I have realized that I value (a) minimal environmental impact; (b) foods made from “natural” ingredients, with “natural” here being a stand-in for Michael Pollan’s sort of stuff-my-grandparents-would-have-been-familiar-with. Things people have been eating (or cooking with) for a long time; and (c) not having to do food prep. Ever. At all.
B and C seem somewhat at odds with each other, though I am increasingly coming to believe that C is very consistent with A — that if, for example, I buy a rotisserie chicken it likely took a lot less energy to cook that chicken than it would had a roasted a single chicken at home (never mind baking bread). So my main question is how other people who value B & C manage to balance them. Should you post this, I’d be grateful if people could act like economists and assume that, no, really, I am confident about my actual preferences vis-a-vis C, it’s not just that I haven’t tried hard enough/long enough/gotten in touch with my inner chef. Also, I have enough of a budget constraint that I’m unlikely to land in a place where, e.g., I solve C by hiring a personal chef thereby violating A. So food prep does need to be minimal or inexpensively outsourced to solve this conundrum.
I tongue-in-cheek recommended a raw food diet, because even though there are plenty of people who do crazy raw food stuff (lots of sprouting and fermenting and processing and chopping and mixing and dehydrating etc.), you can actually be really lazy and just eat lots of completely unprocessed fruits, veggies, and nuts. Depending on where you live, you can do this locally and organically too. All it takes is rinsing off and chewing. (How do I know: Three months with DC1 of being completely unable to keep anything down other than fruit, and a limited longer-term diet with DC2.) But it does take a lot of chewing. And I am much happier being able to eat more food groups.
When you live in a West Coast city, this is also really easy. Just go to your farmer’s market every weekend and buy food there. Done. You can get enough pre-made local ethnic food and other goodies to last you the week. Still, farmer’s markets in other places often have local canned items and jams and baked goods and you can return the mason jars to them to be reused.
Everywhere else you’re going to probably not going to be able to do very well on (a) because food will need to be shipped in for 3-9 months out of the year. Still, as a museum exhibit here in Paradise says, you can do a lot to minimize your environmental impact just by not eating meat or by cutting down on meat. (I say this while lovingly scooping up a salad made with local butter lettuce, local feta, and ground buffalo, nom.) So yeah, eat organic fruits and veggies.
Some cities have a caterer in town whose business model is to provide home-cooked meals to families for the week. Usually they drop a big package off with you at the beginning of the week with meals for the entire week. Many of these places have organic/resuable containers/etc. But some of them it looks like all they’ve done is chop things and you still have to put stuff together and actually cook. Meh. Still, something to look into– it’s not exactly a personal chef because they’re making the same meals for a ton of people, which is also more efficient. We flirted with this idea when I was unable to eat wheat with DC2’s pregnancy because one of the options in town did organic/gluten-free but never tried it out.
Really, it sounds like you want to go to your most upscale local grocery store in town and just check out their freezer section and ready-made section. If you’re committed to minimal waste, do things like bring your own containers and get stuff from the bins (like mixed salad greens). Also, we are big fans of cheese and crackers and fruit for dinner. Crackers may not be the best option from an environmental standpoint, so you could do sandwiches (with local bread) instead or quesadillas (with local tortillas). Which requires a little food prep, but mostly of the slicing and (optional) toasting/microwaving variety. Here we discuss looking at ingredients on processed foods, and we also describe some really minimal prep options (see #5, for example, sandwiches). When you’re middle-class or upper-middle class, most anything you can get from the grocery store is going to be affordable compared to eating out and you’ll save more money avoiding food-waste than skimping on things that make food easier (so don’t feel guilt about buying things that are already chopped/torn/etc).
In my experience (not having been on one myself, but knowing some people who have and owning a few raw food cookbooks), raw food diets involve a MASSIVE amount of food prep.
I submit that Katherine’s friends get enjoyment (possibly perverse) out of doing that kind of food prep and you can’t sell a raw food cookbook that just says, “wash and eat fruits, veggies, and nuts.”
I like cooking OK, but hate cooking in the time crunch I usually have during the week. I’m probably less committed to your point (b) than you (I’m a big fan of EDTA and other preservatives, for instance), but do try to avoid excess sugar and more processing and additives than are strictly necessary, and my main trick is to read labels carefully and find favorite brands of convenience foods. There are some that would probably meet your point (b) requirements, and using those can help with your point (c).
For instance, there are pasta sauce brands that really only have tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs as their ingredients. If you have access to good fresh pasta (or even good frozen filled pasta, like tortellini), you can mix that with the sauce in very little time. I also have a recipe I love that is essentially tortellini, a can of veggie broth, a can of diced tomatoes, a splash of white wine, spinach and basil. I can handle this recipe even on the crappiest weekday.
I get a lot of recipes like this from Cooking Light. They have a “quick and easy” section that makes good use of convenience foods.
The only caveat to my method is that it took a lot of time at the grocery store for a few weeks, while I read all the labels and found the brands I liked for the convenience food.
We’re fans of “pour sauce A over noodles/rice B”. Sometimes we throw frozen veggies or even meat in. Honestly, most nights we don’t do anything as complicated as what Cloud is describing– that sounds like a weekend meal for us(!) since it requires opening more than one can. Al fresco dinners that contain some fruit or veggies (and your choice of protein/starch/etc.) are AOK and your ancestors would totally recognize them (assuming they were lucky enough to have fruit available). We give permission. If you want to just have snap peas and carrots and some bread, go for it. Or microwaved mixed veggies with or without a pat of butter (something I ate a lot of while pregnant because it didn’t come back up again), also fine (though frozen veggies provide some waste :( ).
Grumpy Nation, how would you help bogart?