Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Eat What You Make

Well, it's not Friday, but I'm back. I can't really be blamed for pretending my vacation lasted a bit longer than three days, can I? The most thought-provoking event of the past week was reading Michael Pollen's article in Sunday's Times Magazine on the way that, as we cook less and less, we watch cooking shows more and more. What interested me the most was not this phenomenon per se, but instead the history of how cooking turned into "cooking," to the point where microwaving something or pouring dressing on top of lettuce counts as having "made" a meal.

During WWII food scientists invented MREs and all sorts of ways to preserve food for soldiers overseas. The trick was finding ways to sell prepared and packaged food to consumers during peacetime. It took a while: a sexual revolution, the need for a two-person income, and women staying in the workforce rather than staying home with children needed to be factored into the mix, but food scientists ultimately prevailed. Pollen notes that as early as the 1940s manufacturers had the ability to produce just-add-water cake mixes, but women wouldn't buy them. They would, however, buy mixes where one needed to break and mix in an egg, the addition of that egg being some kind of line in the sand that defined what could be classified as "home-made." Today, the baking aisle is filled with just-add-water mixes; "home-made" now means anything one moves from package to bowl to pan. Actually, anything that gets heated up passes for home-made these days.

Naturally, a discussion of the lack of cooking leads to a discussion of obesity. The less we cook the fatter we get, and not just because we're sitting on the sofa watching cooking shows but because we're eating more calories, larger portions, less healthy food. Which leads to the "ah ha" moment of the piece, when Pollen gets a food scientist to admit what we all suspect: want to lose weight and be healthy? Just eat only what you cook yourself.

It makes sense. Honestly, if you could only eat potato chips if you sliced potatoes and deep fried them, how many would you eat? If you had to make mayonnaise before slathering it onto a sandwich, wouldn't you just as often skip it? So I've spent the past few days thinking about trying this as an experiment. Is it possible to eat only what one can cook? Can I do it? And what would the rules be? What would I do about, say, teryiaki, or vodka, or beer? Could I eat in a restaruant, ever?

I decided the following. For as long as I can take it, I will not purchase manufactured food, with the exception of condiments and alcohol. I know I can make my own ketchup and beer, but that feels insane. The point here is to try to be healthy, not insane. I don't tend to eat out a lot anyway, so if I find myself wanting or needing to eat in a restaurant I will, but only socially, not as an alternative to grilling my own burger or frying my own eggs. How hard can this be? I have no idea. I'll post an update once enough time has gone by for me to have an idea, and in the meantime I'll be thankful that it's August, when so much is in season it will be easy to fill up on fruit and vegetables and throw things on the grill. If anyone else wants to give it a try, let me know and we can commiserate. And if anyone knows how to make their own Doritos, let me know that as well. I do love Doritos.


alan said...

I wonder. Have you warned the neighbors not to let their chickens wander into your yard? I fear for their safety!

Sandy said...

If you'd like a lesson on cheese and butter making, I'm your girl! How about bread? I could set you up with some sourdough starter. Flatbreads are good and easy.

elucidator said...

Cheese and butter, yes, thanks Sandy. I'm pretty good with bread. And I wish my neighbors had chickens so I could steal some eggs. However, if I start running around the neighborhood with a cleaver, please commit me.

cattyandry said...

I look forward to hearing how you do in this self challenge. As I prepare lunch with home grown tomatoes and basil, I wonder where deli meat falls in the prepared food or not scale?

elucidator said...

Deli meat is a good question. I guess since I don't live on a farm and am not opening a charcuterie in my basement, if I want salami I'll buy it. However, I can make roast beef, chicken, turkey, meat loaf, and the like for sandwiches, if I want a sandwich. I just don't know what to do about Diet Pepsi!

tunsie said...

my neighbor process a chicken when he wants it.we did not use colcut when we were home.my mum would make chicken or meat and than we would use that 4 our wraps.we also had moonshine,but the children didn't have it.we had wine with our meals on special occasions.the best cooks that i know had no school training.they told me they learned from thier mother or other relatives.the fact that there r meals in a section of the market 4 people 2 buy and than microwave scares me.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie