How I Feel About Semi-Homemade
If a recipe calls for a box of cake mix, it’s not a recipe. -The controversial tweet (mine) that launched this tirade
The big push to get everyone back into the kitchen at the expense of quality has gone too far. We don’t expect everyone to be skilled at the art of blacksmithing or horseplowing just because more people knew how to do it back in the day, so why cooking? Some people are good at it because they have the natural talent and/or inclination, as well as the time to hone their craft. There are things that are second nature to me as a person who spends eight hours in the kitchen every day that I would not be able to convey to a rocket scientist Mensa ninja in a month’s time.
And yet, along with the very worthwhile food revolution that is taking place, there is also a nagging push to get people back into the kitchen who simply don’t want to be there. You can’t force a chocolate soufflé any more than you can force good sex. And despite what the proponents of the “semi-homemade” trend might have you believe, you cannot make one out of Cool Whip and microwave-melted Tollhouse chocolate chips.
Let me be clear in stating that I am proud of the great strides we are taking in our country, if not globally, to raise awareness about the importance of eating sustainably-produced food. I love that more and more of my friends are flashing their “foodie I.D.” in places like high-end restaurants, farmer’s markets, and even grocery stores. It’s just that I feel the solution is not necessarily to thrust every Jane, Sally, and Sue into an apron and chain her to the hob until she conjures boxed bourguignon in her designer enameled cookware for a coterie of duped denizens.
Instead, let’s celebrate the many, many folks who LOVE to cook, and are good at it. Who understand that measuring the few basic ingredients required to make a cake rather than looking to a mix to do it for them, will produce a superior cake every time. Let’s not miss the point of the pioneering spirit upon which our country was founded. Back then you could trade a cake for the shoeing of your horse. A half a cow might be enough compense for the town doctor to come to the homestead and deliver a healthy baby. Everyone mastered a skill and used it to bolster a community. I realize I’m simplifying here, but bear with me.
Nowadays we don’t barter as much, and the value of goods and services has become greatly skewed. Nevertheless, we still recognize the basic principle of paying for quality. Food is not food, and cooks are not cooks. Some food is better than others; ditto for cooks. I suggest rather than coercing everyone into manning the stove using guilt as the forcing function, we encourage those who don’t want to cook to seek out those who do.
Understand why some restaurants charge more for food that is not carted in on a Sysco truck, but rather comes from a neighboring farm, and support them. Organize a regular dining club with people you know like to cook, and offer to bring really good wine and a baguette you picked up from a reputable bakery. These may be suggestions for a certain socio-economic level, but there are other ways of championing real food made by real cooks. I’m not asking you to sacrifice rent money in order to fine dine around town. I only suggest you consider that the reason you feel queasy and break out after you eat cakemix cupcakes is because a lab engineered them rather than a baker baking them.
I understand that people are busy and life gets in the way, however if you’re too frazzled to take three minutes and whip some cream, consider the fact that you may also be too busy to stand over your stove while you’re simmering packet gravy and you wouldn’t want to burn your house down just because your email inbox was more compelling than an open flame.
If you can’t seek the food of others every night, consider paring down what you prepare to a few simple, whole ingredients. Buy greens, charcuterie, and really good cheese from the market, and all you have to do is toss them together with a little olive oil for an impressive feast, no box, packet, or mix necessary. Want dessert? Eat an in-season piece of fruit. The earth made it, after all, and she’s about the best chef around.
If you prioritize food, give it the respect it deserves and make it all the way, or don’t make it at all and find someone reputable to do it for you. There is no shame in the latter option.