Since starting this blog, I've become rather taken, some might say rather sanctimonious about, cooking from scratch. Normally, when I have been in full health, I have cooked a meal from scratch 4-5 evenings a week (with the odd takeaway, meal out, meal at someone else's house thrown in in-between). I work full-time too - 37 hours a week. (My fiancé generally works longer hours than I do and has a much longer commute and does not enjoy cooking, therefore I have happily taken on the role in lieu of other responsibilities (e.g. washing up)). I have generally eschewed all things convenience food from microwaveable dinners to sauces that come in jars to ready-made pizzas.
I'm all for slow food. Totally. It tastes better, I get more enjoyment from eating it, and plenty of satisfaction from preparing it. It's food how food is meant to be.
But the key phrase above was "in full health". Recently things have been a bit more tough. I really don't like to complain too much because my illness is not that serious and is treatable (and I am in the process of being treated), but the fact is that as a result of the radioiodine therapy my thyroid now cannot produce enough thyroxine to keep my body functioning properly and I am in early stages of treatment, which may involve some tweaking of medication before balance is fully restored. Anyone familiar with the spoon theory will know what it can be like to have a chronic illness. I'm not going to expand too much on what it's like to live with thyroid disease, because that's getting off the point a little.
The point is, I've come to learn that convenience foods have a place in life. In particular, they have had a place in my life recently.
At first I felt guilty. I felt like I'd failed in my mission to provide myself and my partner with nutritious whole foods, as is my general aim when it comes to food. But what choice did I have but to load the freezer with things I could stick in the oven? (I could get my fiancé to cook, but some nights recently he hasn't been home until 9pm, by which point I would be crawling up the walls...) Not all of these things have been convenience foods as such: things like sausage and mash have been do-able some of the time. But I still felt crappy about it - of course I did. It's natural to feel crappy about not being able to do everything you normally can do.
Eventually you begin to accept it, though - that this is the way things are at the moment and you have to make do as best you can. And, actually, stocking the freezer with things that are easy for me to cook has proved to be a smart piece of forward planning - during previous periods of illness, I have been less prepared and this has led to more disappointment, more guilt and more takeaways.
Quite often, I'll have two options for dinner on the go - for example, I may have some braising steak in the fridge to make a stew should I feel up to it, but at the moment, I usually have a back-up plan too, either in the fridge or freezer.
The convenience foods may not taste as good, may be less nutritious, less good for the environment and hardly using local or seasonal ingredients, but when my choice is between going hungry because I physically do not have the energy to stand up in the kitchen for long enough to create a meal and eating something ready-prepared in a plastic packet, I'll take the food where I can get it. And I'm not going to feel bad or guilty anymore, because I'm doing the best I can.
I still check the ingredients labels on everything though before I buy and I still can't face eating battery-farmed chicken. Most places seem to do ranges of ready-meals, soups etc. which have pretty (if not, wholly) natural ingredients too. I like Covent Garden soups and I recently tried a dish from Marks and Spencer's Gastropub range which was both tasty and filling (shock, horror!).
The good news is that I'm gradually starting to cook more as I'm starting to feel better. I still don't feel I'm functioning at 100%, but I did cook from scratch three nights in a row recently. That was huge for me. It felt good. It tasted good too.