I saw this article referenced on someone else's blog, popped over to read it, and then realized I had things to say about it. Things that were too long to fit in a comment on someone else's blog. So here we are, kids.
First of all, I have nothing against Mr Bittman. I have his giant cookbook and refer to it frequently. I use it so much that I gave my niece the vegetarian version for Christmas. From reading Mr Bittman's giant cookbook, I know this is his shtick: it's easy to cook simple, healthy, tasty meals at home, and everyone should be able to do so. I honestly can't argue with that, either.
No, my bones to pick with this article are thus: First of all, though he pays some lip service to the concept of food deserts, he seems very out of touch with what they really mean. For instance? "Still, 93 percent of those with limited access to supermarkets do have access to vehicles, though it takes them 20 more minutes to travel to the store than the national average." We seem to be forgetting the cost of gas in this little equation. If you have to drive an extra 15 miles to get to the supermarket, but you drive right past the Taco Bell on the way home, it is indeed cheaper to get the fast food. We're also forgetting the value of a person's time. If it takes you two hours and three buses to get to the supermarket, as it might for many inner city dwellers, the ten minutes it takes for them to go to McDonalds instead is cheaper. But I suppose poor people's time has no value. Sigh. It's all a very classist argument. I'm lucky to live in an urban area that does have a lot of supermarkets. (We don't refer to one of them as the Ghetto MarketBasket for nothin', yo. I myself won't buy meat or produce there, but the prices are cheap and it's directly on a couple very popular bus lines.) Poor people in my neck of the woods can buy decent, cheap food to cook at home. But a lot of poor people don't have that option.
The two passages that really got to me in this article, though, were these: The real challenge is not “I’m too busy to cook.” In 2010 the average American, regardless of weekly earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of television per day. The time is there. and The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.
You know when cooking is a joy? When you have lots of time and you're doing it because you want to, because you're trying out a new recipe that looks great or because you've invited someone you like to dinner or because it's a rainy day and you are home and you've got the ingredients at hand to make something you really like. You know when cooking is not a joy? When you've worked eight hours and commuted an hour and a half and maybe gone to the gym or ran errands or picked up and dropped off the kids somewhere besides and you're starving and tired. Then cooking is a miserable chore and I think most people can be forgiven for occasionally getting takeout and spending an hour and a half eating it in front of the TV instead without us getting all high and mighty over it.
(Yes, yes, I know some people are so self-disciplined and frugal and organized that they make all their meals a week ahead and just nuke them or whatever. Those same people probably floss even more than their hygienist tells them to, never forget their mom's birthday, and report all their cash tips to the IRS. There are perfect people and then there are the rest of us. God.)
But what this really made me think of was this: why do we not see anyone saying something like "let's get people to see walking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life." People with an hour and a half to spare watching TV? If they live three miles or less from work, they oughta be walking each way. Not only would it be as good for their health as cooking at home, it would be good for the environment, and it would greatly cut down on the traffic for those people who live further from work and have no choice but to drive. Where's that campaign, huh?
"But...but...but, Andrea, you can't expect me to walk six miles a day in lieu of watching TV, that's unreasonable!" Eh. For some people it is. For some people it isn't. Just like cooking all your meals at home, yo. We all have the right to decide how much convenience vs how much uber-virtuous behavior we're willing to engage in. Without being tsk-tsk'd at. In my extremely humble opinion.
For the record, I'm planning on going to one of my favorite hipster cafes for chicken salad after the gym tonight because I have no un-frozen meat at home and I like to support the local economy. People who own or work in restaurants, sub shops, cafes, and fast food joints need jobs too.