On a recent trip to New York City I discovered a very large Whole Foods Market, a grocery store chain, where one full floor is devoted to precooked and pre-made meals. Hot and cold buffets. A guy served mashed potatoes and meatloaf next to a girl with a huge roast pork, her carving knife ready to go. At first I thought the whole thing was quite incredible — all the colours and smells. Look at all the variety! Look, they even sell bread in little baby packages of only four slices! How cool is that?
But instead of being inspired to eat and sample all these diverse meals, I was quite depressed. I knew from research that this had a name. A nice industry “marketing” name. Ready?
It’s called HMR. Home Meal Replacements. Here’s what the National Restaurant Association says: “Consumers want to enjoy high-quality meals at home but don’t have the time (or the desire) to cook. Solution? Home meal replacement — takeout meals that diners can eat at their own dining-room tables … Because many want foods that they would cook themselves if they had the time, [the store’s] menu leans heavily toward American comfort foods” (source).
So why does this make me feel deflated?
Because they’re taking your money. And lots of it. Mashed potatoes and meatloaf? These two in particular are cheap cheap cheap to make, and pretty easy to prepare. These guys are taking your money in big giant handfuls. It’s not like getting a great curry takeaway that you really can’t easily make at home — these guys are selling you potatoes. They are selling you meatloaf.
Oh, it pains me. The experience of being in that Whole Foods Market on a busy Saturday afternoon was both “Wow look at all the food” mixed with generous portions of “Is this what we’ve come to?” Are we really all soooo busy that making meatloaf is just out of the question? Are we really reduced to buying dinner from a guy wearing a beard-net at the grocery store? Isn’t the grocery store for groceries anymore?
What would gramma say? I can call her up if you like. Nanny Teresa would say: “If you’re too busy to get dinner on the table, then you’re too busy.”
Shelley would say something a bit gentler, like … making and eating food is the best fun you can have with your clothes on. The difference between EATING and DATING is one letter. There’s no easier, faster, healthier, cheaper way to impress yourself (or someone else) than to make dinner. What did you do today? I made roast chicken with rosemary. I made pork tenderloin with baked tinfoil carrots. I made roast vegetables and couscous. I made homemade cream of mushroom soup.
Here’s a simple dinner: heat some tomato based pasta sauce, add a few bottled marinated artichokes (cut up), and few teaspoons of capers. Add some red chilli flakes if you want it spicier. Serve over boiled spaghetti with grated parmesan. It’s hot and cheap, salty and lovely.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and bon appetit!
Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu
Owner & Head Chef