because I decreased the butter (due to acid reflux) and increased the broth, and added green beans for a vegetable. The seasoning didn't work at all because of the change in consistency, and because I put the green beans in at the beginning instead of towards the end they turned into mush. Unless I'm able to find the exact recipe for the ingredients I have, I'm liking to end up with a shitty meal. And if I go out and buy all the ingredients for a recipe, I'm unlikely to be able to use the rest because I would have to find another set of recipes that use those exact ingredients, because I am unable to just "mix and match" on my own.
posted by brook horse at 6:40 PM on August 13 [5 favorites]


Back in 2017, we had "Oniongate":

Layers of Deceit: Why do recipe writers lie and lie and lie about how long it takes to caramelize onions? by Tom Scocca
Soft, dark brown onions in five minutes. That is a lie. Fully caramelized onions in five minutes more. Also a lie. [...] Telling the truth about caramelized onions would turn a lot of dinner-in-half-an-hour recipes into dinner-in-a-little-over-an-hour recipes. [...]
The Times’ scone recipe, as written, claimed to take 45 minutes. Once you subtract out the (fictitiously shortened) onion-cooking time, the one-minute caraway-seed-toasting time, the 15-to-17 minute baking time, and the 10-minute cooling time, that leaves the cook seven to nine minutes in the middle to mix the dough (including grating frozen butter into it), shape it, cut it into scones, and lay the scones out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Oh, and somewhere in there, the onions needed to “cool completely.” Isn’t home baking soothing?
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:41 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


QFT*: Cookbooks lie about how long it takes to caramelise onions.

*Quoted For Truth
posted by theora55 at 7:46 PM on August 13


Ultraprocessed food is the default now.

Now sit and eat your greasy honky pie, or no fried twinkie surprise for dessert.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:36 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


hahaha, I have to post this article from The NYTimes, because it is almost a caricature of itself: 3 Recipes That Changed My Life (probably paywalled). As I read it, I kept on saying really? to myself.
It opens like this:
A few weeks ago, a friend sent me the cutest photo of her sweet, pudgy-cheeked baby eating a bit of kale-sauce pasta. The baby was in a high chair, grinning before the wreckage of her dinner — green sauce on her face and hands, bits of pasta up to her elbows. Now that baby knows how to enjoy her food, I thought with admiration.

A bunch of just-boiled greens, still hot and dripping wet, puréed with a little fried garlic, grated cheese and olive oil becomes such a crowd pleaser when you toss it with pasta. You can even tinker with the framework: Use a lot of cheese, or none at all (try a heaped tablespoon of white miso if you want to make it vegan). Add chile flakes to the sizzling garlic, or drop a hunk of preserved lemon rind into the blender. I’ve thrown in arugula, mustard greens, chard and whole bunches of just-starting-to-wilt herbs, too.

The idea isn’t new, but when I learned it from the Portland chef Joshua McFadden, who uses lacinato kale, I was still really excited by its ease and adaptability. Kale sauce is now on regular rotation in my kitchen, year-round, in infinite variations.
It is such a perfect example of how the alternative to ordering in or eating processed food is presented as something absurdly complex, way beyond the reach of non-foodies. In my experience, kale needs a lot of "tinkering" to work as a pasta sauce, on top of being very bothersome to rinse, and it wouldn't be my first choice for a weeknight vegan dinner.
Or rather, this is a strong signal from the Times that their new vegan column is going to be for foodies, who will pay extra for access to recipes. Not inspiration for ordinary readers trying to figure out what to cook on a Wednesday.
posted by mumimor at 11:51 PM on August 13 [7 favorites]


My quality of life turns to shit if I eat two low fat meals in a row. My opinion of people who recommend low fat for everyone is unfit for publication in any civilized place. I've cut way back on carbs, but that isn't good enough for the Experts on How Everyone Should Eat. And I'm not saying everyone can or should cut back on carbs. Food is very individual.

I don't mind chopping garlic, but I do mind getting the paper off the cloves. I know there are methods for peeling garlic efficiently, but I don't seem to get around to using them.

Greens keep better if you start with the more robust leaves instead of lettuce or spinach. I expect there are people for whom this isn't a solution. Also, purple leaves seem to go bad faster.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:28 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]


It's such a hard problem. Our household loves food, loves cooking, spends way too much on cookbooks etc, and yet still so often the cooking and worse the never ending meal planning is such a terrible weight.

