Mass marketing and a half century of affluence changed the concept of home economics in the USA. Somewhere in the last 75 years, the primary goal changed. A well-kept home was always something worth showing off. But now, showing off appears to be the purpose. Who cares how well you support your family, the goal is to look good on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how practical your projects are, it matters how many re-pins you get.
And food expectations changed the same way. Through decades of subsidy, food has become incredibly cheap. And a generation of unparalleled economic boom changed the social expectation of food so that our focus is on experience instead of sustenance. And the food manufacturers have jumped on it to boost their sales. That is their purpose, after all. Bisquick (or any baking mix really, but Bisquick started it so I’m going to pick on them) is a prime example
Do you know what’s in Bisquick? Flour, Salt, Baking Powder, and fat. It takes less than a minute to mix those ingredients as a complete novice. Making it from scratch is a negligible addition to any recipe that calls for it. Frankly, it’s so easy to mix on the fly that Bisquick costs more in storage space that it saves in time and effort. That’s right, if Bisquick were sold at ingredient cost, then it would still be something you shouldn’t buy. You probably shouldn’t even bother making it yourself, unless you’re making biscuits several times a week. Yet most people do buy it, and they pay extra for it. In fact, the use of a baking mix as “the way you make pancakes” is such a dominant perception that the title of this post is an actual quote from someone I know who assumed that the flour was added to a Bisquick batter when he saw it listed on a pancake recipe.
Any why stop there? I mean, you can save almost 15 minutes, including the cleanup, by buying pre-made cookie dough. How many cookies do you have to eat each week to make that worthwhile? Shake’n’Bake is bread crumbs and seasoning. Chocolate cake mix is mostly Bisquick with sugar and cocoa powder. Brownies are the same stuff, but with more shortening. Icing is powdered sugar, shortening, milk/water (optional), and something for flavor, like cocoa. Popcorn takes about 5 minutes in a skillet, but people willingly pay more to save 3 minutes by cooking it in a microwave. (Hint: You can microwave almost any popcorn in a paper bag.) And some of the chemicals in the fake butter used in microwave popcorn have been linked to other health problems. Although, I hear that chemical is no longer in use.) Jello already comes in a mix that’s as simple as “add boiling water and stir” yet you can buy pre-made jello cups.
You have access to technology that your grandparents and great-grandparents could only dream of. I have a cooking textbook from 1915 that belonged to my great-aunt, and it describes the fireless cooker as something that will “surely be remembered as one of the greatest inventions of the early 20th century.” Do you know what a fireless cooker is? It’s an insulated box. You heat something to boiling, put it in the box, and you let it stew in its own heat for a few hours. This was revolutionary before electricity became commonplace and affordable. Now, you’d use a slow cooker for the same purpose. Here’s another fun thing that didn’t exist in common use 100 years ago: the oven thermostat (invented in 1915). Prior to that, oven heat was described as low, moderate, or hot because that’s as accurate as you could expect to control it. This is more important than it sounds, because reliable and precise oven temperatures are one of things that make modern recipes so easy to follow. And it frees up a substantial amount of the time that would otherwise be spent managing the oven, which reduces the total amount of time it takes to prepare food. And, oh man, the refrigeration. Ice is reliably about 32 degrees Fahrenheit. But your home freezer is probably around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and your home fridge should be set to about 37 degrees Fahrenheit. At best, you could have kept something cool with ice, but the concept of a home freezer is fairly recent. So that ice block would have only kept food at refrigerator temperature, not frozen.
But technology has also been improving for 100 years, and the difference is exactly what you would imagine. You can freeze as much food as you want, and you can safely rely on the fact that it will stay frozen. You can rely on any cooking appliance to manage it’s own heat. You can buy a timer option on almost any cooking appliance, so you don’t even have to be there when it’s time to put it in the oven. For $40 you can buy a robot that makes bread and jam for you. You probably have a hand mixer, a blender, and maybe a food processor. So mixing, chopping, mashing, dicing and pureeing takes seconds and almost no skill. And all of that’s before you even consider the logistic system. Your local grocery can get fresh produce delivered from halfway across the world so that you can have fresh strawberries in November. The big benefit to this technology is that you no longer have to use the ingredients as the time-saving method. You can use cheap, basic ingredients and still cook and clean very efficiently.
Almost every time saving convenience that you thought didn’t exist, does. And if you use the new technology with the old cooking styles, you can save a fortune in both time and money.