Tastes Like Chicken

At my workplace, we only have one microwave, and it only has one hamster on a wheel to power it (or so it seems), so heating one’s lunch can be a bit of an adventure. It’s also down two hallways and a flight of stairs from my cube, so my heated lunch usually passes several other people on its trip back to my space. The most frequent comment I get is, “That looks healthy!” This past week, for example, my lunch for two days running was some of the carrot soup mixed with a little milk; a wad of spinach from the farm share; some mushroom risotto that a coworker brought for me; and some cheese (because cheese goes with everything, IMHO)–all mixed up together, with the cheese kind of melty on top. The resulting mix was bright green and bright orange, and it did, in fact, look “healthy,” and it tasted pretty awesome. Another day I substituted frozen squash gnocchi with kale from a month or so ago for the risotto, and that was good, too. Today it was spinach, carrot soup, and some leftover carrots, roasted beets, and onions from Saturday’s dinner, with some gruyere. (It was supposed to have a homemade whole wheat soft pretzel, too, but I got hungry and ate that before lunchtime.)

It wasn’t what we’re taught to think of as a meal, though–it was cobbled together from what I had around, either in the fridge or the freezer, and it featured bits and pieces of this and that. These lunch piles often make me wonder how much of people’s eating habits are determined by expectations. If, in your head, lunch = a sandwich, or lunch = a portion of last night’s dinner, or a bowl of soup, or a sub sandwich, or a frozen entree of some kind, or tacos, or whatever else, then my piles of veggies and leftovers and cheese aren’t going to look like lunch to you–though it may well look “healthy”–and it won’t satisfy your lunch desires.

The reverse is true, too. Lunch, for me, is the aforementioned pile, so a bag of fast food holds no appeal. And I’ve been puzzling over that for awhile. It’s not that I’m a morally or culinarily superior being, and, really, the very last thing I want to do is give the impression that I think I am. This article, though, helped crystalize some of what I’ve been thinking, and, as a result, I blame my mother. In a good way.

The article is fascinating, but hardly surprising: the people who sell packaged foods find ways to encourage people to eat more of it, by engineering the sugar, salt, and fat content, as well as the appearance and “experience” of eating it. Or, in the case of the pre-packaged lunch things, the experience of both the person–kid–eating it and the person buying it, likely the mother. When I was a kid (in the 1960s and 1970s), a lot of this stuff didn’t exist yet, but my mother wouldn’t have purchased it if it did. She thought that stuff was not terribly good for us–high in salt, sugar, nitrates, etc., and low in nutritional value. (She even looked for packaged bread that had fewer additives.) In addition, my mother can stretch a dollar well past what you thought was its breaking point: we would buy fruit and vegetables in bulk during the summer and then can and freeze them, or my mother would buy meat when it was on sale and then freeze it. We had a separate standing freezer, and my mother made very good use of it.

We also didn’t have a lot of junk food. We might have cookies, pretzels, or potato chips around, but not much of it, and we almost never had soda around. When we did, it was A-Treat brand, not from the big soda manufacturers. We drank milk at dinner, or iced tea in the summer, brewed in a beige and dark brown pottery pitcher. The point is, I didn’t develop the taste for the salt/sugar/fat concoctions that would make me regard them fondly. My food memories are of home-cooked meals. I suppose that means it’s not surprising that packaged foods don’t have much appeal for me, or that a pile of vegetables and leftovers looks more like lunch to me than does a pile of french fries and a fast-food sandwich.

I’ve also tried to unpack the social, cultural, political, and economic parts (and privileges) as best I can, and I can see at least a few of the pieces that go into it. I’m not going to put them all in this post, but I’ll pick them apart in some upcoming posts.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a vision of Saturday night’s dinner, nearly all of which was grown locally, in Wisconsin: garlic chicken; brown rice; and a vegetable medley of roasted beets, onions, and carrots. Basically, everything except the rice, olive oil, salt, and butter came from the CSA farm, and the butter might have been from Wisconsin as well. (The chicken was a separate purchase rather than part of the share, but it was from the farm.) The chicken was based in part on this recipe, but (a) I took the skin off of some of the meat but not all of it, (b) I got impatient and didn’t remember the recipe, so I cooked the chicken in some of the liquid, and (c) I didn’t sear the meat enough for my tastes. When I make it again–and oh, I will–I will remove all of the skin, sear the meat a bit more, and be a little more patient, but the softened garlic was mush-able and spreadable, and was just awesome. And? It actually tasted like chicken. Really good, really garlicky chicken.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mary
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 21:45:53

    so talking about packaged food – I was just watching a PBS piece on garbage and how we produce it, transport it (crazy isn’t it – wasting energy to move garbage to contaminate another space), process it, etc…..and of course the environmental impact. So another topic to add to your list – garbage and the environmental impact of our food choices (can you tell by now I’m reading all the blogs at one time??!!??)


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