(for garlic, my MIL uses a microplane and doesn't really even bother taking the skin off the clove - it just comes off on the hand side of the grater. barely exaggerating to say this changed my life)
posted by ominous_paws at 12:55 AM on August 14 [5 favorites]


I am quite astounded at how people assume cooking is 'hard' and the celebration of the lack of knowledge regarding what is after all an essential part of your daily life and equally the assumption that it is a chore. Cooking and preparing food that is good for you is NOT easy and does take time (and many false starts and failures) to learn. The variety of ingredients and the different flavors and textures available allow for almost infinite possibilities. Even at the most basic level, and without a step by step guide (recipe) a simple bit of imagination and experimenting can yield amazing results. There is this background belief that EVERY dish has to be perfect and beautifully presented with finely micro-planed fennel (or whatever) and that rare aged goat cheese from an obscure part of Bratislava performing the pinnacle of flavor. A lot of the time even the likes of Jamie Oliver and other 'high end' cooks will openly admit to reaching for a toaster, popping in some white bread and topping this with some microwaved baked beans.

Instead, the 'don't know/won't do' approach seems to be used to prevent someone experiencing failure in the creation of a dish. My base recipe includes a choice of starches, vegetables, proteins, and flavors which require some basic common sense knowledge in order to effect a '15 minute' recipe. Smaller cubes of potato will cook quicker than whole or halved and will affect the timing. Most of the 'goodness' in a potato is in the skin so most of the time, unless appearance is important, I do not even fully peel them.

Cooking rice seems to be one of those areas giving people a lot of angst when it is perhaps one of the most simple to prepare - for me the discovery that rinsing the rice (place measure of rice (how many people or servings determines quantity to use) using a sieve or, if you do not have one, carefully adding and pouring out from the cooking pan multiple changes of water until it is relatively clear - no need for it to be perfect. You can practice the preparation in a pan but I have found that a simple (no high end one required) rice cooker works for me. I even add vegetables and flavors in with the rice every now and then.

But let's get back to the main subject of the posting. The majority of children are essentially eating a mono-culture of over processed (however you determine this) foods. In order to make that food profitable for the manufacturer, the use of low grade, and even harmful, ingredients sourced cheaply or the creation of a non-naturally occurring product to achieve that result - profit and repeat consumption of said product. There are even many 'good' foods which come under the 'ultra processed' category.

Whether you include the preparation of food in your life or not, THE single most important aspect is variety and paying attention to what is put into the meal.

TheophileEscargot at 3:25 AM on August 13 - posted several highly processed items along with their ingredients and even highlighted those which were/are deemed 'ultra processed'. Each and every one of those ingredients would, in quantity and consumed regularly in quantity, be potentially harmful to your health. HOWEVER, paying attention to ingredients requires a couple of judgement calls and the reminder that variety is key to any judgment. The sodium level in a soy sauce is, by the nature of the product, high. When you reach for a can of vegetable soup and note that the sodium level is 32% of the ingredients you really do need to have a rethink regarding the safety of consuming that on a regular basis. It is after all just vegetables, chopped up (peeled or not) into small-ish size and cooked (sauteed/boiled... whatever) with added flavorings (or not) including perhaps SOME salt and pepper.

A manufacturer of soup will know that adding a lot of salt bulks out and enhances flavors of what are often low quality ingredients. You are in fact paying a premium price for a low grade product with the potential to harm you. The same applies to things like pork loins where 'flavored water' is added and can represent 'up to 10% of the weight'. Assuming a piece of said pork weighs 500g (1.1lb) then you are paying pork price (e.g. $1.99 a lb) for 10% of the total weight which is primarily water and salt and flavorings.

The whole subject of manufacturers knowingly producing and promoting low grade, cheap to produce but high in profit, foods is problematic. I believe some 60% of all foods consumed in the US has a form of corn ingredient in it (can someone confirm this please). While this at surface level seems fine, a look at how farmers produce this in large quantities reveals overuse of herbicides/pesticides/fertilizers. The same with vegetables.

