Thursday, January 6, 2011

The $84 Stir-Fry

I presume this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but a non-cook ends up spending $84 (and over 3 hours of time) trying to make one of Mark Bittman's "essential" recipes. There are some fair criticisms of this take... a $50 kitchen scale impulse by is included in the dish's price, you're only going to have to buy a pepper grinder once, why not factor in your rent into the price, etc... but I do think it illustrates that getting started cooking from virtually zero kitchen knowledge isn't as easy as accomplished cooks want to think... and while if you look at the "real ingredients" here the stir-fry probably not more than a couple dollars per serving... easily beating out a random combo meal... I do tend to think people overrate how cheaply you can cook a meal if you don't know your way around a grocery store and how to get the best deals... especially if you are only cooking for yourself. Of course, Bittman acknowledges many of these points:
There is one notable thing these recipes are not: magic. You cannot produce them without having a functioning kitchen (a sink, a refrigerator and a stove will do it); some minimal equipment, including a pot, a skillet and a bowl (though in a pinch, the salad could be made in the pot); a couple of knives; some utensils; a strainer and a cutting board; and the ability (and money) to stock a pantry and at least occasionally supplement it with fresh food. These requirements cannot be met by everyone, but they can be met by far more people than those who cooked dinner last night.
He's maybe a little optimistic on how long it will take for the beginner, but then I'd guess if you don't know what a button mushroom is, then you probably do have to expect it to take a little longer... though with a smart phone that question could be answered without leaving the grocery store or asking for any help.

No deep thoughts here...  just wishy-washy "both sides make good points" rambling. Bittman does a decent job of pointing out the caveats in the "just cook for yourself!" mantra about healthy and cheap eating, but I think it's hard to underestimate just how sizable the ignorance of the kitchen is in so many of my fellow children of the 70's and 80's...  but it's deep man, and on this I can speak from experience.