Monday, January 3, 2011
Screw Michael Pollan
As much as I love food, I don't like cooking. It's a messy business, for starters, and even when it succeeds in being clean, the imprecision with respect to amounts ("correct seasonings") and the need to use your own judgment about what constitutes "gently wilted" leaves me feeling curiously impotent in the face of uncertainty. I'm better at it, these days--I think even my boyfriend will agree to that--but there's a reason why my shelf in my student house is lined with Cup-a-Soups.
I used to feel vaguely guilty about them, and the fact that ramen is a more-often-than-I-care-to-admit staple of my diet. After all, say all the foodies, instant food isn't really food. You should go to the market (never mind that it's a Wednesday market in Maastricht) and buy fresh, whole vegetables from the eco-stall (actually no such thing--I'm pretty sure Dutch vegetables grow on plant 'roids) and relish its transformation (read: sweat bullets figuring out how to cut the damn thing) into something exquisite (anything is exquisite with enough truffle oil).
The Dutch supermarket is full of culinary shortcuts: packages of pre-chopped vegetables in different combinations for things like stir-fries or macaroni, whole chickens in "steaming sacks"--plastic bags that somehow don't melt in the oven, trapping in the steam as your chicken cooks. Potatoes come peeled and chopped and serving-sized. You don't even have to select your own spinach--it comes in a bag, pre-washed. Meat comes pre-marinated, and there are even such things as soup-packets, where you get a bone and a few different kinds of meat for making soup stocks.
And here's the kicker: I think these things are great. I can't help but think that the US might be eating a lot healthier if people stopped making healthy food sound so damn inaccessible and instead focused on making healthy foods easier to prepare. In my corner of the US, food deserts aren't really an issue, at least, as defined by the availability of healthy eats within a certain distance. But just being there isn't the point--eating right involves getting the food inside you, too, and when your Average Joe doesn't know a blender from a bouillabaise, let's just say that making food simple is a good thing.
Click here for an interesting essay on why fast food isn't necessarily evil--and why I no longer feel bad about all those Cup-a-Soups.