The convenience of cooking at home
Mark Bittman always strikes me as a mellow kind of writer, passionate about his issues but slow to anger. So I was surprised to read his angry response to McDonald’s introducing oatmeal as part of the “pretend we have healthy food” thing they do. As you imagine, the oatmeal is no such thing. It’s got a bunch of funky ingredients, of course, but more than that, it’s loaded with sugar, fat, and calories. You probably would be better off getting the Sausage McMuffin, because at least you aren’t sucking down a bunch of sugar. (Or maybe you are. I wouldn’t be surprised.) It’s certainly not cheaper than real oatmeal, which is like the cheapest food ever, and Bittman covers that at length. But what really teed Bittman off was the suggestion that getting oatmeal from McDonald’s is easier or more convenient than making it yourself:
Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).
If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.
It’s an interesting question, and one that led me to start the CSA blogging—the difference between perceived convenience and actual convenience. A lot of people think cooking is harder and more time-consuming than it really is, and that belief is something the food industry cultivates because they want you to waste you time putting on your shoes and waiting for them to feed you, instead of feeding yourself. One reason I really got into cooking is perversely that I’m busy and always strapped for time. I found, through trial and error, that as long as I keep my kitchen stocked, it’s just a lot less time to cook than to eat out, even at fast food restaurants. It’s one reason I’ll never, ever understand people who say they buy most of their coffee from coffee shops because it’s “quicker”. Look, it takes the clerk as much time to make your one cup of latte as it would take you to make a whole pot, even if you grind your own beans. Believe me; I’m a time fascist, and I’ve measured. Add to that the travel time, waiting in line, and ordering, and it’s at least double the time and effort, and maybe triple to go to Starbucks. Even in New York, where everything is delivered, I’m often too impatient to wait for deliveries. I find myself waiting and thinking, “I could have cooked it by now,” and yet I often still end up phoning in deliveries when cooking would have been faster.
I don’t blame anyone for this. I think we’ve just been marketed to death into thinking eating out is more convenient that eating in. But what would it take to get people to move towards realizing that having a well-stocked kitchen is cheaper and more convenient than eating out?