October 15, 2012
Project No More Cooking is officially over. We were all miserable. I got more written these last three weeks than in the last three years. (Well, not exactly, but I was enormously productive.)
But the cost was too great. And I don’t mean the grocery bill. We all came down with colds, and we can’t seem to shake them. We’re all tired and sluggish. Several tummies are protesting. And the food tastes like crap.
The announcement of the end of the Project was met with thunderous applause.
It was good, though, in a way, to revisit convenience and industrial foods. First of all, it helped remind us just how revolting some of it is. It helped remind us that decent food costs something–either time or money. And I did find some things that had changed in the fifteen or so years since I’d quit buying most industrial foods.
So, some product reviews to share:
* “Gourmet” boxed soup: inedible. I found one brand over in the “natural foods” section that was merely unpalatable, but even that one prompted Stephen to text me several complaints. And so ridiculously priced! If we could choke down as much of the boxed stuff as we eat when I make soup, it would cost ten dollars to feed us all! Add a loaf of bakery bread (on which more below), and we may as well order pizza!
* Frozen meatballs: yuck.
* Jarred spaghetti sauce: edible, but not enjoyable. All of them contain sugar, and too many contain HFCS. The ones with HFCS are truly horrid. The upscale ones are something I might buy and leave in the cupboard for days Stephen or Isaac has to get dinner on the table with no time to spare. Maybe. (Isaac’s future spouse: I have taught him to make a proper homemade sauce.)
* Pre-shredded cabbage: fairly helpful, actually. It goes bad very quickly, though–if I don’t use it within a day or two of getting it home, I have to cook it.
* Jarred mayonnaise: passable. Well, it’s useful for getting stuff done a little faster. And it’s definitely cheaper than my gourmet olive oil homemade mayo. But it’s not very tasty. And I can’t find a single brand up here in PA that doesn’t have sugar or HFCS in it.
* Bagged kale, collards, and chard: pleasant surprise! Decent quality, not exorbitantly priced, and definitely a time-saver. You do have to spend some time picking out stems, especially if you’re not planning to boil them to death.
* Diced starchy veggies: also a pleasant surprise! One store is now carrying diced fresh sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and rutabagas in the produce section; another is carrying chunked acorn or butternut squash. They go bad more quickly than I’d like. But the diced kinds are perfect for a roast-veggie side dish, and the chunked varieties are good for things where they’ll be pureed. (The chunks aren’t all the same size–a little tough for preparations where cooking time matters.) They’re also a little pricey, compared to the plain version. These are some of the cheapest veggies around, but the packaged versions are definitely less cheap.
* Diced aromatics (onions, celery, “mirepoix,” etc.) : revolting.
* Bread: UGH. The bagged shelf bread is disgusting. Even the “whole grain” stuff. I used to be able to find one or two brands with no sweeteners in them, but now it’s quite impossible. I can get bread with no sweeteners, and not too many other gross things, in the bakery section, but it’s ridiculously expensive. I mean, it costs maybe four dollars if I make a batch of really decadent stuff, with cheese or olives or organic whole wheat or something, and “a batch” means three to four loaves of bread. Minimally acceptable bread from the bakery section is four or five dollars a loaf! Yeesh. Wegman’s bakery is pretty good, though. If I had unlimited funds, I wouldn’t mind giving up homemade bread for theirs.
* Bagged salad: Depends. The nice mesclun mixes in the large clamshell boxes are a decent alternative to having a garden. They go bad very quickly, though, and we absolutely can’t eat it without washing it. (I’ll leave you to imagine the problem with unwashed salad greens.) The smaller bags are barely enough for a tiny side-salad, are usually extremely poor quality, and are ridiculously overpriced. Far, far better to buy a head of lettuce and wash and tear it yourself.
* Jarred salad dressing: not my favorite, but a convenience. Hard to find a brand with no sweeteners.
* Sliced mushrooms: fine, but they go bad very quickly compared to whole mushrooms. Canned are disgusting.
* Ready-to-use infant formula: my favorite thing on the planet. Ridiculously expensive, even for formula, and even with the best coupons out there. But very happy-making.
* Concentrated infant formula: more convenient than powdered, but pretty much the same price as ready-to-use. I’d just go with the ready-to-use.
There you are. My wisdom from three unhappy weeks back on the industrial food supply. Blech.