There’s a great piece on Slate today by Jennifer Reese, exploring whether it really costs less to cook several frequently purchased grocery items from scratch. Not everything on her list turns out to be a cost savings, but she finds it surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make a number of things herself, and the homemade versions are better as well.
This shouldn’t really be surprising. A lot of convenience foods are more valuable for their convenience than their quality as food, as anyone who’s made the mistake of reheating a frozen pizza can tell you. To be sure, Reese doesn’t calculate the value of the time spent, and people who have more money than time may find it more helpful to buy bagels and jam than to make them from scratch.
But the processed food companies have worked hard to make us lose sight of the tradeoff and accustom us to the compromise of taste involved. They’ve also worked very hard to convince us that making these things ourselves is just too darn hard, and that we shouldn’t waste our time because of the great difficulty involved. Reese shows that this is not really true. She notes that the cracker dough “took about three minutes to mix,” and notes that even the bagels can be made without much strain in the course of a leisurely morning. You don’t need industrial machinery, culinary-school training or infinite patience to do a decent job at most kinds of cooking.
It’s one thing to consciously choose a tradeoff between taste and convenience because your schedule is just too tight, or because you’ve decided you really want to spend your time differently. But nobody should be scared away from learning to cook because they think it’s too difficult to learn to do it yourself.