Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Economics Of Home Cooking

Sometimes we watch Dr. Oz on TV.  I have my reservations about Dr. Oz.  Often his shows feel like "infomercials" to me.  He misses the fact that God makes healthy things grow around the world, not in some remote place.  So instead of Acai and Gogi, our "wonderberries" here in North America are Aronia, Blueberry, Cranberry, Currant, Elderberry, and several others, and most of them can be grown in our gardens, nationwide.  I just wish Dr. Oz would pay more attention to that.

The last show I caught was about meal preparation packages that have become popular with young working people.  The cost is high, about $20 per plate.  And he had nutritionists and others helping him decide if they were worth what they cost.  Even though he acknowledged the ways in which the results of their tests were skewed, Dr. Oz and his team concluded that the price was fair enough.

Here's the scenario: 
The box arrives, probably delivered by United Parcel Service, so it's brought right to the door.  If you're feeding a family of four, you're paying $80 for this box.  And it's just for one meal with no left-overs expected.  Of course if you have the same meal at a restaurant, you're going to pay that much, anyway.  One of the women said that she had a very large appetite and she didn't think there'd be enough food, but she was actually satisfied with the amount that was provided.  She was young, and so two out of the four people at her table were probably young children.  Kids don't start becoming eating machines till they hit puberty.  So their small portions were probably making up the difference.  Still, you're eating at your own table and you haven't had to spend time shopping for groceries.  You don't have to worry about who was sitting at that table before you and whether the table was even wiped off after they left.  That alone is a big plus, in my book.  The box contains everything you need to prepare this meal, in the exact amounts.  So, things like one apple.  A small container of spices and/or fresh herbs.  The main dish in the meal they were examining was salmon, and of course there are places in our country where good salmon just can't be bought.  So the fact that it was of good quality and packed in an insulated bag was a plus.  Clear, step-by-step instructions for preparation were included in the package.

The nutritionist made a list of the ingredients in the box and went to the store and shopped for the same items.  She was unable to buy many things in small amounts, so her cost was increased by having to buy, for instance, whole jars of spices, a full hand of ginger, a large clump of parsley, a five-pound bag of flour, a dozen eggs, and so on.  We all know what that's like from when we first began stocking our kitchen.  The initial purchases of things you use a little of and keep the rest for future meals really adds up.  So, the assumption was made that the cost of these items would be factored into the cost of the meal as if anything not used would just be discarded.  They complained of "the waste involved".  And this is where I thought, "Do you not have a refrigerator, a freezer?"  "Could you not plan other meals where these ingredients could be used?"  Seriously, there are so many ways to use flour, as an example.  So I don't think it's fair to count anything but the cost of the amount used.  If the rest of it goes to waste, that's because you haven't managed it, and that's all. 

They also complained about how the boxes and containers are extra things to have to dispose of.

One woman said, "Well, I DID still have to do the prep -- the peeling, chopping, and actual cooking of the meal.  But I enjoyed the feeling that I was making this for my family."  Here, I felt like, if it had been possible for the meal to arrive already cooked, then, to duplicate it they'd have to factor in the cost of pots and pans, knives and cutting boards, things like that.  Maybe even the oven and cooktop.  You get where I'm going with this, I bet.  She didn't mention it but of course she had pots and pans to wash, even after filling her dishwasher with the plates and such, counters to wipe off.

I guess it all comes down to what you can afford.  All these women have careers and obviously they earn much more than minimum wage.  But let's call a spade a spade.  It's a No-Brainer that these meals are simply not affordable for your average American citizen.  And the woman who enjoyed preparing the meal is not going to feel the same way about it if she has to do it every day after coming home from a long day at work.  To parade this option in front of all walks of people, including those who aren't working, or who receive smaller wages for the same chunk of time devoted to it, and to say that it's "a reasonable deal", is inaccurate and misleading. 

Cooking at home can be very economical and still be healthy.  But to avoid extra expense, you have to not waste your ingredients.  We all know that, right? 

On Monday night, we had Chicken And Noodles.  I had a pint of home-canned chicken breast in the pantry that I wanted to use up.  This was something I canned, using chicken breast that I bought on sale at the grocery store, I think the price was $1.99 a pound.  The canning of the food was not necessary but it was an experiment, using the methods presented on Sue and Myrna's blog (see my sidebar: The Iowa Housewife).  My thinking was that having some home-canned chicken breast and some home-canned sloppy Joe mix in the pantry would be nice for when our power goes out.  But we haven't had many power outages since the power company has provided additional electrical hookups for those two new homes that have gone up in our neighborhood, and so I haven't had occasion to use them.  And I don't want to try to keep home-canned foods for much more than a year because the risk of losing them to spoilage increases after that.  They are convenient, but I'm home all the time, and I can cook meats in an hour or less in my little 6-quart stove-top pressure cooker while I'm puttering around doing something else.  But if canning meats is something you think would work for you, then I'd direct you to Sue and Myrna's blog because it's a good method they present there and I did like the taste and texture of the home-canned chicken breast.  Not so sure about the texture of the home-canned sloppy Joe mix.  It seemed kind of tough.  Maybe that was the ground beef that I used, though. 

