Last night as I drifted off to sleep I read an article in this week’s New York Magazine about Sandra Lee, the Queen of the semi-homemade world and the current first lady of my fair state of New York.
The article was appropriately informative and mildly speculative: Lee had a hard upbringing that inspired her to constantly create and stretch every dime, resulting in an empire of Martha-Stewart-esque possibilities for those with less time and money. But is she too hard-wired for some of her hard-working employees? Is she honestly full of happy-face generosity or is there some darkness lurking in there?
Honestly, I’m not particularly interested in the argument. Not that there was much of one. I think the article was intended more to garner some respect than to question, well, anything. Of course the woman’s going to be a little type A if she’s going to get done as much as she has.
The article actually worked rather easily on me. Like many foodies Lee does not cater to – including the likes of Anthony Bourdain and other chefs who I adore – I personally hate most of what she creates on her shows. Buying a storemade p0und cake and sprucing it up by soaking it in liquor or juice and then adding some fresh fruit does nothing to attract my taste buds. While I like my home to be comfortable, I have no personal interest in window dressings or stylish upholstery, at whatever cost. And – here’s where it gets personal – because of my health and diet I can’t simply purchase, spruce up and present a semi-homemade meal.
Now my opinions are grounded in my personal history – I’ve struggled with Lyme Disease from a young age and have had to do without gluten, dairy, sugar and several other foods long before allergy diets and vegetables were “trendy”. Recently I had two bouts of accidental dairy ingestion because I try to keep such requests subtle, and I paid the price for both of them. So I respectfully don’t put myself in the strictly local/seasonal/organic group of people that the author of the article implies are “the kind of people who wouldn’t think of carrying their organic Chioggia beets home from the Greenmarket in anything but a reusable hemp tote“. Not that I don’t love those people. Or farmer’s markets or hemp, for that matter.
While Bisquick and Velveeta never have and most likely never will have their place in my home, at least, as Mario Batali said, “she gets people out of fast-food chains, and that’s a good thing. At least she gets them in the kitchen, even if they are using frozen berries.” And I’m a firm believer that the more time people spend preparing their food, the more they’ll want good food. Real food.
So why did the article give me something to chew on that’s still present with me this morning?
It’s obviously hard to be a healthy individual in this country, with packaged food and corn-laden products being easier to procure than fresh vegetables with – god forbid! – nutrients and flavor. Non-organics have about 6 times less nutrients than organics, but heftier price tags. I’ve eaten many a bland strawberry or apple or asparagus stalk. Why would someone choose one over a frozen french fry or hamburger slider? Lee is currently experimenting with a little 70% homemade and 30% prepared as desired by some of her fans. And she’s a huge fan of Michelle Obama’s getting kids into gardens and in more active lifestyles. So hopefully a bit more health will get into the recipe she prepares for hoards of, primarily, mothers all over the country who want to present something special to their loved ones but have neither the time nor means to do so as much as they’d like.
But for those of us with food restrictions – celiac, IBS, countless chronic illnesses and allergies – the idea of using something both packaged and relatively cheap is a prize that isn’t even dangled in front of us. My small loaf of gluten-free bread costs sometimes three times or more than a normal loaf of supermarket wheat bread. Twice as much as a loaf from an excellent bakery. Packaged food in my world means gluten-free crackers, canned Atlantic salmon (I can’t even eat tuna), and occasionally a dairy-free dark chocolate. There is no cheap goat cheese to compare with American made cheddar. Or an almond or goat’s milk that is as affordable as cow’s. I can’t even get a natural cereal in a grocery store because sugar (or at least agave) are used to sweeten everything that needs a shelf life.
Yep, it’s not a cheap world for those dealt a weird food hand.
I’m sitting here pricing out medical insurance for my father and I. He’s getting up there in age and I’m a woman in my childbearing years. My basic coverage automatically costs almost twice of what a man in my age range does. And the coverage we’ll most likely get and that is most affordable is only for in-network doctors. Most alternative medicine practitioners in my world are in their whole own network that’s far from any my HMO will cover.
So today I’m musing on money and food and the body. I choose to be an artist, a writer, a budding bakery owner. Those jobs don’t come with health insurance or company lunches or even salaries that comfortably let me get those things on my own. But this was my choice, and I live a relatively happy and peaceful life in this world where money is an object but not an obsession. Sometimes I have to take more from those loved ones around me than I’d like, always with the intention to pay it back as best I can through my contributions to my family and society.
Yet I did not choose to get Lyme Disease, nor the continuous cycle of sickness and restriction that have run their courses between bouts of health and productivity.
Right now I spend a lot of time playing with food, trying combinations of things and learning how to make what people like so that someday I can pay my bills from these creations. And if that means taking more time to make food – good, healthy, delicious, medicinal food – even more affordable for myself and the generation that has grown up with these issues on the brain, then that’s not such a bad way to spend my time.