Thursday, March 11, 2010

Surprise! Slate Thinks Canning Overrated

Anyone who's been around the internet a few times knows that Slate has a tendency to be contrarian to point of self-parody... in fact, it's such a well known meme that it has become tedious to point it out. However, since I think the idea of pickling is pretty neat... and have done it once and twice... and hope to try canning/pickling some of the bounty of the Maine garden with Anna and her Mom this summer... I felt a somewhat silly need to respond. A need that's all the more silly, since a read of the critique reveals there is no there there:
But don't be fooled: Along with independence there is plenty of self-congratulation. These culinary trophies are emblematic of a project-based food relationship that we urban food junkies are prone to indulge these days: athletic all-weekend bouts of cheesemaking, or bacon curing, or jam and pickle making are so much more bloggable and boastworthy than making a decent brown-bag lunch five days in a row (I should know—I'm occasionally susceptible to such fits of showy industriousness, most often guided by Christine Ferber's gem, Mes Confitures.)
It's hard to imagine how you can write about things you do and not be open to the criticism of being self-congratulatory... I guess unless you always wrote about the really dumb and stupid things that you've done... all the stuff that you're really embarrassed and ashamed by. That would probably work. Maybe I'd get more page views that way? I've done some pretty embarrassing things, after all. Let me think about that for a second... No.

OK then.

And personally, if I got it together enough to rock a brown bag lunch everyday I would totally blog about, and I would also totally congratulate myself for it.
And let's not kid ourselves that home-canning is particularly frugal. It's not impossible to save money by home preserving your food, but it takes a little investment to get set up for it, and you certainly won't cut costs by canning $5-a-pound heirloom tomatoes. Without a source of truly inexpensive produce (like vegetables you grow yourself), you'll find cheaper products in grocery stores. (The more convincing money-saving argument is that canning keeps down entertainment costs: An evening of making and packing picallilly is a cheerful way to pass time with friends, and it might substitute for the cost of a dinner out.)
So if you don't have your own garden, you're not going to save any money. Is there honestly any urban foodie who thinks otherwise? That I'm going to go and can the extra veggies from a CSA because it's so much cheaper than buying pickles at the super market? C'mon now. We may in fact be gullible, but I'd like to think we're not that stupid.

The strangest part of the article is that she only references obliquely the "real" moral justification one could make for canning the extras from your local CSA share in your Williamsburg apartment... that it lowers your carbon footprint. Dickerson seems to imply that it's an overwrought angle, but never engages it directly (except to say that environmentalists aren't coming after Claussen). I don't imagine it makes a huge difference, but I can't see why you'd bother to try and talk people out of it if they're interested.

And of course she doesn't. She ends by saying canning is pretty neat actually... just not for all those damn dirty hippie reasons... somebody once wrote in the intro to a pickling book she read once.

So there... I guess?

1 comment:

  1. I post often about my canning exploits (heck, the blog is called Hot Water Bath - what else would I write about?) and I think have been pretty honest about the time/cost/effort value proposition. In my experience, home canners aren't looking for the rock-bottom lowest costs as much as they are seeking the intersection between quality and cost. If one were to receive as a gift - as I did one year - a few bushels of tomatoes so much the better, but even without those happy events I'm comforted to know exactly what's in my food and where it came from. There's really no price for that, is there?

    - Marsha