Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Food Cost and Quality

The harder times get, the more fun it seems to be. Don't get me wrong, poverty is always a grind but when everyone else is feeling the pinch people start getting creative and enjoy wallowing in it together. I'm still spending a lot of time shopping for food deals and thinking about cooking.

A couple of years ago my friend Diane & I were hooked on the Food Network Channel. We co hosted a food blog and started experimenting with various recipes from Food Network shows and cookbooks, much to our families dismay. No matter what we made, nothing tasted very good! Our families started to revolt and we went back to the basics – meat and potatoes. But as I was eating my old meatloaf standby, I wrote to Diane and complained that food just doesn’t taste the same anymore. Was it me and my aging tastebuds or is this true?

Don’t even get me started on restaurants! A couple of years ago I went with a group of people to a restaurant for their $45 New Years Eve dinner special. My lamb chops were gross – too fatty to be eaten. I didn’t say anything, didn’t want to spoil every one else’s expensive meal. It made me wonder how many substandard meals they got away with serving that night, due to thinking like mine. I never went back to that restaurant of course, and the list of local restaurants I no longer patronize (for the same reason) has grown rapidly over the years.

Surprisingly I tend to get the most consistently good meals at chain restaurants – Applebees, Cocos, etc. Perhaps it’s their quality control. It’s just so disappointing to try to make an event out of going out to eat and end up paying for a meal that is substandard to what you could make at home more cheaply.

Another disappointing phenomenon is the price staying the same for items that are shrinking in size. You no longer get 64 ounces of ice cream, you get 48. You can tell easily by looking at candy bars. I remember the size of the bars I used to get as a child for a nickel. Not even close to what you pay a dollar for these days. Cadbury even has a disclaimer on their site that the eggs aren’t getting smaller, we just got bigger … so, not true. Then I read that candy companies are also using cheaper ingredients to make up the price difference, like the oil Hersheys is using in the chocolate. No wonder things don’t taste the same!

Then there’s the problem of meat at the grocery store. If I see the words “Aged Beef” I drop the package and run for the hills! There is nothing grosser tasting than aged beef but grocery stores and restaurants are only too happy to charge you big bucks to come to the same conclusion. Recently I made filet mignons that had been marked down as a “Manager Special” at my local Ralphs. It was completely disgusting. I’m so glad I didn’t pay full price. I had bought several packages (at $1.29 each) and my daughter implored me to just throw them away. I told her that I plan to use the meat in a crockpot stew dish but was there enough gravy and spices to disguise the taste? Finally I made chili out of them and was it good! It gave the chili a really rich, earthy taste.

The one good thing about items shrinking in size is that we Americans can use some portion control. I heard that the size of the burger that kids get in Kids Meals are the size that adults used to receive when fast food places first opened. My daughter and I have decided to order kids meals whenever we eat fast food. We have also learned to share entrees – one person orders a dinner salad, the other gets the entrée. I don’t mind ordering my own entrée occasionally through because I can take the leftovers home and make another meal out of it (and sometimes a third meal!) I don’t want to turn into one of those old ladies who hoard little bits of leftover food, but I think I am well on my way to joining their ranks.

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