posted by meowser
Right now, as I’m typing, the number 1 most e-mailed story on the New York Times site is Mark Bittman’s evisceration of McDonald’s oatmeal. The article pisses me off, and I’ve been trying to figure out why it pisses me off so much. It’s not because I’m such a big fan of either McDonald’s or oatmeal, both of which I’ve always considered to be food I eat, if I ever do, because it’s there and not much else is, it’s not something I ever really crave. (Your mileage on either may, of course, vary, but that’s just me.)
And truth be known, I already do most of the things that foodie scolds like Bittman think I should be doing (even more so now that my diet has been purged of stuff that makes me too ill to function), and I’m sure they’d be pleased as punch if not for the fact that I’m DEATHFAT, and thus, in their eyes, automatically in need of a conservatorship even without taking my brain cooties into account. I like the fact that Bittman, in his own way, is trying to make cooking less intimidating, and gods help me, I actually like some of his recipes. I’ve made his cornmeal pancake recipe (without the pine nuts) a couple of times, and it’s wonderful. And easy.
And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad idea to talk about perceived versus actual convenience, having once been married to someone who thought it took 30 minutes to empty the dishwasher and 40 minutes to drive from San Francisco to Reno. If you have access to a grocery store, cooking space and instruments, plus a little heat-retaining storage container for your oatmeal, he’s probably right that it’s faster to just nuke some rolled oats or put them in milk and let them soak while you’re in the shower, than it is to go to McD’s. And he’s probably also right that there’s more nutritional value in that then in any kind of “instant” oatmeal, and it will be cheaper, too.
So why am I so irritated with the article? Well, for starters, Bittman is one of those “you must cook” people who make me want to throw eggs on the kitchen floor deliberately. There was another article of his that I’m too annoyed to want to bother looking up now, where he said having lousy kitchen facilities was no excuse for not cooking; after all, he lived in a place with lousy kitchen facilities, and he just asked a neighbor if he could borrow theirs! Yeah, ahem. That’s IF you know people with a better kitchen, and IF you know them well enough to ask them if it’s okay to make a mess in their space, and IF they’d say yes, and IF they don’t live so far away that everything you make will get cold by the time you get it home, and IF it’s actually safe for you to be there by yourself, and IF you can manage to carry all the stuff over there and back…all of which, of course, will be a slam-dunk for every single NYT reader, since poor (or disabled) (or geographically isolated) people don’t ever read it, and if they do they’re not in the NYT’s prime demographic anyway, so nyaah.
So I’ll admit it, Bittman was walking a fine line on my personal Annoying/Useful scale already. And I think I hit upon what pushed him over to the annoying side; it’s all the stuff about ZOMGCALORIES and YUCKCHEMICALS, and although he doesn’t mention fat people specifically, he might as well. MCDONALDS AND THE UNWASHED MASSES IT’S PRACTICALLY A RECIPE FOR INTERPLANETARY FATTY BOOM BAH DOOM. Now, granted, most of his article focuses not on how people have tuna cans where their brains should be if they think this stuff is “healthy,” but on how McD’s should be ashamed of themselves for telling people it’s “healthy” when it’s not. Why, he demands, couldn’t it be made with honey and skim milk instead? (Er, maybe because they tested it and people didn’t like it?)
But all you have to do is read one page of the comments to know that the implication is exactly what Bittman intends; you ARE a tuna-brain if you eat this stuff, ever, even with a free coupon. Making your own oatmeal, or your own whatever, is what sets you apart from the hoi polloi, who are foolish enough to think five minutes waiting alone in the drive-through for a little peace and quiet is some sort of gift. Because you know EXACTLY what it’s like to have to work two jobs to feed your kids and only get three hours of sleep a night, and one more set of dirty dishes plus a microwave mop-up shouldn’t faze anyone, period, end of sentence.
But seriously, is this stuff any worse for you than instant oatmeal you buy in the market? Or at Starbuck’s? And frankly, with my digestive wonkitude, it’s practically the only thing I could eat there for breakfast (hold the cream), if I was on the road or something. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the onus against “processed” food, and I wonder where the line is for the foodie scolds. Isn’t everything we eat processed in some way? Is my brown-rice pasta, which consists of brown rice flour and water, a “processed” food? After all, that’s not how rice looks coming off the bush, right? My Daiya (non-dairy) cheese is processed all the way, and Whole Foods sells it proudly. Fish from the fish market? Well, it’s not like they have a boat and a net and a freshly stocked lake in the back of the store and they just throw it off the boat to you; someone has to take the bones out and clean it and pack it and treat it to prevent spoilage.
Look, I’m all in favor of nutrition, and I’d definitely say that if millions of people have to make the choice every day of “eat McDonald’s or starve,” that’s a pretty sad state of affairs. But then again, I don’t see anyone rushing in to fill the vacuum with anything better — that is, of comparable price point, ubiquity, and near-universal digestibility, plus more optimal nutrition. Know what’s really not healthy? Not eating at all. I’m not sure where the foodie scolds get the idea that it would be better to let poor people starve to death than give them McD’s, but way too many of them seem to believe that, and it’s scary.