Generally, when I sit down to try a new recipe, I look for something that has as few processed or pre-made ingredients as possible. The line is sort of arbitrary; I’ll buy corn syrup so I can make pecan pie, but I’m really anti-cobbler recipes that use cake mix (though, in the interest of full disclosure, I am pro-cake mix). Even within the broad category of semi-homemade, there’s a whole spectrum that goes from charming simplifications and creative uses of box-products to the Sandra Lee Disaster Hour. So while I embrace certain aspects of semi-homemade, I’m not willing to go whole hog.
There are two major things that go into my desire for less-processed food. First, I like to think of recipes as a challenge, so starting with bare bones and working up seems like more of an adventure than relying on processed/pre-packaged products. There’s also some discussion about the health benefits of not eating a lot of processed food, but as much as I wish I could don the cloak of caring about serious issues, for me, it really is more about the challenge.
Second, I wonder how much my feelings towards processed and pre-packaged foods come from ingrained classism. I mean, not condoning the process of putting corn nuts on a cake and calling it Kwanzaa transcends all barriers, but the general aversion to Corn Nutzâ„¢ or using canned mushroom soup in casserole recipes seems to fall right along the class divide.
Maybe I should take a step back. Here I refer to the American definition of class, which relies strongly on economic status, though aspects of race, education, and cultural experiences are thrown in. I’m not trying to say that all people of a certain class have certain preferences or relationships with food. I am saying that certain foods are seen as indicative of class, and certain foods are defined by the perceived class status of their consumers. In the most extreme, compare caviar and Gorton’s fish sticks. Eschewing packaged foods shows that one has time (to seek out and prepare the food), resources (money to purchase and equipment/space to prepare the food), and access (transportation to good grocery stores).
I understand that conflated with this issue is the issue of time – processed and pre-packaged foods are just faster and easier to make. As the movement away from processed and pre-packaged foods grows and as time spent cooking increases, who do you think will be doing the work? The division of household labor is still unequal, and it seems likely that most of this pressure falls squarely on women.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m re-evaluating my perspectives on cooking. I don’t anticipate a strong shift in my behavior, but there’s always room for more thinking.
What say you? What are your feelings on semi-homemade?