Friday, January 28, 2011

Never Buy in a Store, Part 1

There are plenty of foodstuffs I would never consider making from scratch. Philo dough pops immediately to mind. The techniques required are too complex, the ingredients are too hard to find, and/or it would take just too damn long. However, for the past thirty years or so, advertizing has turned all cooking into an unholy inconvenience, making all food that requires preparation beyond “peel skin off banana” not worth your time. Like so much in this world, the problem is not that there is processed food, but that processed food dominates the market, even when the those foods don't actually save that much time. Simply put, there are some foods whose from-scratch preparation is so quick and easy, they might as well be “Open and serve.” One should never, as far as never goes, buy these from the store. Food number one in this category: guacamole.

The hardest and most time consuming aspect of making guacamole is extracting the avocado flesh. If you've never done it before, it can be intimidating, but that's what the internet is for.

At most, extracting the flesh of a couple avocados will take you five minutes or so, but it will take less time each time you do it. Then you mash up the avocado with some salt and lemon juice. Then you dip your chips in it. That's it. Watching your salt intake? Add less salt. Like a little heat in your dips? Add some cayenne pepper. By making it yourself you have complete control over the product. Furthermore, guacamole in the “wild” doesn't have much of a shelf life. I mean, if you delay in adding the lemon juice, the guacamole will go brown on your quickly (still edible just doesn't look as good). This means that something must be done to it, in order for it travel from wherever it was manufactured to the grocery store and then sit there long enough for someone to buy it. I'm not saying that anything dangerous is done or that you are automatically going to get cancer or autism or whatever from the preservatives, but I will say that none of those techniques and preservatives have flavor in mind. Your guacamole will absolutely taste better than anything bought at the store.

Some food takes a long time to prepare and buying processed versions of them can make sense. Furthermore, there are plenty of “processed foods” whose process is fairly mild. But with guacamole, and the other foods I'll mention in this ongoing essay series, at most, you save five minutes. And the better you get at dispatching the avocado, the less time store bought will save you. As I've cooked more, I've found more and more foods that aren't much harder to make at home than to buy from the store, and the homemade stuff is almost always cheaper and tastier.

At some point in our nation's history cooking turned into an inherent inconvenience. It's not that certain techniques are challenging, or certain dishes require specialized hardware, or certain foods demand lengthy efforts, but that all cooking is a hassle. (Don't worry, there's a big essay about how we got to this place in the works, or maybe, worry, there's a big essay about how we got to this place in the works.) Our ability to differentiate between “inconvenient” and “requires some effort” has been advertized out of us. The problem, then, is not picking up some guacamole on your way to the party because you forget to make some at home, but our attitude towards cooking in general.

We have a long way to go to free ourselves of this fetish for convenience. The real goal is not to always make everything from scratch all the time, but to get to a point where the convenience of a store bought food is a real value and not just a way to avoid the inconvenience of cooking at home. It's so that you feel positive when you throw something in the microwave and not a sense of obligation. We have a long way to go to reach that world, but it could certainly start with your homemade guacamole.

1 comment:

  1. I never particularly liked guacamole until I made it myself--once I'd had home made, I fell in love. I use lime instead of lemon, and add a hefty dose of fresh garlic though.

    I've gone on this same rant myself--I'm utterly baffled by instant oatmeal. Real oatmeal takes literally five minutes to make, and is enormously superior to instant in both flavor and texture.