The old maxim: 'You are what you eat' applies here.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 7:54 AM on August 14


I am quite astounded at how people assume cooking is 'hard' and the celebration of the lack of knowledge regarding what is after all an essential part of your daily life and equally the assumption that it is a chore.

Maybe stop being astounded and accept that other people are different from you. The only person making assumptions here is you. I'm not assuming cooking is hard and I'm not assuming it's a chore. I know it's hard and I know it's a chore. For me. You're being condescending and obnoxious.
posted by Mavri at 8:17 AM on August 14 [18 favorites]


Don't you get it, Mavri, it's just common sense
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:38 AM on August 14 [8 favorites]


I notice IndelibleUnderpants mentions Mrs Underpants but no Junior Underpants. Two adults, no kids is cooking and household management on Easy Mode.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:08 AM on August 14 [3 favorites]


I am quite astounded at how people assume cooking is 'hard' and the celebration of the lack of knowledge regarding what is after all an essential part of your daily life and equally the assumption that it is a chore. Cooking and preparing food that is good for you is NOT easy and does take time (and many false starts and failures) to learn.

Nobody is celebrating it, we're lamenting it. We're not "assuming" that cooking is hard and a chore because we've never tried, it's because every time we try it's hard and a chore and we fuck up enough that it's not sustainable. The fact that it's an essential everyday part of our lives means that when we're running on little room for error (in terms of time, money, or energy), we CANNOT risk going through "many false starts and failures" because it'll fuck up the rest of our day-to-day lives to do so.

The variety of ingredients and the different flavors and textures available allow for almost infinite possibilities. Even at the most basic level, and without a step by step guide (recipe) a simple bit of imagination and experimenting can yield amazing results. There is this background belief that EVERY dish has to be perfect and beautifully presented with finely micro-planed fennel (or whatever) and that rare aged goat cheese from an obscure part of Bratislava performing the pinnacle of flavor.

My bar is simply "not regretting the 2 hours I spent to shop, prepare, make, and clean it up." It doesn't need to be perfect and fancy, just taste decent enough that I'm not making a face at the thought of finishing it. When making something I know well, I still mess something up 1 out of 4 times and end up with something that wasn't worth the effort. When I "experiment" I much more often get horrible results. Some of us don't have the cooking and flavor sense that y'all have and we do not have the flexibility in our lives to fritter our time and money away on "experiments" to get it right.

Cooking rice seems to be one of those areas giving people a lot of angst when it is perhaps one of the most simple to prepare - for me the discovery that rinsing the rice (place measure of rice (how many people or servings determines quantity to use) using a sieve or, if you do not have one, carefully adding and pouring out from the cooking pan multiple changes of water until it is relatively clear - no need for it to be perfect. You can practice the preparation in a pan but I have found that a simple (no high end one required) rice cooker works for me.

Cool, sounds like you don't have motor control problems such that the repeated lifting of pots and pouring of water will leave you unable to complete any other complex motor tasks, including using the utensils necessary to eat the food. Have you also discovered a trick for making it so that rice never, ever sticks to the pan or rice cooker? Because I've tried a whole slew of "tips and tricks" and I'm always left with something that I need to scrub. I can't even wash my own fucking hair because my fingers are so weak, I am not able to deal with rice stuck to the pot/cooker.

Perhaps you are astounded because you are unaware of your own level of privilege which makes cooking so easy for you.
posted by brook horse at 9:13 AM on August 14 [14 favorites]


When you reach for a can of vegetable soup and note that the sodium level is 32% of the ingredients you really do need to have a rethink...

I don't think that's how ingredient labels work? Am I wrong?
posted by Think_Long at 9:17 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


When you reach for a can of vegetable soup and note that the sodium level is 32% of the ingredients you really do need to have a rethink...

I don't think that's how ingredient labels work? Am I wrong?


I am not going to go down the rabbit hole to confirm this absurd thought, but yeah, I'm pretty sure a soup that was 32% salt would be past the saturation point of water. 32% is how much of your daily value it is. So if you have a can of vegetable soup for every meal, you're actually under your daily value, so that's not terrible.

