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Convenience Foods

My in-laws are vegetarians, which means that my husband is responsible for bringing a meat dish whenever they host holiday dinners. Last night he was joking about a recipe he found online that called for ketchup and soup mix (after a quick Google I am guessing it was this Pioneer Woman recipe). He and I both dislike ketchup a lot, even on things like burgers and fries, so the idea of it just didn't sound good to us. His mother replied in a very smug tone of voice, "Oh, that style of cooking is so 50s and 60s! Back then everyone thought those convenience foods were sooo great. I'm so glad we know better now."

Ahem. Let me start by saying that I don't use convenience foods much, so I wasn't personally offended. I like cooking and have the luxury of time to do it. Because of high blood pressure I tried to cut out most packaged foods years ago and have gotten used to cooking with mostly fresh ingredients.

All of that said, boy, did this comment rub me the wrong way. First, as a woman who grew up in the 50s and 60s, shouldn't my mother-in-law be aware of how intertwined the rise of convenience foods was with women's liberation and the mass exodus of women from the domestic sphere into the workforce? This is a cultural change that she benefited from immensely, as a woman who has worked in a time-intensive, male-dominated field for several decades.


Second, who is this "we" she speaks of? Upper-class people, I guess, who are smart and knowledgeable enough not to use those terrible convenience foods to get dinner on the table every night (read that with a healthy dose of sarcasm). It is easy to be smug about this when you are a wealthy woman who had a nanny at home putting dinner on the table when your kids were growing up so you never had to worry about having the time or energy to do it (she now eats mostly take-out restaurant meals on weeknights). But the implied classism in that comment, coupled with the total lack of awareness that she was speaking from a place of privilege, just drove me nuts. I know I have to stop being surprised at how clueless my in-laws are; after all, their daughter believes that on a household income of over $200k she and her husband are "regular, middle-class New Yorkers". (The median income in NYC is around $50k.)

Fortunately, my husband's awesome cousin was there to agree with my comment that convenience foods made a big difference to working women back then and still do, and maybe we should be wondering why most households have two wage earners who by necessity work lots of hours and don't have any semblance of work-life balance, when 50+ years ago many households were able to get by on one income.

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