Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"convenience" food

The other day on Sue's website there was a spirited discussion (and I'll admit, I started it!) about convenience foods. Related thoughts have been running around in my head since then so I thought I would write a bit about my feelings on convenience foods here.

The food in question was Swiss Chalet chicken. My thought: ick. I posted something to that effect, saying a home-roasted, organic free-range chicken would be soooo much tastier. Someone else said sure, but it's nowhere near as convenient. (I think that's arguable, given how little time it takes to prep a chicken for the oven, but ok...)

So the problem du jour is, is convenience a justifiable rationale for a food choice? I think that's debatable, but it depends on the food. I guess a better question is, is convenience a justifiable rationale for a food choice that's bad in pretty much every other way? (ie, nutrition, general ethics.)

Last night I experimented with this idea. We are getting ready for a camping trip and I was tired and didn't feel like cooking much, so I stopped by the deli counter at Thrifty's. I picked up 2 chicken legs, some macaroni salad, some marinated veggies and some greek baked beans. So, not terribly heinous choices, nutrition-wise. It couldn't have been any faster, since I had to pick up some groceries anyway. And it was relatively inexpensive. But was it worth it?

Well, the chicken was god-awful. Cooked the right amount, I'll give them that, but the skin was too salty, the flesh completely tasteless, and it was tough and chewy to boot. Bleh. The macaroni salad tasted good for the first few bites and then left a nasty, almost metallic aftertaste that required significant dosing with potato chips to banish. The vegetables were fine, nothing to complain about but nothing to be excited about either. The greek baked beans were initially tasty, but the sauce got too strong the more I ate them, although I did like the dill in them.

I would not make that choice again, I think. Even with nutrition out of the picture, I still don't think I could justify doing that sort of damage to my tastebuds for the sake of convenience again. I will remember that, and I will remember that Stirling can always take chicken out of the freezer in the afternoon, and it takes about 5 minutes to chop up some rosemary, lemon zest and garlic, toss it with the chicken and throw it in the oven. And maybe then I could easily justify the "convenience" of forgoing a salad in favour of throwing some frozen peas in some water, and cooking white rice instead of brown because it's faster.

Now, as for people who justify eating at McDonald's because it's convenient, that's just complete crap. I'm not going to get into that.

I guess the lesson for the day is that there are three factors in every decision: cheap, fast and good. With food, as with most other things in life, the most you will get is 2 out of 3. Personally, I will opt for any combination that includes "good", but good also has to encompass taste AND nutrition. So there will be no more deli-counter meals for me (except maybe from La Collina. Which is not cheap.)


Blogger Sue said...

Let it be stated for the record that I don't eat Swiss Chalet because it's convenient. In fact, it's damned inconvenient because it takes an hour to arrive. It's also nowhere near as cheap as getting my own bird and tossing it in the oven. I like Swiss Chalet purely for nostalgic purposes. I also only eat it about once a year, because it's hella salty and fatty. It sure beats the crap outta KFC, however.

But as to the matter of taste in this post of yours... I think we all develop standards of what we like to eat. Your lifestyle choice is to cook a lot of food for yourself, and you betcha that's going to taste better (esp. cuz you're a kickass cook) than anything prepared in mass quantities. You also ENJOY cooking at home, more than a lot of people do, I'd say. So for you, there's no doubt that "convenience" foods are a drastic step down in quality and cost.

For me? Some things at Thrifty's are good. Some things aren't. In my case, the food I get from the deli is usually a more nutritious choice than what I might pick up at a fast food restaurant. On nights when I have rowing practice and Artos runs, and a home-cooked meal simply isn't in the cards, then eating deli-cooked food is my best option.

3:49 PM  

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