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Message to Food Editors: What 30-Minute Meals Really Mean

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I can honestly say I've never gotten more mileage out of the word bullshit than I did last week at the IACP conference in Portland, Oregon. But I have to clarify that when I called bullshit, I wasn't responding to Karen Page personally--she was simply voicing what everyone seems to believe and propagate: that we all lead such busy lives that we have no time to cook.

To repeat: bullshit. Maybe you don't like to cook, maybe you're too lazy to cook, maybe you'd rather watch television or garden, I don't know and I don't care, but don't tell me you're too busy to cook. We all have the same hours every day, and we all choose how to use them. Working 12-hour days is a choice.

Tell me, do you ever hear this? "You know, this month, I really wished I'd had more time, because I believe in paying taxes. I was just too busy." Or, "I've got this cancer on my forehead but I've just been too busy to have it removed." Or, "You know how hard it is to get your kid into kindergarten in Manhattan; if only I weren't been so busy."

We don't blow that stuff off, do we? But the processed food companies make it easy to blow off cooking for ourselves. And we do so at our peril. This is why I responded to Karen as I did. America is too stupid to question whether something is good for it or not ("Marge, it says snack well right on the box!"). And in the very same way we believe that idiocy, we believe these very same companies telling us how wonderful our lives will be if we buy this low-fat Lean Cuisine because it will save us so much time, only 3 minutes! Used to take seven! You've got four extra minutes to play with!

This is not a judgment against people who eat Lean Cuisines. If you're happy eating them and life couldn't be better for you, I'm not going to say a word. I just don't want to hear it's because you don't have the time to cook real food.

Since the food industry began, they've been pushing for faster and faster cooking times--that's what they were selling, not food you enjoy or that makes you feel good. That's what they want people to value. For decades, not only have the multinational food corporations been selling us speed, so have the media. The media embraced it. "That's what people want!" argue editors and publishers I've spoken with.

Magazines, newspapers, and television shows bombard us with quick and easy meals. Have been for decades. Have we gotten any better, any happier, any healthier? Some people have. But not because they learned how to spend less time cooking. It's likely because they learned to spend more time cooking. And the rest of the country has only gotten fatter, sicker and sadder, to the point that the government feels it needs to step in and regulate the food.

Part of the problem is the magazine editors and television producers drumming us over the head with fast and easy meal solutions at home. It's the wrong message to send. These editors and producers and publishers are backing the processed food industry, propelling their message. What I say to you magazine editors and producers, to you Rachael Ray and you Jamie Oliver and your 20 minutes meals: God bless you, but you are advertising and marketing on behalf of the processed food industry.

Quick, fast, and easy isn't the point. Good is the point. Makes you feel good is the point. I am not saying spend three hours making a chicken galantine. I am saying put a chicken the oven with some cut up potatoes for an hour. Yes, a whole hour! If you're inclined to enjoy some carnal exertions with your partner during that hour, that chicken will be all the more appreciated. But if there's laundry to be done, if there are kids who need help with their geometry, then do that. (Need specifics on roasting? They're at the end of this post.)

In an hour, all who are eating, help set the table, fill some glasses, take out the plates. Make the time. In the same way that you make time to buy shoes for the kids, clean the bathroom, pay your bills--make time to be together over food that makes you feel good when you've finished eating it. Quick and easy won't get you anywhere. Quick and easy will only frustrate you and make you feel like you're failing. You want quick and easy? That's what take-out's for. Nothing wrong with it. Pizza, I love to come home with a couple beautiful pies from Marotta's down the street and open a nice bottle of wine.

But I know for a fact that spending at least a few days a week preparing food with other people around, enjoying it together, is one of the best possible things in life to do, period. It's part of what makes us human. It makes us happy in ways that are deep and good for us. Fast and easy has nothing to do with it.

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