Making my web rounds yesterday morning, I read Stephanie Witt Sedgwick’s article that proposes a unique solution to the challenge of making quick weeknight dinners — that is, to return to the classic (“classic?”) dishes of our youth. I’m as busy as anyone and though I don’t have kids, I well understand how preparing a balanced dinner after a long workday & commute can seem like an insurmountable task. I won’t lie to you: some nights, I’ll have popcorn and beer or cold cereal with fruit. Some nights, I’ll have Pop Tarts. I’m not hating on people who are too fatigued or lazy or preoccupied to cook every night because I am one of those people — occasionally, at least. That said, I don’t agree with Sedgwick’s proposed solution because it is based on incorrect premises.
The most egregious of these is that healthy, updated dishes are difficult to prepare. Sedgwick never comes right out and says this, of course, but the very existence of the article negates the fact that healthy cooking needn’t be time-consuming. The author quotes several individuals who relied (rely?) on down- home staples like “meatballs, chili, chicken dishes, goulashes and pastas with vegetables” or “Swiss steak” to feed their families on weeknights. Really? Swiss steak? Sedgwick could just as easily have found people who rely on quinoa and steamed veggies, or baked fish, salad, and bread, but in an effort to bolster her theme of “returning to the way Mom cooked,” she instead used these examples.
Writes Sedgwick of one overworked wife/mother, “Following a simple plan of plain meats and vegetables, she could cook without making dinner into a production.” My problem with statements like this one (and they are plentiful) is that dinner doesn’t have to be a production. Every checkout lane in America stocks dozens of magazines promoting quick cooking. Rachel Ray built her empire on the concept of 30-minute meals! Crock pots have been around for decades! People, people: how helpless can you be? Worst case scenario, you buy a bag of pre-washed spinach and add a protein (tuna, chicken, canned beans) and a chopped bell pepper, reduced-fat feta, and dressing. Or toss whole-wheat penne with goat cheese, [cooked] frozen peas, chicken sausage, and spices. It’s not that difficult.
I also took issue with Sedgwick’s characterization of “global food” as “complicated” and her insistence on incorporating meat as part of dinner. To address the first point, “global” food isn’t necessarily more complex to prepare than “traditional American” dishes — perhaps Sedgwick’s intended audience is just less familiar with preparing foods from cultures other than their own. Regarding meat: whatever! I love meat, but many of my friends and family members don’t. Touting the use of meat as the best way to streamline dinner prep is not only silly, but irresponsible: so many studies have shown that adherents to a plant-based diet live longer and have fewer degenerative diseases than those who favor meat. It also can’t be ignored that many non-meat protein sources are simpler to prepare than meat itself. Canned beans need only be rinsed and heated (or eaten at room temperature). Tempeh can be marinated and quickly sauteed. Tofu requires a bit more prep, but if you have a brick drained and marinated, it can be sliced, put in the oven, and left alone.
I’m not alone in my gripes. I read the comments posted in response to this article (the comments section had long been closed), and indignant readers raised many of the same points that I raise here. Bottom line: Washington Post, this article was a big disappointment. Step it up!