Thursday, March 4, 2010

COOKING FROM SCRATCH - simple living’s body blow to the recession*

George Herbert said it best: "Living well is the best revenge". Perhaps as we struggle in this current recession we must look to older ways to deal with life. Maybe we cannot go to our favorite vacation spot; electronic gadgets may need to remain window shopping daydreams. Our cars and shoes may have to last a little longer than usual. We must find better ways to live. But, there is no reason we should not find some silver lining even in this storm. Because we cannot afford to go out to expensive restaurant meals does not mean we must settle for pre packaged factory food. For generations, eating a meal meant eating something prepared in your own kitchen. People started with simple fresh ingredients and used their own hands to craft meals that nourished body and soul for generations.

Cooking our meals from the basic ingredients is an answer to a million problems facing us today and it is an invitation to a million blessing in our lives. Cooking from scratch – saves money, reduces packaging, cuts corporate profits, provides better nutrition and reminds us that we can build value with our very own hands. In this time of worry and want, perhaps the best revenge is a well lived life. Cooking a great pot of soup may not resolve the debt crisis or crooked bankers but it an heirloom skill that will help to stretch our budgets while also increasing the value we receive from our food. Cooking from scratch is not just a simple living essential -it is a true cornucopia.

We need to take back to ourselves the idea than we can provide for ourselves. Perhaps it is true that total self sustenance make not spring forth from your first home made meal. But, at least some portion of our lives can come back into our hands. Every time we make a meal from items closer to the soil than a glossy full color box we have built ourselves up and torn down the web of wasteful consumerism that destroys the earth and farmers, while filling the corporate till. The food we eat from those boxes and plastic trays are filled with chemical, laden with synthetic ingredients and barren of full nutrition. Man cannot prosper on modified food. That includes modified soy – so put down those vegan freezer boxes and learn to make some barley loaf or eggplant stew.

Here is a litany of reasons why learning to cook meals from scratch will improve your life and make the world a better place.

1. Health. Meals made at home are made from ingredients you choose. You can put real sugar in your cookies, not high fructose corn syrup. You are in control of the process; you can select fresh, organic, seasonal, humane or other preferred ingredients. If you ever figured out how much salt and sugar there is in the average box meal you would faint. Let’s not even talk about the chicken in those frozen dinners. Plus industrial cooking destroys most of the micronutrients and vitamins in food.

2. Economy. Meals made at home cost a fraction of the cost of restaurant or prepackaged foods. Sure you may beat this with the dollar menu or canned ravioli. But if you are going that route = refer back to number 1. The savings are constant and they are real. You can save money and eat better – that’s a rare tradeoff.

3. Taste. Food made from scratch is tastier. The seasoning is more subtle or vibrant; the texture is fuller and more satisfying. It does not have to be a 5 course French meal. Chili made by hand is far better that from a can. You can individualize it to your own tastes. Like rich potato soup – add some butter. Like your vegetable soup with a kick – add some cayenne. You get the freedom to explore and develop your own tastes instead of the flavor some cost accountant at Swanson’s thought you would tolerate.

4. Relationships. Nothing brings people together like a meal and no meal is as worthy or praise as a meal made by the hands of someone you love. The preparation of food can be a bonding between people as well as the eating. Plus, once you start cooking from scratch you find that you yearn to share it with friends. I tell you - good lasagna can be the basis of a social renaissance.

5. Environment. Food made from scratch comes in far less packaging. You only bring home commercial paper and plastic once a week. The industrial process behind packaging scratch materials such as rice is far less that the elaborate full color, triple wrapped concoctions they use for processed items.

6. Justice. When you prepare foods from scratch you shift your money to those items from which farmers receive a greater share of the profits. Ideally, you will buy produce from a local farmer. But even the packaged and semi processed stuff from the store is more farmer friendly that a frozen dinner. Also, near and dear to my heart is the thought that you are not just helping to increase farm income – you are reducing corporate income by denying them the high profits of prepackaged items.

