Mark Bittman of The New York Times takes issue with the conventional lefty wisdom that fast food is cheaper than home-cooked meals for cash-strapped families. Meanwhile, Tom Philpott of Mother Jones takes issue with Bittman’s taking issue, noting that he failed to consider the cost of labor in planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning up after a meal for four.
And labor it is, as any amateur hash-slinger will tell you. Cooking is something you must want to do in a society where underpaid people in paper hats hurl greasy feedlot meat and potatoes at you as you drive past from home to work and back again. We have TV to watch, goddamnit — we don’t have time for all that grub-rasslin’. Chaz Bono is on “Dancing With the Stars,” f’chrissakes!
I mostly want to cook, but I also have plenty of free time, being a professional unemployable whose tenuous grip on three part-time jobs depends upon my co-workers rarely having to deal with me in person.
And there was a time when I didn’t want to cook, mostly because I didn’t know how — nobody had ever taught me. When I was a kid, food showed up three times daily as if by magic. In college there were cafeterias. As a young journo’ I patronized restaurants, cadged meals from married colleagues or reheated ghastly frozen dinners.
I don’t recall the impetus, but eventually I taught myself to cook a few basic dishes — mostly soups and stews, one-pot meals that would have plenty of leftovers. I’ve branched out a bit over the years, tackling American, Asian, Italian, French and Mexican dishes, but my cookery remains fairly simple.
And yet even I sometimes find the process too laborious for words.
Now, granted, I tend to overdo. I roam all around town collecting mostly organic ingredients from Whole Foods, Ranch Foods Direct, Mountain Mama and Savory Spice Shop, occasionally scoring specialty items from the Santa Fe School of Cooking, Asia Pacific Market, the Colorado Farm & Art Market or Spencer’s Gardens.
I’ve acquired enough stainless pots and pans, cast-iron Dutch ovens, rice cookers, food processors, knives and cookbooks to open a very small and ultimately unsuccessful restaurant.
Thus, when sloth overcame me last evening I didn’t waddle out to the car for a quick trip to Mickey D’s. Instead, I consulted my refrigerator and pantry, then whipped up a simple Shulman dish — sautéed spinach with mushrooms — poured it over some al dente fusilli and sprinkled the lot with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Now there’s a happy meal for you.