March 28, 2006

Sloth, Ignorance and Denial

by psu

Over the weekend, the New York Times published this depressing profile of a growing service in the food industry where you pay someone to be your prep cook. Apparently, the way this works is that for a nominal fee, you are given use of an industrial kitchen space and told how to "assemble" your dishes from the vats of ingredients that are given to you. This article is just the latest indication when it comes to food, certain Americans suffer from three pathologies: sloth, ignorance and denial.

We can cover these one by one.


The obvious motivation for using a prepared food service is that the client does not want to spend the time to purchase and prepare the food himself. I can understand where this motivation comes from. The modern life is a busy one, with multiple conflicting requirements filling our days. But, I have a problem with the claim that someone's life is so busy that he can't cook the occasional meal. The main argument I can make about this is a personal one. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am the laziest person on the planet and yet I manage to crank out a few meals a week for me and my family. Admittedly, my wife does much of the planning and shopping. But I do most of the preparation and cleanup. The main trick here is to replicate what the prepared food service would do for you, but in your own kitchen. Cook large dishes that amortize the work across multiple meals. Cook a lot of lazy food.

And, for those nights when you have to do something from scratch, fall back on quick and easy dishes, like Chinese meat stir fry (make the rice ahead with your Zojirushi). There are dozens of great dishes you can make in twenty minutes with some practice.

Finally, the NYT piece quotes some ludicrous statistic indicating that men still don't cook. I say, kick their ass. Make sure the load is shared. In this day and age, a man who can't cook is a pathetic creature indeed.


If laziness gets people in the door, then ignorance is what makes them pay the rent. Consider this quote from the piece:

So Ms. Robbins now goes to Dream Dinners in West Seattle, where she spends just under two hours assembling dishes like cheesy chicken casserole and Salisbury steak from ingredients that have been peeled and chopped for her. She does not have to pick up a knife, turn on a stove or wash a dish.

Chicken casserole? The chicken casserole that I used to cook when I was an undergraduate went something like this

1. Put rice in a baking dish.
2. Add cream of chicken soup.
3. Mix in cream of mushroom and cream of celery soup.
4. Put chicken pieces on top. Mix around.
5. Bake.

I find it hard to believe that someone would need a service to make this dish for them. But I've been surprised before.

The Salisbury Steak is equally mind boggling. You will recall that Salisbury Steak is a mainstay of not only elementary school lunches, but also Swanson frozen dinners and such, where the nondescript meat is always accompanied by a white gluey "potato" product and some desiccated apple "cobbler."

The question I have is: how can anyone in their right mind pay prices comparable to what you would pay at the prepared food deli at Whole Foods for something that is basically what you can pull out of the freezer at the 7-11? Ignorance.


In the end, the value proposition for one of these prep-cook services is something like this: you pay them premium prices for food that you could probably buy at the deli for not much more. In return, you go to their house and help them finish the dishes for you. While paying hard-earned cash for food like this is confusing, I can understand the motivation. People are busy, they'd like to avoid cooking. That's fine. What I truly can't understand is the level of self-delusion that one needs to buy this fancy takeout, and then go actually to the place to assemble the food in some pathetic attempt to preserve the feeling of having actually cooked something. The truth is, no cooking happened. What happened was that someone took food, and put it in a box so they could then take it home and heat it up. This is denial of the highest order.

Let me be absolutely clear. I understand why people don't want to cook. I can even forgive people cooking crappy food or buying crappy food at the takeout counter to take home and feed their family. I would not prioritize my life this way, but people have disagreed with me before. What I cannot forgive is people lying to themselves about what their true motivations are.

If you want to avoid cooking, then avoid cooking and be happy with yourself for having done so. You should be at peace with your life decisions, and you should structure your life around your priorities not mine. What you should not do is deny that food and cooking are worth your time, while at the same time trying to convince me that you want to preserve the family meal as an institution. You are buying fancy takeout food. If you claim anything else, you are just lying to me and yourself. Stop that.

Posted by psu at March 28, 2006 08:46 PM | Bookmark This

Okay, I'll bite, though I am sure I will regret it.

I like avoiding the shopping and cleanup more than avoiding the cooking. As for the cost, it works out to somewhere between $2.75 and $4.00 a serving.

I'll have plenty of time to do the cooking I enjoy later in life. The kid is only going to be this little once.

Posted by Kim at March 28, 2006 10:19 PM

As I said at the end of the piece, and perhaps with not enough emphasis, I have no problem with people making an economic and life-priority decision to do this kind of thing to get food in the house. I don't really understand it, and I would not do it myself, but i don't find it vile or offensive.

I just can't stand the claim that this is "like cooking." So, by all means, spend more time with the kid instead of cooking. That's great!

Posted by psu at March 29, 2006 10:46 AM

Once my daughter is old enough to wield a knkife without serious harm to herself and others, she's going to be my sous-chef.

Spend time with your children _and_ eat well.

Posted by Shelby Davis at March 29, 2006 01:58 PM

I also noticed the menu items mentioned in the article and was a little surprised. If someone else were doign all my purchasing, preparting, and clean-up, I'd want to get a little fancy in the kitchen.

Posted by Julie at March 30, 2006 08:22 AM

The menu items in the article are not the ones available at the place I use. We had pork with a red wine and dried cherry sauce for dinner last night. In three months I haven't seen anything resembling Salisbury Steak either.

Posted by Kim at March 30, 2006 10:21 AM

That would be OK.

I wonder if the NYT writer purposely listed the stupidest possible dishes just to make the people profiled lookd dumb.

Posted by psu at March 30, 2006 11:32 AM

I don't know... Saying someones not REALLY cooking unless they commit to going through with every part of it sounds a lot like the crazed macho bs people will spout when they talk about how saving anywhere in a videogame 'isn't really playing it'. People should be able to enjoy an activity however they wish.

Posted by TrueTallus at April 3, 2006 05:25 PM

We can only believe that the NYT tried to make this service look as stupid and useless as possible by mentioning the salisbury steak and casserole. As they presented it, it's hard to know who this might rationally appeal to culinarily, economically or in the name of efficiency.

Or maybe it is an essentially bad idea and will go the way of the restaurant salad bar (not to be confused with the Korean salad bars I loved in Philly) . . .

Like on That Seventies Show when Red takes Kitty to a new restaurant with a salad bar and tells the waiter that she could make her own salad at home if that's the way it's going to work.

Posted by zp at April 5, 2006 11:41 AM

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