So I was browsing around this morning and came across A Year of Inconvenience, a blog written by a woman who manages a food co-op and yet, who after watching Julie & Julia, and reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, decided to see if she could spend a year avoiding the central aisles of her own store, the place where the “convenience” foods reside.
Like a lot of these “project blogs” I would probably quibble with some of her definitions of “convenience foods.” As far as I’m concerned, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pasta, and reasonably plain crackers (I’m a big fan of the Stoned Wheat Thin) are staples. And I’m not really her target audience — I rarely shop the middle aisles, and when I do I’m in there for staples like flour or rice or pasta or beans, or Asian condiments. I don’t buy mixes, or “simmer sauces” — I don’t even like spaghetti sauce in a jar because it tastes too gloppy to me. I just don’t think about cooking that way, in part because I like my own food better than most prepared stuff, and I’m cheap — the pre-packaged stuff seems so expensive most of the time for what you get. But this is all ground we’ve been over time and time again.
What struck me reading A Year of Inconvenience is how ubiquitous “snacks” have become in our society. One of her concerns is replacing the snack foods — and to her credit, she goes ahead and makes hard pretzels!
I was raised by parents who were deeply opposed to snacks. We got three squares a day, and in Junior High and High School a very modest after-school nosh, but the concept of something like a “snack drawer” or “snack closet” in our house was unthinkable. Even after-school snacks were something like a toasted bagel with cheese, or homemade cookies (an ongoing source of war between Patrick and the not-yet-beloved Stepmother in junior high — she believed in rationing, he’d sneak them from the bottom of the tin). We never had chips, or store cookies, or packages of stuff in the house, just as we weren’t allowed to drink pop as kids. My parents were so pro-milk/anti-pop that even at the horse shows my mother ran when we were little, the catering guy, the legendary Mr. Pasquesi, kept those little cartons of milk in his ice chest for my brother and I, and wouldn’t sell us pop.
So the explosion of snack foods is something I’ve never really paid any attention to, and since I don’t have kids, I’ve been spared the tyranny of snack duty for school teams and activities. I still don’t fundamentally understand snacking. We eat dinner really late around here, so sometimes I’ll have some olives, or cheese and crackers around five (it’s a long time until our 9pm-ish dinner time), but the appeal/lure/siren song of snack products is something that’s thankfully lost on me.
The struggle with weight is one I’m not unfamiliar with, but it seems that this idea that we need to have food at our fingertips at every moment of the day (like the idea, pushed by the bottled water people that if we’re not clutching a beverage at all times, we’ll perish of thirst), is one of the reasons our population is growing larger and larger and larger. And perhaps, as we start weaning ourselves from packaged food in general — the frozen dinners, the “mixes” the sauces in jars, the horrible pre-cooked meals in the meat case (really? you want a pot roast cooked in a factory somewhere?), the snack issue will begin to recede as well. Once you start seeing food in boxes and bags as odd, and full of weird ingredients and too much salt, then “snacks” start to look weird too. I don’t know, if you need a “snack” make some popcorn — on the stove, in a pan, with a little oil. It’s really good.