Not long ago, I opened one of my mother’s often used Culinary Art Institute’s Encyclopedic Cookbook. In it are plenty of recipes that our family enjoyed over the years, some with hand-written modifications of measurements or ingredients that made a recipe either more palatable or economical to make. A handful of duds which failed to please anyone secured notes in the margins like “Yuk!” or “Too spicy.”
The cookbook includes a number of my favorites that I’ll have to hunt for when conjuring up ideas for meals that I’ve forgotten I liked.
The treasure exists in the meal planning section.
Weekly meal plans delineated by age group stun by today’s standards. Looking at them now brings me to hysterics.
I’m talking the sort of laughter that can be described as hearty guffaws, tears-streaming-down-the-face, side aching, belly laughing, gasping for air, wheezing and unable to breathe for fifteen minutes solid. I cannot imagine trying to tempt today’s preschool child with Thursday’s menu.
So how did we collectively drift so far away from eating the variety of foods that help our bodies to be well-nourished? Why were we asleep at the wheel as food production morphed from fresh, locally sourced meats, legumes, and fruits into prepackaged, processed globs served up in rectangular containers?
Our quest for variety caused us to stretch globally, so much so that the local sources once well-known to us became replaced by barely identifiable, sugared, salted, genetically altered food, covered in corn syrup and poisoned with insecticides, or as Stick Chick once put it:
What the hell happened to my watermelon seeds?
Where are the vibrant red tomatoes in sizes varying from a child’s fist to a softball, dripping with juices and meaty, sweet and delicious even without refrigeration? Why, in stores the size of football fields can one locate scant selections of high-priced organic, non-GMO foods where biodegradable package designs trump the standard?
The drift began sometime during the late 1960s and early 1970s. I think it coincided with the change and expansion of women’s roles; those who added “career in industry or business” to their list of accomplishments along with raising children, cooking, cleaning and coordinating all of the things that make a home function successfully. Some women felt their skills and intelligence were underutilized and held aspirations beyond the home. Most were disproportionately dependent on men for financial support.
I don’t see the changes as places upon which to assign blame; rather they resulted in unintended consequences and probably hastened innovation.
With television finding mainstream popularity, TV dinners allowed people to enjoy complete meals. Cooked and served in divided pewter trays, the dinners allowed a convenient way for people to take food directly from freezer to oven and to have a hot meal on the table in short order.
As it became more the norm for women to work outside the home, the food industry responded accordingly. Convenience compensated for lost meal preparation time. The introduction of the kitchen microwave dramatically reduced meal cooking time and “they” assured that microwave operation (with certain caveats) posed no danger to us.
Metals such as tin foil create a fire hazard (to wit, another story but I’ll not digress) and potential for electrical short, so the introduction of plastics provided an alternative. The average user never questioned the use of plastic, or if they did, their inquiries were either dismissed or squelched in favor of convenience.
If the collective “we” had given it serious thought, we might have asked whether off gasses from heated plastics might create new hazards in our homes each and every day. To shed a little light on any complex subject, I look to a simplistic description. I learned that a 1951 innovation, the creation of polypropylene and polyethylene AKA plastic, changed the world as I knew it.
According to www.reachoutmichigan.org, the route taken in the petroleum-to-plastics process goes like this:
Petroleum -> refined -> ethane and propane -> apply high temp -> ethylene and propylene -> combine with catalyst resulting in “fluff,” a powdered polymer -> additives -> extruded and melted -> cooled and made into pellets -> shipped to manufacturers -> produce plastic products using processes such as extrusion, injection molding, blow molding, etc.
There are so many variables within this process that it seems impossible and implausible to definitively declare all plastics “safe” for human use.
While I’ll shy from venturing wild guesses, it would not surprise me in the least if “we” found at least some causality in cases of autism, cancer or other physical ills. I’d be curious to know if anyone ever studied whether the increased incidences of any of these diseases in the general population coincide with microwave use specifically as it relates to plastics when compared with persons who have little or no access to them (assuming there were few enough variables to isolate them as potential causes.)
Anyway, if (and this is a BIG if) we gradually shifted to a diet of only homemade meals from menus like those included in the cookbook in order to achieve a conversion to a permanent diet of unprocessed, home-cooked meals instead of processed chicken nuggets, corn syrup laden breads, high sodium microwave meals, and iceberg lettuce salads, would we be better served?
If you can successfully convince any 4-year-old that you know to have Tuesday’s Liver and Potato Pie, well, please accept my deepest of curtsies and hat’s off to you.