Food Issue: Smart Food

Just Say No: To the frozen food section

By Jacob Lambert
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Dec. 3, 2008

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Photograph by Michael Persico

But if this prediction comes to pass, there's a good chance we won't be roasting it in our own ovens, or hobo-style over an open flame. We'd likely wait for Acme to offer rotisserie squirrel or for Tyson to roll out a line of frozen Rodent Cutlets in Gravy. Because while trips to restaurants are dropping concurrently with our fortunes, they are not, on the whole, being replaced by home cooking. According to recent reports, sales of both prepared meals and frozen foods are booming.

Purchasing premade foods to save money is, to paraphrase George Carlin, a bit like screwing for virginity. A frozen pizza or can of soup, while inarguably convenient, is flagrantly overpriced when compared to its homemade equivalent. In letting Nestl� and ConAgra cook for us, we're wasting scads of money--and eating less healthily.

Below are some common "convenience" meals, compared by price with their simplest from-scratch analogues. For once, the little guy comes out on top.

Tombstone Pizza (prices from SuperFresh)

A $5.59 Tombstone pizza is a definite money saver in comparison to a $12 takeout pie. If these are your only options, then you're indeed gaming the system. But to game it even more ruthlessly, take matters into your own hands. You'll need: • 3 � cups flour: $1.79 • 8 oz. mozzarella: $3.19

• Canned tomatoes: $1.39

• 2 tsp. yeast: $0.96

• 2 tbsp. oil,

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. sugar

The total cost: $7.73. That $1.74 overrun makes more sense when you consider that the above amounts will leave you with two pizzas and plenty of extra flour. An added bonus: You get to awkwardly heave a wad of raw dough into the air--one of life's great pleasures.

Stouffer's Lasagna (prices from SuperFresh)

Stouffer's, which offers a wide array of faintly depressing, plastic-dished cuisine, sells its frozen meat lasagna for $4.99. Not only is it one of their more dispiriting items, it's also outrageously expensive in comparison to homemade lasagna. • Lasagna noodles: $2.19 • 1 lb. ground beef: $3.99 • Canned tomatoes: $1.39 • 8 oz. mozzarella: $3.19 • Cottage cheese: $2.39

Your total: $13.15--substantially more than $4.99, but a bargain when you're left with a 6 lb. lasagna the size of a chessboard. Plus, no sad plastic dish necessary.

Progresso Split-Pea Soup (prices from Acme)

Soup is one of the most wholesome, mindlessly simple things to cook, and pricewise it puts its phthalate-ridden canned cousins to shame. To wit: a 19-ounce can of Progresso Split-Pea Soup costs $2.49. To make a heaping vat of your own:

• 1 lb. dry split peas: $1.29 • 4 carrots: $1.29 • 1 onion: $0.50 • 1 tbsp. salt

• 1 tbsp. pepper

• 6 cups water

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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. phillygrrl said... on Dec 2, 2008 at 08:29PM

“And don't forget Under the Oak Cafe! Read about it in my blog!”

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2. silverbullet69 said... on Dec 2, 2008 at 08:29PM

“And don't forget Under the Oak Cafe! Read about it in my blog!”

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3. paula johnson said... on Dec 4, 2008 at 09:52PM

“I would rather spend more money on an egg salad sandwich that is made using cage-free eggs, mayonnaise free of hydrogenated oils and whole grain bread that doesn't contain "caramel coloring." While I agree that it is cheaper to prepare your own meals at home, I do not think it fair to throw Whole Foods under the bus. Instead of bashing Whole Foods, educate yourself about the high quality products they carry and the small companies that they support. That is why I choose to shop there. Not to mention, eating healthy now may save me many expensive trips to the hospital later on in life. Just sayin'...”

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4. silverbullet69 said... on Dec 9, 2008 at 10:02AM

“it's also possible, with a little research and work, to find REAL LOCAL, healthy ingredients somewhere OTHER THAN WHOLE FOODS where you're paying double the price (or more) for all that fancy "green" branding and b.s. flowery yoga logo design. shopping on 9th street or a farmers market/produce stand with local stuff, regardless of whether it's "organic" or doesn't come with a snappy hippie-dippy save the world packaging you're supporting PHILADELPHIA's economy, supporting hard working communities - mexicans, amish, whatever - rather than A HUGE GIANT COMPANY that MAKES BILLIONS OF DOLLARS off of people's environmental GUILT.”

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5. juliet Wayne said... on Dec 13, 2008 at 11:59AM

“I've lived in Philadelphia all my life. If I ever doubted my city's status as a vanguard of cultural innovation, my doubts were erased when I picked up last week's Philadelphia Weekly. The cover story about cheap food [where to find it, what to do with it after you find it, etc.] nearly made me blush with excitement, and I quickly flipped to the article. I was not to be disappointed! Riveted from the first paragraph, I eventually arrived at the part where the reporter bravely spoke out against skyrocketing egg salad sandwich prices. These "grab and go" rip-offs are one of the biggest rackets perpetrated on American soil since the British government attempted to levy taxes on the head-cheese breakfast wrap — the third most popular sandwich in colonial Philadelphia between 1765 and 1773. Grab and go? More like grab and KNOW! Now, I've always felt the allure of the egg —for both its culinary properties and its presence in Heironymous Bosch paintings—but never believed myself to be the kind of bon vivant (if you will) that could actually put together an egg dish of my own. Luckily the writer walked me through it: where to buy things like lettuce, eggs, mayonnaise and even tomatoes! I really had to psych myself up. "Just pretend you're the kind of person who can cook egg dishes!" I thought, as I tugged at my fleece mock turtleneck, hoping no one would notice me —the novice— at the grocery store. (Thank you for pointing out these off-the-grid snacktopias to me by the way - everything was so much cheaper than at Whole Foods!) Next thing I knew I was boiling, shelling and eventually mashing eggs with mayonnaise, and eating my own egg salad sandwich, created with the help of the Philadelphia Weekly. As I cleared my placemat, walked over to the sink and eventually washed and dried my plate and cutlery, I looked across the cityscape from my kitchen window, confident now in Philadelphia's status as a culinary hub! Look out New York! Move over Baltimore! And me? Well, as I exclaimed with newfound confidence to my pet hermit crab, Joel, I'm a cost-savvy Philadelphian gourmand! ”


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