Also I'd like to state for the record that I am prescribed six 550mg salt pills per day and that your (general you) assumptions about what's "healthy" for everyone are probably wrong.
posted by brook horse at 9:22 AM on August 14 [10 favorites]


A basic, cheap garlic press like this guy makes processing garlic real easy. You just put the unpeeled clove in the chamber and press the handle and lovely gooshy garlic goo squirts out.
posted by chrchr at 9:25 AM on August 14


imagination and experimenting can yield amazing results.

That doesn't come naturally to a lot of people. And if you're on a time or or money budget, messing up has costs that someone may not be able or willing to afford.

Cooking rice seems to be one of those areas giving people a lot of angst when it is perhaps one of the most simple to prepare

My husband is a good cook. I've watched him fail to make rice for 15 years. Literally. Watched him do everything right. And it's still inedible. I don't know why. I do the exact same thing and get yummy results. Cooking doesn't always turn out the way it should. If you're experienced, it's easy to shake off and recalibrate. If you're a novice, it's disheartening.

The old maxim: 'You are what you eat' applies here

Never found this to actually provide useful information about a person.
posted by ghost phoneme at 9:43 AM on August 14 [11 favorites]


Think_Long at 9:17 AM

Ingredients indicate (typically in order of quantity) the contents of a food item.

Nutrition labels indicate the daily values relating to what constitutes the ingredients.

In the US, the DV (daily value) of sodium typically consumed is way over what can be considered 'good' for you. This is reflected in the poor health of most Western diet based populations. There is a direct link between the rise and availability of over-processed foods and the increased levels of salt/sugar/fats used to manipulate texture and flavor.

But there is ZERO wrong with consuming a can of soup with 32% sodium as long as the rest of daily intake does not take the levels higher. Again, variety and read the labels.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 10:04 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


There is clearly a need for a MeFi cooking corner.... beyond the AskMefi level...
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 10:05 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


chrchr at 9:25 AM

If you look at the picture regarding the garlic press you will see a black silicone tube. One of THE best ways of peeling a garlic. Insert clove, roll, and 90% of the time the outer peel comes off.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 10:07 AM on August 14


You don't really to be engaging with the substantive parts of people's comments, here.
posted by sagc at 10:09 AM on August 14 [7 favorites]


My husband is a good cook. I've watched him fail to make rice for 15 years. Literally. Watched him do everything right. And it's still inedible. I don't know why. I do the exact same thing and get yummy results.

It's so weird with the rice. I have been my family's designated rice cooker since I was a teen. My rice never failed. Till suddenly they did, about five years ago, and now the rice are only good about ten percent of the time. I am going all superstitious about it and think there must be some god I am not pleasing sufficiently. I talked with my local Indian grocer, and his theory is that I need to buy all my rice from him and also use his recipe which is identical with the one I have used for 40+ years. Maybe he is a god in disguise? The rice does come out better when I buy them from him. The reason I don't always shop at his store is that everything else he sells is kind of tired. But maybe that is because he is the rice god. He doesn't need to sell good produce.
posted by mumimor at 10:23 AM on August 14 [10 favorites]


A basic, cheap garlic press like this guy makes processing garlic real easy.

Then you have to clean it though.
posted by phunniemee at 10:23 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


Breaking up the head into cloves and then shaking them up and down in a cake tin is loud, satisfying and surprisingly effective but not hugely practical.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:23 AM on August 14


And also oh my god I CAN cook rice ok but I recently snapped after like 15 years and bought a swishy (on sale) rice cooker and i have NEVER been so pleased with money spent. Just throw rice and water in, saves a spot on the stovetop, saves one job worth of mental real estate, keeps it hot so saves timing/coordination. And honestly may pay for itself in not too long saving ordering rice getting takeout. LOVE the thing.
posted by ominous_paws at 10:27 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


This has turned into the weirdest thread - the gulf between "it's so simple, just (lists several techniques that take tools and some time to master)" and "dick measuring contest elitist/misogynist/ableist home cooks need to suck it" is enormous.

