A man who should know about these things once shared three guidelines for choosing a restaurant. His tripartite policy is to never eat at a place that is within sight of an Interstate highway. He will not dine in an establishment with the word “Grandma” in the name. The third deal breaker is that nowhere on the premises can there be a sign claiming “home cookin’.”
His opinion is that a restaurant close to an Interstate is sacrificing quality for quantity. He also thinks that if Grandma isn’t actually in the building it’s false advertising and if she is there, it’s time for her relatives to let her rest. Although he has only his own experience to direct him, he feels any so-advertised home cookin’ skills might be on a par with the spellin’.
The whole home cookin’ thing raises more questions than merely what happened to the missing consonant. Most things are, eventually, cooked at home. Oh, they may have been chopped, diced, braised, sautéed, and assembled elsewhere, but the final cookin’ takes place in someone’s home.
As though there isn’t already enough food for thought, as it were, I would like to offer a fourth and fifth culinary criterion. Be afraid, be very afraid of the two most misused and over-worked phrases in all of cookin’-dom: “from scratch” and “farm raised.”
The people who make frozen pie crusts say those crusts are “from scratch.” Most of the pizza-tossers in the world claim their pizzas are “from scratch.” Meals ready to be transferred directly from the grocer’s freezer case into your oven are advertised as “from scratch.” All of which is meaningless.
Of course it’s from scratch. It’s not as though you can go pluck a pie crust off a pie crust tree. Believe me. I, who have never met a cooperative rolling pin, have looked. Somebody or some machine somewhere has to actually start with flour and shortening and other basic pie-crust worthy components and make, you know, a pie crust. So technically, it is “from scratch.” (Do, however, read the ingredients. That’s where the scratch comes in because scratching is what you are going to be doing to your head while you try to figure out what some of that stuff is.) Following this line of reasoning, the Empire State Building was made from scratch. My bathroom sink was made from scratch. Your back scratcher is made from scratch.
Farm raised might be even more deceptive. One company insists their chickens are farm raised. Are we to think this is in contrast to those companies that raise their chickens in condominiums? When we rural folk think of farms, we think of rolling acres of lovingly tended land that has been in someone’s family for generations. We picture charming hip-roofed chicken coops with an ever-burning light bulb. All manner of chickens forage peacefully for bugs until dusk at which time they retire to their snug roost in the light-bulb-warmed coop. The farm is idyllic. The farmer’s life is idyllic. The chicken’s life is idyllic right up until that last five seconds or so. But when Big Business thinks of farms, I have a sinking feeling they entertain another vision entirely and it most assuredly doesn’t feature peck-on-the-ground chickens.
Because the sheer volume of beautifully-phrased advertising seemed so unlikely to be reflected in what we like to refer to as the real world, I looked up what exactly “free-range” (as in free-range chickens) entails. I mean, free range sounds as though the chickens are on vacation at a dude ranch. Logic would dictate that free range chickens are ranging free on the range. Uh…not so much. If you, like me, had a notion of chicken nirvana, you, like me, should brace for a shock. Free range means the animal has access to outdoors. Period. Unfortunately, the free range version of outdoors is not required to have grass, forage-able bugs, or even real ground on which to peck. It is not required to have a given amount of that outdoors per chicken and free range certainly does not mean fence-free. What self-respecting chicken wants to range on a crowded slab of concrete? That sound you just heard is your illusions shattering.
Isn’t it amazing what advertising has been cookin’ up?
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.