There’s a common misperception out there that it is cheaper and easier to eat crappy, mass produced supermarket foods than to eat high quality, hand-prepared meals with fresh top-quality ingredients. Kraft dinner and wieners may not excite the taste buds very much, but after a long day’s work and with several more meals to go before pay day, it provides an easy and apparently inexpensive option. Healthy, gourmet quality meals, on the other hand, mean lots of dollars spent at specialty food stores and hours of prep work in the kitchen.
Well, as the blues singer once said, it ain’t necessarily so. Remember that there is no such thing as a free meal. When you’re buying processed foods prepared in a factory, you’re inevitably paying for the cost of the employees, the buildings, the equipment, the liability insurance, etc., etc., not to mention the big fat profit cheques for the corporation’s board of directors. The way you’re paying for it is through massively inferior ingredients, including more chemicals than you really want to think about, as well as poor wages for the workers, and many other ethical and environmental concerns.
When you buy organic fruits, vegetables, pastas and grains, and handcrafted artisan cheeses and meats, on the other hand, your grocery dollars are going toward supporting diversity of food sources and environmentally sustainable production methods – which may or may not be a big deal to you. But consider that you are also getting a product that tastes far better than the Frankenfood alternatives, is better for you, and could even save you money. The saving money part comes in because, with the higher quality flavours your taste buds are receiving, you need only use a very small amount of these ingredients. A thin slice of a three or five year aged white cheddar from Quebec, placed on a chunk of baguette with some real mayonnaise and perhaps some green onion, is a far more tasty alternative to a thick chunk of some supermarket cheese that tastes as flavourless as a block of wax.
Last night for dinner I dug out my friend Dina’s favourite pasta recipe. It’s a sauce called puttanesca, which apparently translates as night pasta because it was apparently a favourite of Neapolitan prostitutes, who found it a quick and easy source of food energy to keep them going through the busy night. Like most pasta sauces, the exact ingredients and quantities are flexible, but it involves simmering some fresh tomatoes (from the garden, if possible, but don’t worry about it if not), some anchovies or capers (or both), black olives, lots of basil, and at least six or seven cloves of crushed garlic in about a third of a cup of good olive oil. It takes all of fifteen minutes to prepare – just enough time to boil the linguine, spaghetti or fettucini – and feeds a family of four for maybe five or six dollars. Less than the price of a cardboard-tasting boxed pizza with God knows what sorts of nauseating ingredients.
I have a file of cheap, easy meals and delicious meals that I refer to on a regular basis. If anybody out there has anything along these lines to share, I would love to hear about it.