Who Has Time for That?

April 11, 2014

Watching a cooking show the other day, I saw an ad for Marie Callendar pot pies talking about how the crust is made from scratch and the ingredients simmered with love and care. And then the ad said “who has time for that? Marie Callendar, that’s who.”
Seriously? Are we going to fall for this yet again? 
These obviously assembly-line made pies may have once been lovingly made by Marie herself but now? Owned by Conagra, each and every homogenous pie is wrought in a factory by workers with benefits in white coats and hair nets. I wouldn’t bank on the “with love” part.
Is a Marie Callendar pot pie the worst food you can feed your family? Maybe not, but we must stop operating under the illusion that these frozen foods are anything but what they are…frozen processed foods. They are not handmade and they are not like Mama (or Marie) used to make.
I worry that if we fall for this pseudo-homemade nonsense again; if we don’t take control of our food, this may be what future generations think of as homemade. 
Advertising should just tell it like it is: Here is a pot pie. They are nice, convenient, comfort foods made in our factory so you don’t have to make them yourself. We know you’re busy and this may be better than drive through junk food. 
But to show a woman in an apron rolling out pie crust? Maybe Marie made her pies by hand back in the 1940’s before her son, Don (the genius behind the brand) decided to sell them to restaurants and the business exploded, which is not a bad thing. It’s the American dream. 
So what’s wrong with Marie’s just-like-homemade pies? While there are ingredients you will recognize, there are things my mama would not have used…and there sure are things you won’t find in nature.
From their chicken pot pie package, here are the facts…
Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1 cup (283g) (1, 16-ounce pie is 2 servings) 
Calories 650 
Calories From Fat 350 
Total Fat 38g 
Saturated Fat 14g 
Trans Fat 0g 
Cholesterol 35mg 
Sodium 1000mg 
Potassium 290mg 
Total Carbohydrates 59g 
Dietary Fiber 4g 
Sugars 4g 
Protein 17g
Ingredients: Filling: Water, Cooked White Meat Chicken (White Meat Chicken, Water, Isolated Soy Protein Product [Isolated Soy Protein, Modified Food Starch, Starch, Carrageenan, Soy Lecithin], Salt, Chicken Broth Powder [Maltodextrin, Chicken Broth, Salt, Flavors], Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Flavoring), Carrots, Half and Half (Milk, Cream), Peas, Contains 2% or less of Each of the Following: Celery, Modified Cornstarch, Onions, Rendered Chicken Fat, Salt, Soybean Oil, Chicken Flavor (Contains Chicken Stock, Chicken Fat, Sugar, Salt, Flavoring), Chicken Broth Powder (Maltodextrin, Chicken Broth, Salt, Flavors), Nonfat Dry Milk, Sugar, Methylcellulose Gum, Mono- and Diglycerides, Spice, Turmeric, Butter Flavor (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Flavor [Butter Oil, Enzyme Modified Butter Fat, Whey Powder, Non Fat Dry Milk Powder], Soy Lecithin [Emulsifier]), Crust: Wheat Flour Enriched With (Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Interesterified Soybean Oil and Fully Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Water, Dairy Product Solids, Salt, Caramel Color.
In the days before I changed how I eat, I made a mean pot pie…from scratch…from my mother’s recipe. It contained eleven ingredients, including salt and pepper, all natural ingredients you could actually find and identify in a market or a garden. Looking at the list of ingredients in Marie Callendar’s pot pie I don’t know whether to pre-heat my oven or get a Bunsen burner going for chem lab!
This is just another reason that I worry. I worry about our food and what multinational companies like Monsanto and Conagra might be doing next. I worry about our kids’ health. I worry about our fragile planet. I worry about the junk food being marketed to us. I worry about misleading advertising and labels that seduce us into buying junk food that appears to be healthy. 
I worry.
I cook…a lot. Most of the meals my family enjoys are prepared in our home…by Robert or by me. We enjoy eating that way. We stay healthier that way. I know what’s in most of our meals because I cook.
I spend most of my working life educating people about the impact of the food and lifestyle choices they make. There is so much information tainted by some special interest that we end up confused and scared, so we change nothing. We are vehemently marketed to by every single company with something to sell us and each product is “guaranteed” to make us smarter, sexier, thinner (always thinner…), hotter, younger, more accomplished, healthier, prettier, stronger, more enviable, more…complete. And yet each and every product falls just short of its promise, enticing us to try just one more thing…because this is it. You thought the last ‘it’ was ‘it’ but nope…this is it. And the cycle goes on, leaving our heads spinning…and our spirits bankrupt.
But sometimes, when I go into the kitchen and just cook, all the troubles of the world fade from my consciousness as I am lost in the art of preparing food. The perfume of the cooking ingredients; the symphony of each simmer and sauté; the vivid colors as the meal comes together creates a deep, soulful faith in the rightness of nature and in the ability of humanity to rescue our planet from destruction at the hands of corporate greed.
Which brings me back to Marie Callendar pot pies and all that product symbolizes. We crave the comfort of home cooked meals as long as we don’t have to actually home cook them. And advertisers know this and are only too happy to serve as seductive sirens of ease and convenience. They suck us in with images of women simmering delicious pots of food on stoves; rolling out pie crusts, forearms dusted with flour, the edges of an apron visible in the golden light of the kitchen window.
The reality of processed food is that it is exactly that…processed. It is not lovingly made by hand; it is made in huge batches on assembly lines. It contains ingredients our bodies struggle to assimilate. Processed food is simply cheap, easy and convenient. If that’s your choice of food, for whatever reason, then that’s your choice. No judgment. My argument is not with the consumer but with the companies working to convince us that processed food is anything other than cheap, easy and convenient. With artificially amped up flavors, we are tricked into thinking it’s delicious. They tell us that it’s dinner just like Mama would make if she wasn’t working two jobs to make ends meet.
In the end, we must learn to see through the hype and the advertising to the truth. Since the discovery of fire, humans have gathered around the hearth and cooked food, creating community and societies…becoming the humans we are.  As Michael Pollan says, you don’t see people gathered around the microwave watching the frozen pot pie spin around. It’s time to get back to the kitchen and create simple, delicious meals from whole, natural ingredients. It’s not Marie Callendar who will nourish your family to strength and wellness; it’s you.