7. Confidence. Many of you will be saying “I love this idea – but I cannot cook:” Well, it is true you will need to learn to cook. But this is not a huge and complex undertaking. We learn hundreds of more complex tasks in our pursuit of business. So why not devote a little time to learning a skill that will keep more of your income in your pocket and help you enjoy it all at the same time? Once you make your first spaghetti dinner – it will come to you and as with all things confidence comes from practice. Do not give up because your first cake comes out of the oven looking like something dark and monstrous. If you gave up that quick with other life skills, where would you be?

8. Spirituality. I described confidence in terms of the business skills we all force ourselves to learn. But let’s consider the spiritual side. Cooking from scratch allows you to see the process from farm to plate instead of a financial transaction. Food is something people work for and nature provides for us. It is a blessing. Cooking your own food allows you to see our own interconnections with something greater than yourself. Now that is a side effect for more interesting that that funny copper taste you get from frozen kung pao.

9. Relaxing. With practice, you will develop confidence in your growing repertoire of skills and recipes. With some thought, you will perceive the web of live in your cooking. With time, you will develop a love of it. Once there, cooking ceases to be a hideous chore, or a waste of your time. It becomes a chance to reconnect with the real world, revel in your own talents, and share love with friends and family. Cooking will become a respite from the crazy pace of modern life and it will give you the chance to relax each and every day. You may miss Yoga because you had to stay late for that staff meeting or you had to run to the mall. But, you will find time to prepare a hot simple meal that night and it will bring you peace. What more do you want?

10. Self Sustainability. As you are learning to cook your own meals from start to finish, you will be doing more than eating better and cheaper. You will be building a real skill set that will reduce your reliance on an industrial society that is growing ever more fragile and morally bankrupt. You will take a small part of your life back into your own hands. Despite what the recession driven layoff may say about you or the contempt that the corporation view you with – you have produce value with your own hands. This can be a simple small step to help you survive the struggle. Or it can be the delivery of fire to Prometheus – from this one blow you may separate yourself further from the machine and become a person again and not a profit center in a consumerist machine.

11. Role Model. When you start this process, you will be doing more than just helping yourself. You will give your friends and family a powerful model of self-sufficiency. As people see that it can be done, more will try. As they see the benefits accrue to you they will want them for themselves. You can find yourself at the center of an expanding circle of people learning the simple skill of cooking.

12. Supports ethical choices. Home-cooking won’t immediately transform you into an eco warrior or a spokesman for fair trade, small farms, field labor, localism and farm ethics. But being connected to the basic process of life will provide you with a foundation for those ideas. You can think them all out while peeling potatoes in your own kitchen.

Well, there it is an even dozen reasons to break away from the industrialize food factory and begin to cook from scratch. Simple living can be many things but nothing defines it more that food made by your own hands. Cooking from scratch is an heirloom skill that needs to be reborn and it can start with you and it can start tonight. Go forth and change the world!

PS: In the next posts or two I will provide some easy ways to wean yourself from corporate food. Some basic recipes to replace things we have been addicted to like taco seasoning packets. Stay tuned.

* I say recession because "Great Depression" should be a fully copyrighted trademark of Goldman Sachs.


  1. I must say I agree greatly with all of your points, I've only really cooked one meal since I began my 'rehabilitation' but just that one, simple meal was very fun and liberating. I can't wait to try more and hopefully try some of your coming recipes! ^^


  2. I do not plan on doing too many actual recipes - althought that may be a nice reader thing I could keep on static pages. Not recipes that sounded good - but ones that worked for real people. The main intention is just to get people to try. It is not that hard and if you want corndogs and mac and cheese - you can still do that homemade.

    Even homemade is flexible - there are no strict rules - just anything is better that payin the man to eat ummm crapple.


Thank you so much for your comments. Feedback is the surest way to drive content towards areas you would like to see more of