Sunday, September 25, 2011

The true cost of canned tomatoes

You know what's a bad idea? Getting a ton of heavy groceries (think canned tomatoes, because the Italian grocery just off Nassau has the best and cheapest selection...) in anticipation of a shuttle-ride back from town, a safe assumption if you arrived by shuttle, except when it's not. With something like, say, a bus, you miss it and then lo and behold you must get the next one. Not so with a once-daily shuttle. But we didn't even miss it! We were early! Because with that sort of thing you have to be. We eventually saw it from a distance. Who knows what that was about, but it made the whole must-get-car, must-get-license issue all that much more salient.

Nevertheless, the overall perks of this experience no doubt outweigh the near-impossibility of grocery shopping. Library access! Tennis! Unlike in NY, where reserving courts is some kind of complicated and expensive bureaucratic endeavor! And, at least until the car thing gets sorted out, I will need to train myself to eat my biggest meal of the day in the dining hall. If I can just make that switch, if I can get myself to do precisely the opposite of what Mark Bittman recommends (and I do enjoy cooking!) and get past this odd desire I have to prepare my own meals.

Speaking of the Bittman article, yes, yes, socioeconomic factors, YPIS, another article telling the poor that they can totally live off lentils, etc. The class-warfare counterarguments write themselves, and are only partly fair. Fair, insofar as lentils get old quick, but plenty of people could cook but don't. I mean, all of this Think of the People Who Can't Afford a Saucepan is a bit much, because obviously people who can afford a saucepan and then some are also not cooking. (But to the commenter who points out that gender enters into this, why yes it does.)

But even if you're not especially lacking in time, money, and (ahem!) grocery access, even if you like to cook, cooking remains a chore. Until food writers wrap their heads around the idea that cooking also means grocery shopping, that grocery shopping takes time, that even ostensibly cheap-to-prepare meals often meaning you buy $8 worth of some massive amount of an ingredient you only end up using twice, that planning meals for the week is either a major task of its own or you end up wasting a great deal of food (leftovers being tough if what's left are perishable ingredients and not a prepared meal), that all of this food needs to be not only prepared but cleaned up from, that hands and surfaces need raw eggs and meat washed off them, in short, until they realized that no meal takes 'only 30 minutes' except possibly the meals they think take only 5, how is anyone ever going to be convinced?

What does work, meanwhile, is to find the food you make yourself a whole lot more appealing than the food you could reasonably get outside. While I'm sure that (some) fine restaurants come up with better than I can, I know well enough that places I can afford to go regularly, including but not limited to fast food, can't. You can get yourself to that place - and I seemed to arrive at it naturally, having cooked for myself since high school, and having always been a somewhat picky eater, if less so Now than Then - by playing Alice Waters's voice in your head, and thinking of Frahnce and quahlity ingredients. Of course, I'm now trying to convince myself of the opposite, that it's better to eat at the dining hall (which is, to be fair, the Chez Panisse of dining halls) than to descend further and further into from-scratch-land.

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