There's a middle ground, no? Quesadillas and scrambled eggs and overnight oats and the like are very cheap and basic to put together, and the low-processed ingredients keep for quite some time. Overnight oats is literally oats plus milk/milk substitute sitting in your fridge overnight; you can add stuff as you like but you don't have to. There was an ebook "cookbook" that a Mefite wrote called "Cooking Is Terrible" that addresses this viewpoint. As a formerly depressed and very underpaid person, I'm appreciative that someone took the time to validate carrots and hummus as a meal.
posted by queensissy at 10:58 AM on August 14 [6 favorites]


I’m a fairly good home cook - I think - but I don’t think it’s not work. But the recent restaurant thread suggests that eating at restaurants is not great in the utilitarian sense of reducing total work-pain. And i don’t think we’ve had a Metafilter thread about working in food processing plants, but everything in the news suggests that they’re even worse. Are there places with dense street stall systems in which the street cooks have recognizable labor rights? The US tolerable version, I think, for a while, was sole-proprietor diners with regular customers. Food complexity calibrated to a simple kitchen and local tastes. But fancy and fast food really rolled over those in the last few decades in the US, even in the small towns I visit, at least partly due to customer preference, however shortsighted .
posted by clew at 11:03 AM on August 14


There's a middle ground, no? Quesadillas and scrambled eggs and overnight oats and the like are very cheap and basic to put together, and the low-processed ingredients keep for quite some time.

This is exactly what some of us are talking about where “basic, easy recipes” are anything but. Things that make scrambled eggs difficult: motor impairment (cracking the egg without making a mess, mixing it without spilling it out of the pan, getting it from the pan to a bowl or plate without dumping it all over the floor), executive functioning (not getting distracted and walking away and letting it burn, remembering to put away the cheese or box of eggs so they don’t spoil, remembering to turn off the burner so you don’t burn the house down), fatigue/pain (standing for more than a minute or two, turning and twisting and leaning over to get out pans and ingredients), sensory sensitivities (getting the texture right, being able to eat eggs at all). That’s not including the clean-up or shopping, either. All of those things add up and there are many times I consider making scrambled eggs and I simply CANNOT because I know I will break down crying halfway through.

I’ve recently been able to meal plan scrambled egg burritos that I can freeze, because I am incapable of making eggs every morning. But the only reason I was able to do that was because I finally got the time to sit down, plan it out, make sure I had the right ingredients, and set out a whole day where I don’t do anything else because it takes so much out of me. And EVEN THEN, the only reason I was able to make it work is because I had supervision from an experienced cook who was able to point out the things I was doing wrong (resulting in burnt eggs, torn tortillas, and lots of crying). It took several tries to be able to do it independently.

And I’m not even that disabled. There are people who have much greater motor impairment, executive functioning problems, fatigue/pain, etc. I actually used to be much worse, and there’s no goddamn way I would have been able to make scrambled eggs for myself 5 years ago. It took me years of therapy, OT, PT, meds, other lifestyle changes, etc. to get to this point. Like, it actually is that hard and if “scrambled eggs are a basic and easy meal” is true for you, please be grateful for your brain and body working the way they do, because it is much harder for many people simply to move, think, exist.
posted by brook horse at 12:01 PM on August 14 [13 favorites]


I will give you overnight oats though, and I constantly lament that they make me gag. It seems like such an easy and convenient meal and wish I could take advantage of that.
posted by brook horse at 12:07 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'm horrible with eggs! I'm so paranoid about undercooking them. Which makes no sense. I'm happy to eat runny yolks when my husband makes them for breakfast. But if I make them runny then we will all die.

"dick measuring contest elitist/misogynist/ableist home cooks need to suck it"

I think the sentiment is more "please understand what is easy for you is not easy for everyone."

Also, quesadillas can be a great intro to cooking, if they'll work for your palate/diet and you don't have dexterity challenges, etc. But there's still a bunch of decisions to be made and unknowns if you're completely new to cooking.

Assuming you like quesadillas and are physically capable, there are still a whole bunch of steps. You have to know which kind of tortillas to get (big ones, small ones, wheat or corn?) and what fillings do you want? Then how small should the fillings be chopped up? I'm someone who likes to cook, and I suck at reading a recipe and understanding what size something should be. I'm horrible at estimating measurements and what does bite size even mean?

Oh, do you want a protein? That's another prep step, potentially. If you're using meat, is it already cooked? If you're using beans, did you get canned ones? Or did you read that dried ones are cheap and easy?So if they're dried, did you remember to prep them early? Don't asked me about tofu or meat alternatives, I am personally clueless about them.

