On a recent trip to Price Chopper to pick up a few necessities, I allowed my curiosity to take over and examine the carts of those around me. Certainly I am not the only one guilty of such an act. Many of us are curious of what other people are eating, and we make snap judgments about people based on their presumed diet. As someone who is shamelessly open about this tendency, I have seen numerous carts filled with a wide range of items, from only fruit and vegetables, to exclusively potato chips, cookies and soda.
But one cart I spotted really caught my eye. Like a greasy film on top of a cold bowl of soup, the top of the cart was filled with frozen pizza and frozen dinners. Curious, I examined the rest of the cart as well, finding only unhealthy food stuffs such as cheese snacks and Oreos lying beneath.
Unfortunately, this correlation was not a coincidence. My eyes frantically searched for a fresh vegetable, fruit, anything. But I found nothing.
It had quickly become obvious to me that this person was dependent on the Stouffer’s frozen lasagna and Salisbury steak that clogged his cart. Standing on the other side of the aisle, examining the wide selection of frozen peas, I saw him shovel handfuls of frozen boneless pork rib-shaped patty meals into his cart by the fistful. He took at least eight or ten of the glossy red boxes.
Was I missing something? I will admit, the $1 price tag on that particular meal is appealing, considering that the box contained the entire meal, including mashed potatoes and corn. But at what point has the novelty of convenience transformed to an unhealthy dependence? Could this man not have made that meal with ingredients purchased at the very same store? Wouldn’t taking that time yield a far superior product? Though I would be hard pressed to find someone capable of making their own boneless pork rib, complete with gaps where the bone should be and the painted-on grill marks to make it look like it came straight off the flame.
Like his oddly formed rib patty, this person is swimming in a pool of uncertainty. While I would certainly find someone who chose a variety of frozen dinners to fill his entire cart just as shocking and unappetizing, it was the mundane routine of choosing one meal only that struck a chord with me. People rely on the cardboard box meals to a fault. The simple act of cooking has become a chore to them. We could take out a cutting board and knife to prep the meal, but isn’t it so much easier to just have your meal in a bag, ready to heat and eat?
It may cost more, but it is a price we have historically been more than willing to pay. Instead of taking out a frying pan to prepare a simple meal, we have fallen into the rut of putting the flimsy plastic tray into the microwave, pressing a couple of buttons, waiting the five to seven minutes, stirring, waiting another two to three minutes, then letting it rest in the microwave for an additional two minutes before we enjoy. I can hardly wait.
Perhaps out of ignorance, or perhaps because the lumpy cheese sauce in the Banquet cheesy-smothered meat patty meal does too good of a job covering up the meat, people are often unaware of exactly what goes into the frozen dinners they ingest. This year alone, many Marie Callender meals, a ConAgra brand, have been recalled as a result of a salmonella outbreak that affected people in over 14 states. In April of this year, over 1 million pounds of ground beef and frozen hamburger patties were recalled after individuals across the country were stricken with E.coli.
That is not to say that only frozen meals are vulnerable to food recalls, as there have been numerous produce recalls in recent years. However, if it can cost less than $1 for a complete meal, what kind of quality can we expect? When one visits the meat department of his or her local supermarket and spots ground beef with a fat-to-meat ratio of 85/15 or 90/10, one can be sure that quality of meat is not being used in the dollar meal.
It is cheap, it is quick, but is it worth it? We have grown so accustomed to the open-a-box-and-eat method, that simple cooking tasks now seem like an unnecessary chore. There might not be any work, but there is no longer any love.