Let me be perfectly honest up front and say I’m about to quote liberally from Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating. I quote her for two reasons: first, to show you her excellent writing so that you’ll hopefully go read the book; and second, because I absolutely just LOVE the points she is making here (note that I put her italicized words in all caps since wordpress italicizes everything in a box quote).
Box meals don’t save us time any more than going out to eat does, and they don’t even save us money. What they do instead is remove the need to have to come up with a plan for dinner, something that’s easy when you’re a skilled cook–and bafflingly difficult when you’re not. The real convenience behind these convenience foods isn’t time or money, but that they remove one more bit of stress from our day….
The key to getting people to eat better isn’t that they should spend more money, or even that they should spend more time. It’s making the actual cooking of a meal into an EASY choice, the obvious answer. And that only happens when people are as comfortable and confident in the kitchen as they are taking care of the other endless chores that come with running a modern family–paying bills, cleaning house, washing the car. It only happens, in other words, when we can cook well. It doesn’t take advanced culinary acumen to know that making a pasta-and-ground beef one-skillet dinner from scratch isn’t actually any more difficult than using a box, but it does take education and training. Enough, at least, to convey that grilling a steak and steaming vegetables is just a basic household task….
There will be days for every person, every family, where it IS worth paying four times more for the service. That’s fine. But the longer I’m at Applebee’s, the more I think everyone should be making that choice from equal footing: with easy access to fresh ingredients, and a solid ability to cook. (pp. 212-213)
…the healthiest route through the American foodscape is a steep and arduous path most easily ascended by joining its top income bracket. So far as I can tell, changing what’s on our plates simply isn’t feasible without changing far more. Wages, health care, work hours, and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop. (231)
It’s worthwhile, of course, to talk about food as a meal or as the product of a farm, but to engage with our meals solely on those terms is to ignore food’s core essence. Food is not a luxury lifestyle product. It is a social good.