Now how much of everything do you put in? How high do you turn on the burner? How long do you wait to put it on? How long before you flip? Oh god, I flipped and lost half my filling!

If you are cool (time/temperament/monetarily) with mistakes it's probably not too daunting. Even better if you have someone to make the first batch with you. Then they can jump you to the non-standard stuff: I like mozzarella with tomatoes (roasted, or fresh if in season) and basil. Drizzle of balsamic syrup after plated. Or find a really good recipe. But if you're not experienced, how do you know which ones are good?
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:24 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


We make purple overnight oats in the instapot. Just in case anyone wants my really good recipe, here's how I've fine-tuned it to work for me over the years. My "oatmeal" really only has like 2 tablespoons of oats in it per serving, and is mostly actually other stuff at this point because oatmeal all by itself is not very filling for me. Serves two.

- 1/4 cup dry oat groats
- 1 tablespoon oat bran (makes it more like oatmeal and less like soup)
- 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds (these get a really weird texture when pressure cooked, but once I got used to it, I actually quite like the texture)
- 2 tablespoons almonds
- 1 cup red cabbage (turns everything purple and is the ingredient that makes the whole thing filling

Put everything in the Instapot the night before and set it to pressure cook in the morning. Serve with internet, because it's easier to eat minimally-processed foods you're not excited about if you're not paying attention to them.
posted by aniola at 1:33 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


There was an ebook "cookbook" that a Mefite wrote called "Cooking Is Terrible" that addresses this viewpoint

Thank you so much for linking this, it's great!
posted by simmering octagon at 1:44 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


I've tried rinsing rice. It took so much starch out the rice was No Fun. I've never had trouble cooking rice, but now I need to limit carbs, dammit.

I'm going to try the microplane garlic trick. A garlic press makes the the garlic taste different. Chopped, or dried, or refrigerated minced for me.

I'm a good enough improvising home cook for myself, but I've never told people it's just easy. I never realized how hard it could be if you're up against a lot.

Improvising takes some ability to imagine how tastes go together. Not everyone has that.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 2:56 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I have said it elsewhere, but to me, the issue is the fixation on cooking at home as a moral good. Why is it that we have to cook at home, in order to get healthy food? We don't accept that in other areas of our lives.

I don't disagree with the main statement of this and agree that our food priorities and distribution are all messed up, and there's all kinds of classist stuff going on with/about modern home cooking where people can afford fully stocked kitchens full of food prep and processing tools ranging from good pans and knives to specialty tools and techniques.

For a long time I wish there was a major fast food chain that was basically vegan or vegetarian McDonald's where you could just pop in and get an affordable salad or a wrap or something tasty and satisfying that wasn't a salt, sugar and fat bomb. Something that used the powers of vertical business organization for good rather than producing addictive junk food.

There's a few local places I use for this sort of thing but I'm lucky in that there are a lot of healthy and quick options in my local area.

There's also nothing really wrong with just not cooking at all and eating an apple or some raw veggies right out of your hand like you're hiking or backpacking. It guess it takes some adjusting to not feel bored by your meal or food but I'm not sure if every meal needs to be exciting or entertaining in the way modern society seems to think it is.

Or that it even needs to be any kind of a hot or cooked meal at all every single time.

Food is fuel and fueling up your body (or car) is a chore. Not every meal needs to be a work of art, an event or in any way entertaining. Most of the planet still barely has enough to eat and would love to have a meal plan that was just good, clean raw produce and didn't involve, say, pounding cassava every day into a pulp or even making mosquito or other insect pancakes or other marginalized food practices.

I know I'm different because I've experienced a great deal of food scarcity, have lived in urban food deserts and have had to experience homelessness and not even having a kitchen so many times in my life - but I can't help but feel that a lot of people in developed and industrial countries could use a major shift in perspective and attitude and how much selection and catering they expect from their food supply chain, especially with the modern trends of delivery, take out or dining in for almost everything.

I've met so, so many people that basically eat nothing but pre-prepared foods whether it's from restaurants, delivery, takeout or packaged foods. You open their fridges and there's nothing in there but takeout leftovers and maybe some bottled water or condiments and they might as well unplug their fridge to save electricity

And basic cooking skills are just as essential as knowing how to tie your shoes, gas up a car or do your own laundry. You don't have to take your cooking skills to blog-worthy social status indicators but having even basic cooking skills like how to steam or blanch vegetables, cook rice or pasta or make a basic sauce or soup from scratch are really useful skills.