So, I would say that my entire meal came in for a lot less than $20 simply because it was made from things I already had on hand.  I used a quart of chicken broth from the freezer, which I had made a month ago by saving chicken skin, gristle and bones from other meals, in the freezer, till I had enough accumulated for a pressure-cooker batch.  Then I just covered them with water and pressured them for an hour, after which I drained off the broth, buried the softened bones in the garden (homemade bone-meal), and stored the broth in the freezer.  I think my yield is usually about three quarts.   From something most people just throw in their garbage.  (Of course I refrigerate the broth and peel off the fat that solidifies on the top.  The fat can be used as oil for garden tools, or in soap, or discarded if you can't think of a use for it.  Some people like the taste as a spread instead of butter, or they fry things in it.  They call it "schmaltz".  Not down the drain, please....)  I could've used two quarts but I had a quart of vegetable broth (composed of liquid drained from home-frozen squash and home-canned green beans as they were used, and stored away in the freezer), so I added that.  This is the stuff that lots of people pour down the drain.  I had a five-pound bag of carrots and a clump of celery in the refrigerator crisper.  I used about four carrots and two ribs of celery out of their packages.  The bag of carrots was $3 and the celery was about $1.  So probably not even fifty cents' worth.  Oh, and I meant to add a good handful of frozen chopped onion that I grew in the garden last spring, but I forgot it.  Factor in the cost of a seed.  Heh.  I had about half a container of mushrooms in the refrigerator that we'd bought for making salads with.  I had mushrooms on salad for two different meals, last week.  So, time to use up what's left of the mushrooms.  And they were a nice addition.  Do you factor in something that, had you not used it, would've ended up in the garbage (or in my case, in the compost bucket)?  I put the vegetables in the combined broths and brought it to boiling, then added some of the noodles I had made earlier out of just eggs and flour and a little salt.  Maybe the equivalence of an egg and a cup of flour.  All this bubbled around together until the vegetables and the noodles were tender.  Then I poured the broth from the canned chicken breast into the pot, rough-chopped the chicken breast, and added it.  Simmered till heated through.  If I hadn't had the canned chicken, I would've chopped a chicken breast and added it into the broth at the very beginning.  If I hadn't had the canned chicken OR the frozen broth, then I would've bought a ten-pound bag of leg quarters that is normally a little over a dollar a pound, and cooked two, maybe three, in two or three quarts of water.  I didn't add herbs and spices, I could've added parsley, and some thyme, maybe a little sage, all of which I grew in the herb garden, but for some reason I didn't and it was still quite tasty with just salt and pepper.

Hubs and I both had a good-sized bowl for supper.  And there's enough left for another meal.  So I guess you might say that was a meal for four. 

So.  Would you factor in my refrigerator and freezer?  Maybe not the refrigerator, since every kitchen contains one whether it's got anything in it or not.  A big chest-type freezer costs about $300 and there's the electricity it uses every month, which really isn't all that much, considering all.  How would you figure how much it costs to save vegetable broth and chicken bone broth if you also use your freezer to store meats you've bought in quantity when they're on sale, and vegetables you grew in your garden, to keep home-baked bread fresh, to store casseroles and such that you've prepared in advance (cook once, eat twice -- or more) and to freeze-kill weevil larvae that you think might be in your purchased grains and meals?  How would you figure how much a well-stocked freezer saves you from running to the grocery store every time you want to prepare a meal?  How would you figure what you save from managing the things in your refrigerator and pantry and knowing when to use them up or at least store them away in the freezer so they'd keep longer? 

As you can see, this can all get a little mind-boggling if you let it.  I have intentionally over-thought this to drive home my point, but you know over-thinking is kind of the way I roll, anyway.... 

I think the take-away from this is that people are not being taught to cook.  Kids are not being included in the meal preparation process in their homes.  I read somewhere that the Greeks consider cooking to be a blend of art and science.  And I heartily agree with that.  So I don't think it should be left out of the high school curriculum.  In fact, I think it should be a required subject for both girls and boys.  If you think about it, how many times, in real life, would you have a need to know how to dissect a frog?  And if you were hungry, would, say, being able to paint pictures keep you alive if everyone around you was hungry and penniless, too?   True art, then, would be things like making shoes, coats and other clothing, equipment, working gadgets like grinders and sharpeners, and so on.  But anyway, maybe it would be well not to teach how to dissect something you can't eat.  Maybe those kids ought to be taught how to cut up a chicken.  I think that'd be a great science project.  You could learn about joints and how bones fit together.  You could see what cartilage looks like.  You could learn about the parts of the chicken that gets removed before you buy it at the store, how, even, an egg is made inside the chicken.  And then, after all that, the chicken could be cooked and the kids could all sit down for a meal together.  They could be taught to be grateful for, and to celebrate the life of, that chicken that gave it so they could eat, and how they should never waste anything that came from something that had lived just for the purpose of providing them something to eat. 

Leave the handing out of Twinkies and candy bars to someone else.  I don't think anything had to die to make those.  But then, sickness and death might be on the other end, if you know what I mean.

Rock on, my friends.....      Hugs xoxoxo


  1. This was very interesting. Too bad young people don't read this kind of thing. I do know our granddaughter is taking some kind of a food course, maybe nutrition, or food prep. She made a broccoli salad for Thanksgiving and our other GD is making pie and bread now and then! I am so pleased.

    The chicken and noodles looks delish! Are the noodles homemade? I have never made this dish. Unbelievable isn't it.

    1. Yes, the noodles are homemade. Flour, eggs, a little salt. I make a big batch, let them dry. I think there's more information on a catch-up post that's before this one. Hugs!


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