Semi-home cooking

Thanks, NY Times, for this image.

Thanks, NY Times, for this image.

I am still figuring out what I think about this story from yesterday’s NY Times food section. In a nutshell, it’s about online companies that sell you “dinner kits”—which contain all the ingredients, in just the right amounts, plus recipes, to make dinners from scratch.

My knee-jerk reaction was that the great Laura Shapiro, quoted, had gotten it exactly right: that it infantilized the cook, reinforcing the idea that somehow measuring out ingredients was just too hard and had to be outsourced to someone who knew better (most kits still require some chopping and prepping, so saved labor can’t be the only motivation). I was further disgusted by a quote from John Leeman, marketing director for Fresh Direct (although to be fair, he was quoting a customer): that “heating food up night after night is not what a mom does…That’s no better than taking them to McDonald’s.”

Those are fighting words, dear reader. I might cook from scratch regularly—I have the training, the time, and the interest—but to put this pressure on people, particularly women and moms, is gross to me. This implies the motivation for using such kits comes from guilt and expectation, sort of like when cake mixes were first invented and housewives didn’t like that you only needed to add water, because they felt stripped of the creative aspect of baking. Somehow requiring them to add eggs, and later, maybe a little oil, fixed the problem, as we can tell from the enduring popularity of cake mixes; and perhaps letting you do the cooking with these otherwise-outsourced dinner kits provides something satisfying, but I don’t like the idea that they exist just to help us live up to some 1950s ideal. I say, use the cake mix, or cook from the dinner kit, because you’re crunched for time, think it might be fun, or whatever, but not because you have some sort of guilt about not behaving the way a parent or woman or whatever is supposed to.

But all this is almost beside the point. I think the question I’m interested in is, will this take off? Is this a passing trend or a wave of the future? I suppose one way to look at the kits optimistically is that they are simply another way of teaching someone how to cook a dish—I know it’s impractical to cook from a cookbook on a weeknight when time is tight. Maybe after a few rounds of making that beef tagine, you’ll know how to do it yourself, without relying on a kit. Then again, lots of the companies seem to embrace novelty, so a subscription that gets you several kits a week might never repeat a dish. I’ll tell you this—you won’t find me using such a kit, even though I darn well might reheat some store-bought soup or a frozen pizza. For me, the solution, when time is tight, is not finding a faster way to make seared cod with yuzu butter (although that does sound good, doesn’t it?). It’s just making simpler stuff. There is no shame in just making dinner of a plain roasted piece of fish or quick pasta.

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