Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Cost of Convenience

I just found this really amazing post on the real cost of certain convenience foods. I was directed there by reading this also very informative post that was linked off of Cappuccinosmom's blog entry on the same subject. I know, I know... not being very original, but this has struck a chord in me.

You see, I grew up in a world where convenience was normal. I grew up on instant rice, premade pizza dough, pre-shredded cheese, jarred spaghetti sauce, brownie mix... you name it. And there were always certain things that I thought you just couldn't make yourself. For example, I remember the first time I learned that you could actually make your own spaghetti sauce. I was shocked! And then I thought that it certainly couldn't taste as good as the "real" kind. Pasta? You mean it comes in a form other than dried??

And then there is my husband, who seemed quite surprised the first time that I told him real macaroni and cheese tastes nothing like the kind in the blue box.

Of course, his mom grew up eating and cooking Korean foods. To someone who has never had real macaroni and cheese before, it must seem like the prepackaged convenience kind is close enough. It is difficult to learn the style of cooking of another country or culture. I have learned this with my own foray into cooking Korean dishes. I use convenience foods when making Korean foods -- because I am not accustomed to making them, and it is difficult for me. And, quite honestly, I think that the convenience foods taste just as good as my own feeble attempts at recreating them. Hopefully, after years of practice, this will not be the case. I will not have to buy side dishes premade at the Asian market. I will not have to buy premade kimchi, or mandoo, or whatever else. But it will take time and effort, and probably a bit of practice and teaching.

And there's the real reason why we are a nation of convenience food addicts. How many kids my age grew up with moms who didn't cook very much, or when they did used a lot of convenience foods? For most of America, cooking without convenience foods is like cooking food from a foreign culture. They've never or rarely tasted it, and they've certainly never seen anyone *prepare* it. For most Americans, the idea of making bread from scratch is about as intimidating as the thought of making the spicy and sweet dried squid dish that I've seen at Korean markets, or making kimchi, would be for me.

(side note: I do intend to make kimchi sometime soon, like in the next month or so. I'll blog about how it goes, unless it goes very, very badly... which it might ;)

JM and I have been slowly eliminating convenience foods from our diet. A few weeks ago, for example, I made a curry paste from scratch rather than buy it premade in the grocery store. My goal, however, is more to know what I'm putting into our bodies rather than to make cooking inconvenient for me. I look more for short ingredient lists that are composed of foods I'm familiar with and could buy at a grocery store myself (and at a good price), rather than just avoiding convenience foods. However, the end result is nearly the same: in general the healthier you eat, the fewer convenience foods you buy. We do buy dried beans and dried pasta... but I believe the only ultra convenience foods we have in our house are granola bars we bought when we were sick and instant 비빔냉면 ("bi-bim-naeng-myun", spicy COLD buckwheat noodles -- sometimes served with ice cubes) for JM to eat in case I'm ever incapable of cooking and he needs a quick meal. Oh, and ice cream. JM couldn't live without his ice cream. ;)

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  • Patti

    I came here via The Common Room. You have a lot in common with my son who also has a for-now stay-at-home wife of all of just a little over a year. He's also an engineer, although he's still in academia working towards a PhD. You write very well for an engineer.:-) I bet you hear that all the time.

  • Meredith

    I also grew up eating only convenience foods. In fact, I though homemade meant "made at home from a mix." Quite seriously!

    At least my background makes scratch cooking a learning experience for me.

    Glad to have found your blog through Common Room.

  • CappuccinoLife

    Harmony, I just have to say I am extremely impressed with your efforts to learn the Korean language and Korean cooking! What a blessing to your husband.

    Thus far I've been a complete failure at both Ethiopian cooking and the Amharic language. I'm afraid I will be reciting the Amharic alphabet with my kids when we start them on language learning. :/

  • KellyM

    Also here from the Common Room. In the last year I've developed almost a fascination with cooking from scratch, and I'm always looking at convenience items I've enjoyed and thinking, "I wonder if I can find a recipe for that?" What's interesting is that it's made me quite the snob, as I always think that my recipe tastes better.

    My best friend from college recently asked me (unaware of my from-scratch hobby), "Have you ever made biscuits from a mix?" She was using biscuit mix for the first time, and had never eaten biscuits that weren't purchased ready-made and defrosted in the microwave.