What Makes Convenience Foods Convenient?

Food storage in the US

The American Pantry. From Jeanne E. Arnold et al, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century.

When families use mostly convenience foods for the meal, they wind up saving a bit under 5 minutes total [of an average 52 minutes to get dinner on the table]. . . The most important and clear-cut effect of packaged foods is that they reduce the complexity of meal planning. Dinners centered on convenience foods require less shopping time and planning time since many separate ingredients do not have to be assembled. The family chef can invest less time thinking about the week’s meals.

So obvious when you think about it.  It’s time thinking and planning that is saved, not time cooking. How often have I chatted with other women about how our first thought on waking up is “What are we going to cook today?”  How many hours and days have I spent making shopping lists?  This is time never counted in all those articles and books on getting meals on the table in thirty minutes.

From a very interesting study of 32 Los Angeles families, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century by Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P. Graesch, Enzo Ragazzini, and Elinor Ochs. Great photographs that give the lie to all those decorating magazines and interesting analyses of kitchens, outdoor leisure (or lack of it), stuff and more stuff, garages, bathrooms, and why people concentrate home improvements on the bedroom.

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2 thoughts on “What Makes Convenience Foods Convenient?

  1. Nick Trachet

    A complex thing you tackle here, Rachel. What is convenience? It’s like the “authenticity” case, or even worse, the “artisanal” debate. My mentors in FAO used to say: “Canned food is only convenient if you have a can-opener” (and the latter was invented fifty years after the tin!).
    As to the question “What are we going to cook today?” It’s the original omnivore’s dilemma and probably the basic question that triggered human civilisation. This question is only raised when there is a surplus, a plenty. The answer is a cultural one.

    And last, we see in the fish industry that demand for ready meals (or ready to cook) is declining in Europe. Crisis, you know.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Hi Nick,

      I hadn’t heard the can opener story but it’s a good one. And it is a complex issue. What I liked about the book was that it recognized that thinking about food takes up a good bit of time. All the “meals in 30 minutes” stories assume that the planning is already done.

      Reply

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