And even this is fraught with complications and classism and it's a huge cultural problem.

Also there's a really clear and obvious dark side to this offloading of cooking to "specialists" or restaurants in the same way we do that today with and that it has a long history of worker abuses, wage theft, wage suppression and generally shitty working conditions. And I've talked and ranted about this a lot on mefi in the past few years.

In my experience so far people don't really want to pay the actual prices required to offer a living wage to cooks.

As we see all over this thread cooking and preparing food is a lot of work. Preparing fresh, healthy food is even more work.

I've worked with experienced produce prep cooks in restaurants where they're cutting, washing and preparing hundreds of pounds of produce a day for multiple restaurants or large group meals at a hotel or conference center scales and they work so hard that they might as well be working in a hard rock mine.

Like if you think preparing a salad for a family or dinner party of 4 is hard work try doing it for 400 people. Imagine how much work it is peeling and cutting up a single pineapple using the "spiral cut and skin" method used to remove all the eyes and thorns in the way it's most commonly done in commercial kitchens. Now do 40 of them in, say, less than 30-60 minutes.

And for some reason these people that specialize in produce prep are usually the least paid and respected positions in a kitchen, often just above a dish washer or on par with them. These kitchens run full tilt on the people desperate enough to do this work at minimum wave and supporting everyone else on the line.

I've tried to keep up doing bulk prep like this and the work is so hard and so fast paced that I'd prefer to wash dishes.

If we wanted to pay a fair living wage to the people that do this kind of prep work especially for fresh, healthy food and produce the menu prices for a lot of things would likely triple.

As someone who has worked pretty cushy tech related jobs where I just sit at a computer and use my brain to push buttons and who has also worked themselves into heat exhaustion and wore out my body in a kitchen where I also have to seriously use my brain to keep up with the work flow and work planning - I'm having a difficult time justifying the difference in wages and compensation between the two types or fields of work.

And I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone in this thread or in general - but I'm having an even more difficult time reconciling the concept of people making 100k+ a year pushing javascript widgets around for a few hours a day who also want cheap, healthy food prepared for themselves on a regular basis - often delivered by yet another third party gig economy contractor - and yet they still balk at menu prices for their food or tipping more than 10% or anything at all.

Everything about this just seems really unfair and unbalanced. That trope about kitchen work being unskilled or menial labor is so much bullshit. Most people I've met that work in white collar or professional careers wouldn't last a day in a commercial kitchen, and it's not just about the quantity of physical labor. You really do have to know some skills and be able to think on your feet to do most kitchen work.

Sure, not everyone can work in tech or STEM or modern professional careers, but so much of that ability and knowledge isn't about inherent biological intelligence and has a lot more to do with educational opportunity and privilege.

Right now I'm doing work from home tech related work, and some of it definitely gives me a headache and uses my brain a lot more than working in a kitchen, sometimes in unpleasant ways. But easily 90-99% of my privilege in being able to do this work has everything to do with the opportunity and privilege of having grown up with computers and maybe 1-10% actual critical thinking.

If anything it's the dishwashers, line cooks and janitors and other service workers who should be making more than the people with the cushy tech/STEM related jobs. It's the dishwashers and so-called underclass of unskilled labor that should be living in nice houses or condos with a jacuzzi or hot tub so they can rest their sore, tired bones and bodies, beating themselves up making food for everyone else.

Of course I'm all for the more communal living suggestions in this thread. I've lived it. Communal kitchens are amazing when everything is going well. Sharing the efforts and labors of cooking is a great way to share labor because with a good kitchen it's sure a lot easier to cook for, say, 10-20 people a night once a week or so than it is to cook just for yourself, a partner or small family every single night.


Also, bringing the topic back to ultraprocessed food in the diets of children in particular.

I'm old enough to see how difficult this is for parents, and that this has been a thing in industrialized cultures for decades, maybe more.

I remember being a kid and really wanting or preferring heavily processed foods. Candy, sugary cereal, heavily processed cheese products, cookies, fish sticks, hot dogs - none of this is that different from today.

