I found this newsletter from UCLA Alumni to be a fascinating look at dinner behaviors in Los Angeles. There’s much to be harvested from the piece, but there’s two points that I want to highlight:
With almost all of the home-cooked meals, families served some sort of packaged convenience food. Frozen entrées (such as stir-fry mixes, potstickers, chicken dishes and barbecued ribs) were the most popular products, followed by vegetables (canned or frozen), specialty breads (ready-to-eat, parbaked or from mix), canned soup and commercial pasta sauce. Beck did not consider dried pasta and tortillas to be convenience foods, but she did count bagged salads and hot dogs.
Surprisingly, dinner didn’t get on the table any faster in homes that favored convenience foods. Meals took an average of 52 minutes in total time to prepare. The difference in the total amount of time expended was not statistically significant between meals involving extensive use of convenience foods (with such foods making up 50% or more of a meal) and more limited use of such items (between 20 and 50%).
In fact, families saved only when it came to the amount of hands-on time spent preparing dishes — and the savings were relatively modest.
What I think this means is either people really don’t want to cook, don’t know how to cook, or simply don’t wish to deal with the hassles that cooking entails (grocery stores, expenses for additional ingredients, cleaning the kitchen).
The article tries to extrapolate some meaning from these findings as well:
“Some people don’t fight the fight of getting the kids to eat what’s being served for dinner,” she said. “The kids frequently got entirely separate entrees or separate items from the adults, so that adds to the overall complexity of the meal.”
But the demands of serving as short-order cook only partially explained heavy reliance on commercially prepared foods. Other contributors seemed to include taste buds increasingly shaped by the food industry and dwindling reliance on grocery lists, Beck said.
Okay, the kids thing I sorta understand, although if I had a child, they’d have to deal with pot roast and asparagus from time to time. But hey, it’s easy to judge.
The scariest item is that we’re allowing the food industry shape our tastes. For the life of me I cannot fathom why some folks think that Hamburger Helper and Ragu Spaghetti Sauce are “good enough” let alone “good”. But again, not being responsible for the feeding of a family, there are variables that I’m likely missing.