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Don’t be fooled: cooking fresh food takes time

I hear periodically that we should “cook our own food from scratch.” That’s true, but it’s not that simple. I think it’s also something of a privileged sentiment espoused by food evangelists.

Cooking fresh food from scratch takes time and money — something that is a luxury for many people. Buying good groceries and cooking ingredients costs hard-earned money. Finding the time is a cost too.

Let’s start at the beginning: you have to cook a meal.

So, what do you do first? Come up with an idea about what to cook. That itself isn’t always easy and might require consulting with family members and seeing to differing dietary needs, seemingly now more complex than ever.

With the idea for a dish, you next have to find a recipe and write out a list. Let’s say that takes 10 minutes.

Shopping takes time (Photo/Ser_Amantio_di_Nicolao)

Next up, get in the car — or on the bus or walk, perhaps kids in tow — and head to the grocery store (if there is one nearby). Make that 40 minutes to an hour-and-a-half depending on distances and traffic, and so on.

That, of course, is only calculating with one store visited, while it’s possible you might have a favourite butcher shop, for instance, that is different from where you buy fresh produce.

Even Michelangelo made shopping lists: it takes time (Image/Wikimedia Commons).

When you get back home, you spend some time unpacking and putting away the groceries. That’s a relatively small time investment, but it’s also a somewhat odious one.

Preparing the meal means gathering all of your ingredients — whether that’s three or eight — and chopping, blanching or grating.

You next put it all together and start cooking the dish, promptly then turning around and cleaning the results and detritus of the preparation: asking yourself, “Is this waste? Does that need to be recycled?” As they say in professional kitchens: if you have time to lean, you have time to clean.

Next, you set the table and get the serving dishes out and bung out the food. The family sits down to eat, and in 10 minutes it’s over. You clear the table and do the dishes and pots and pans, whether hand-washing or shoving them in the dishwasher.

Now, I’ve lost track of the time, but the point is that it’s often a matter of hours if you have the inclination and wherewithal — and the money — to cook good healthy and interesting meals.

It’s a wonder people just want to go to a restaurant, if they are able to financially. It may be that the choice has to be cheaper, more easily accessible “lesser quality” ingredients or processed foods when time and money are constraints.

That’s a reality that fresh-food evangelists and purists can’t overlook.

Many people can’t take the steps and time and costs to eat healthily. That’s a difficult thing and something we should think about when we proclaim, “you should take the time to make a proper meal.”

It may not be that easy.


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