In hindsight I'm realizing how much of this was partially from the forces and pressures of marketing and television and the general ambient state of modern food.

I'm not sure what the solution is that works for parents and modern families. Saying "Don't feed them chicken nuggets!" is way too simple and not nuanced enough and obviously doesn't work as a starting point. I've watched so many of my friends with children dealing with 3-4 hour long wobblies just trying to get them to eat some apple slices or carrot sticks or something that wasn't chocolate milk, cheese sticks or mac and cheese or something.

It does seem like if we changed what was allowed to be marketed to children that might help a lot. Like children's sugary cereal and advertising via media should basically be entirely banned.

I remember being so, so easily manipulated as a child by junk food commercials to the point I'd get all worked up about it and knew for certain I was going to spend my allowance on a new candy bar just because of the advertising manipulating me or appealing to me in some way. Mountain Dew is a really clear example of effective marking, especially when I was in high school or middle school.

But it's also about the economics of how hard parents have to work to pay the bills and just to buy any food at all or have time for cooking or sourcing less unhealthy food.

It would also help to have a lot more equal and equitable access to healthy food and work to eliminate food deserts, and community or communal kitchens and gardens would be a great way to work towards this.

All that being said I sure wish the 50s style dream of an effective "food pill" was a thing and the way we approach cooking and eating was optional.

I like cooking and good food but wow is it a chore that never ends.
posted by loquacious at 3:25 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


"Two adults, no kids is cooking and household management on Easy Mode."

My household contains 2 adults and no kids, but I guarantee you that my cooking for us is more like Medium-Advanced mode. My mother is 86, has lost many of her teeth, won't wear her dentures most of the time, has trouble chewing raw vegetables but hates overcooked vegetables, and often balks at leftovers (so, extra work to freeze and thaw later). Obviously, I do all the shopping as well. She loves her bread, while I am gluten intolerant, so if she's having bread for a given meal, I have to prep another starch for me. I can't get her to eat seafood other than tuna, so if I want my omega-3 from anything other than a pill, I have to cook separately for myself. She likes things less spicy than I do, and will complain that dishes are too fatty if I make them to my taste, so I will frequently add a drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter separately for myself (not a big deal, but extra work). Etc. etc. I spend a lot of time planning and preparing meals that are edible and good-tasting to both of us. I do this in large part because I love her and don't want her to live on 1% milk, bread, and candy, which she would if I weren't here.

It would be great if we could stop telling other people what is and isn't easy.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:27 PM on August 14 [8 favorites]


Yep, cooking for two can be challenging, too. My husband had a stroke that left half his throat paralyzed, and also did something to his digestion to make it super-sensitive. He isn't able to get out much, so eating is a good chunk of his entertainment. I'm on the spectrum, with attendant executive disfunction. Menu planning is something I'm absolutely terrible at--I tend to just make the same thing over and over again. I'm happy eating grilled cheese sandwiches every day, but my husband is not. The best solution we've found is getting 3 or 4 Hello Fresh kits a week. The rest of the week is filled out by restaurant delivery and frozen stuff like tater tots. Not optimally healthy, but it's what works for us.
posted by LouCPurr at 6:07 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Some excellent comments here, and thanks for everyone who has walked this back to a discussion from what seemed to me as quite confrontational at the outset.

It would be great if we could stop telling other people what is and isn't easy.

Agreed 100%. I do want to add that this is applicable for all viewpoints thus discussed here. Eating out/ordering food can be very fraught for those with physical challenges, tactile issues, allergies or dietary restrictions, social anxiety, executive functioning issues and disordered eating. On the other hand, it is a lifesaver for others. The article didn't deify or demonize either approach.
posted by queensissy at 6:35 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


loquacious: I'm not sure if every meal needs to be exciting or entertaining in the way modern society seems to think it is.

Or that it even needs to be any kind of a hot or cooked meal at all every single time.


I'm very, very certain that it doesn't. Millions of people eat bread (usually with various toppings) for two out of every three meals. It's fine.

I don't think I've ever eaten three hot or cooked meals in a single day.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:30 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


« Older A question of guts and brains   |   Mechanisms at Play: The Audio-Kinetic Sculptures... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments