Monday, March 29, 2010

Recipes overanalyzed

Let me be clear. I say this as someone who bases many meals on pasta and even a good number on legumes, but are these not the most depressing, dreary-sounding (Puritanical?) recipes ever published? Yes, we've all heard a thousand times that no one's so poor as to need to eat fast food, because OMG lentils. Haven't The Poor heard of lentils?

My point, however, is less about the patronizing genre of Dear Poors, They're Called Beans, You're Welcome, than it is about the smugger-still I-know-what-real-poor-people-are-like one-upmanship in the comments at the Well blog. Rather than faulting these particular recipes for making any reader with taste buds crave a plate of fries (is it just me?), commenters are outraged that "budget" recipes include ingredients other than beans. Who would have the audacity to include olive oil in a recipe meant to be inexpensive? Sure, olive oil, unless you're getting the fancy stuff or using it as a base for soup or a beverage or who knows, adds a few cents per meal. But gosh doesn't it sound snooty! Let's make the yuppie food writer behind the recipe feel bad about not knowing what it's like outside her arugula-filled bubble! Privilege! And not white beans, that known caviar equivalent! How dare anyone suggest that beans are an appropriate ingredient for a budget recipe!

Once we've established that peanut butter is in fact foie gras, I want to know, what's accomplished?

/rant

Seriously, though, I'm not sure what intervention is going to make Americans - yes, including yuppies, whose healthy eating is highly exaggerated - stop eating crap. I suspect that I could rewrite these recipes to make them somewhat more edible-sounding (hint: don't pile broccoli on top of pasta; add a whole lot of olive oil, cheese, garlic, and, blood pressure permitting, salt to absolutely everything; and don't even start with something called "cabbage and bean soup" if you want meals to be something you look forward to), and that other home cooks could do the same. But would this make any difference? Do I ever cook anything (baking not included) that wouldn't sound like cabbage and bean soup to someone used to takeout?

And I don't see where the NYT is going wrong, promoting meals designed more for broke, faux-broke, or just plain cheap yuppies than for those trying to make ends meet in Palin country. Because who's benefiting from these things if not people who are only now realizing that four advanced degrees in Obscure Studies interspersed with extended finding-oneself traveling leaves one highly knowledgeable about where to get cumin and less so about how to pay for non-bean-based meals? If the recipes could acknowledge this a bit more openly, and admit that they're for people who have heard of but can't afford or would rather not pay for the absolute priciest ingredients, that might be a first step. (There are few foods not improved by the addition of a bit of $12/lb. bucherondin, but goat cheese...) As the recipes stand, they hover in a bland no-man's-land between SWPL and that town Jamie Oliver recently invaded. Nothing too 'gourmet', because then the NYT's being elitist, but nothing with even the potential to sway anyone from chicken nuggets.

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