We Don’t Need to Be Saved From Making Smoothies

Food delivery services have tried to convince us that cooking is a difficult, boring task. It’s actually a life skill.

By David Tamarkin

Mr. Tamarkin is an editor at Epicurious and a cookbook author.

May 30, 2019

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Every year I spend an entire month cooking everything I eat from scratch — all my breakfasts, all my lunches, all my dinners. This is not a new idea; for many generations, this used to be known simply as “life.” Yet every time I attempt regular, daily cooking, the constellation of popular meal delivery companies I like to call the Prepared Food Industrial Complex conspires to stop me.

They come for my smoothies. I make one almost every morning, a process that takes about 10 minutes. But the P.F.I.C. says I wasted my time — I could have received my smoothie in the mail! It would have arrived as a disposable cup filled with frozen fruit that I would have had to blend myself, but still, think of the trees I would have killed, or, um, the time I would have saved!

I can’t wrap my head around a smoothie that comes in the mail. The Prepared Food Industrial Complex says that’s O.K. — I can get a bagel delivered instead. The $17 billion- a-year food delivery market is very flexible and well-intentioned like that. All these companies want to do is give me my life back by keeping me out of the kitchen — more time for YouTube, more time for CrossFit — and they’ve created myriad ways to do so.

But the not-very-secret truth about the P.F.I.C. is that some of these services don’t save any time at all, and all of them exaggerate the time and effort cooking involves.

In fact, much of the P.F.I.C. pushes the idea that any time and anyeffort put into cooking is a waste. The goal, one meal kit company declares, is “saving time to make time — for everything else you want to do.” (Just so long as what you want to do isn’t “cook from scratch.”) Another meal kit service praises mail-order smoothies as a life-changing idea because there’s “no time to research, prep, buy, measure and blend before work.” (Are we still talking smoothies here? Because this sounds more like assembling a chair from Ikea.)

A few years ago the restaurant delivery service Seamless ran ads that advised New Yorkers to “cook when you’re dead … or living in Westchester.” The implication was that unless you’re rich and old, cooking is a waste of time and energy, and suffers from a serious lack of cachet.

It’s true that the rich have it easier when it comes to cooking. One of the major injustices inflicted on low-income people is the many barriers to home cooking: unreliable work schedules, lack of access to grocery stores, small kitchens lacking basic equipment. Maybe one day the Prepared Food Industrial Complex will develop a meal kit aimed at these cooks, an affordable box of groceries that takes away the burden of grocery shopping and results in lots of cheap, delicious dinners.

But right now, the P.F.I.C. is targeting people with plenty of disposable income, and they’re charging roughly $32 for every dinner for four. All in the name of “saving time.”

But shouldn’t I spend time cooking? I’m lucky enough to have several hours of free time in my week. To spend some of that gathering and preparing food seems less like a choice and more like a smart move for survival. Do we ask people how they find the time to drink water? How they find the time to chew? (Actually, an executive at that smoothie company is probably asking somebody that question right now. )

After the first time I cooked all my meals at home for a month, I realized that the premise that the Prepared Food Industrial Complex is based on is wrong on every level. Cooking is not an annoying, worthless time-suck. It’s therapy. And anyway, the more I cooked, the faster cooking became — Thursday’s leftover tomato sauce would become Saturday’s shakshuka. With just a minimum of planning, the other supposed inconveniences of cooking also disappeared: a bare-bones meal plan eliminated the question of what’s for dinner, and a big weekly shopping trip meant that I never have to stop at the store on the way home from work.

People who cook at home are conclusively healthier, consuming less sodium and fewer overall calories than people who mostly eat out. Cooking at home is better for the planet: it avoids the single-use plastics and paper goods that delivered food usually comes with, and with just a bit of creativity with leftovers, home cooking can be entirely free of food waste. Cooking is being studied as a promising tool for improving mental health, and even as a method for eliminating unhealthy behaviors such as smoking. And no matter what restaurant you order in from, there’s always a home-cooked meal that can be made for less money.

Do I cook at home every day of the year? No. I love the burger at my favorite bistro too much to do that. But there is no reason I’ll ever not make my own damn smoothies. Because we do not need to be saved from the smoothie. When we plan and chop and blend that smoothie ourselves, the smoothie saves us.

David Tamarkin is the site director of Epicurious and the author of “COOK90: The 30-Day Plan for Faster, Healthier, Happier Meals.”

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/30/opinion/sunday/food-delivery-home-cooking.html

Elizabeth Zuckerman