Thursday, March 8, 2012
Buying Food: The Motion Picture
Welcome to 1950! This lovely Young Americans film (from archive.org, a site you really should be familiar with) details how to spend your time and money wisely while in a grocery store. Yes, there are the unintentionally funny moments, but the basic information is still pretty good. Avoid impulse buys, understand labels, buy bulk according to what you can use and store, these aren't bad lessons for any of us to take away from this short film.
One of the things that fascinates me is that this film talks about the difference between three different grades of food available for sale. To see cheaper Grade "C" tomatoes for sale--"just as nuitritious, but more broken up"--just made me think "Wow! Cheaper tomatoes for saucing!"
My mother grew up on this type of home economics information, and you could see how it informed her cooking for the rest of her life. There were a lot of less expensive cuts of meat prepared according to recipes from magazines and cheap cookbooks over the years. (I wish I had her copy of the Mennonite Cookbook from back in the early sixties!) Fish was only prepared when we caught it or when her wise-ass son (yes, me) stumbled on a recipe he wanted to try. Roasts were reserved for Sunday or special occasions. Ground beef was a staple.
Growing up this way has given me a lasting appreciation for what I call "subsistence" or "Bachelor" cooking; the kind of cooking done with a mix of prepared, frozen, and fresh ingredients. Ramen noodles with a handful of frozen diced veg tossed in. 15-minute chili made from canned beans, both spiced and plain. Meatloaf that's more filler than meat, but still feeds you two or three times. Lord knows, I respect Jamie Oliver, but it's not always possible to do the best you can in the kitchen. The goal, as I see it, is to try and do better than takeaway more often than not, and for less money.
Food is a lot of things; cultural signifier, social lubricant, palate tickler. But cooking happens three times a day, 365 days a year, and sometimes it's just a chore you have to do when you're tired and hungry. And that's a good reason to have a well-stocked pantry for those days when you just want to eat and sleep.