Rethinking Convenience Foods
“Holding Point” is a central concept of the Purple Kale approach to home cooking. It refers to the point at which an ingredient is stored or prepared for best use. “Best,” of course, is not specific to an ingredient, necessarily, but also relative to a cook’s skill, her physical space, her patience, time, and care.
If you’re more likely to use a juiced lemon than a whole one, for instance, then juicing is the right Holding Point for you. When a citrus vinaigrette requires a great deal of fresh juice, an un-prepped lemon might jeopardize salad altogether.
A silly example? Not really. The form an ingredient takes often dictates how or whether we use it. Consider “convenience” foods. An entire industry exists around the need for consumers to have quick access to food in forms they use most. Companies puree fresh garlic and pack it in little jars. They cut fresh fruit into skinless, seedless chunks and turkey breast into thin “cutlets.” They concentrate lemon juice in yellow, plastic squeezies. They process the work right out of our food, presumably allowing the cooking act to be more of an instant one.
I have much to criticize about convenience foods, but for many, they are key to getting a meal to the table. We know it isn’t technically hard to squeeze a lemon, but when we’re pressed for time or space, we have excuses not to do so.
So I’ve accepted the value of expediency, of convenience, and admit that packaged food reflects something real about the choices people make when they walk into their kitchen to cook. But instead of having people take their cues from marketing departments, I encourage them to prep from fresh ingredients, and in versatile ways, personalized to their own tastes and cooking habits. I suggest they create food for their own convenience, derived from great ingredients not pulled from plastic and polystyrene packaging. They might braise a batch of celeriac, for instance, which lends itself to many quick dishes and keeps well for days. Or they can squeeze half a dozen lemons, if that means they’ll eat more salad throughout the week. I don’t want cooks to turn meals into instant commodities; I want them to make their favorite fresh ingredients readily available, and to choose smart strategy over shortcuts.
Make It Work