When you commit to living the simple life, the former convenience foods you loved are suddenly no longer convenient since you're making them from their most basic ingredients, and leaving out all the stabilizers, artificial colors, and preservatives. And sometimes they are worth it. And, yet, to be honest, they often do not taste quite the same.
Both Big Ag and myself grew up eating at least some of what the 1960's and 1970's offered in terms of convenience foods, so adjusting to some of those taste changes when we've "gone natural" has taken time. But after awhile you get used to it, and then when you pick it up again in its processed form, you actually notice certain flavors are missing -- the ones you first reacted to when you made it naturally.
I remember the first time I bit into a chocolate-chip cookie made with whole wheat flour instead of white and the wheat had a much stronger, nutty flavor than I was used to. I felt vaguely cheated, like my previously delightful sin had somehow been made more respectable and therefore less tasty and fun. But now, I love the stronger flavor whole wheat has, and much prefer it to white flour in almost everything.
The taste change also happens if you switch from chocolate to, say, carob and if you change from white sugar to honey or agave nectar. I've heard nightmare stories from people who switched from coffee to chikory, although most got used to it after time.
|Real mac and cheese|
And some foods you cannot reasonably replicate. The carob-for-chocolate swap is one shining example. It just never tastes the same, and is never as good. Another one happened here this afternoon, when I made my homemade egg nog. I think it's awesome, but I know that tomorrow or the next day, Big Ag will stop by the supermarket and come home with a carton of that awful, artificially-flavored egg nog from the market because it's what he grew up with and therefore what he prefers. And my oldest son, who I call TrainMan, will be staying with us after he has some dental work done after the holidays and has already asked that I stock up on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese -- that's right, the bright orange boxed stuff. Sigh.
|Un-real mac and cheese|
The fact that I make a killer gourmet mac and cheese with three different kinds of cheeses does not matter, because no matter how hard I try I will never achieve the orangey, tangy, velveeta-textured goo that TrainMan feels is a mandatory part of the Mac and Cheese Experience. And since its him who will have the sore mouth, who am I to turn a blind eye to his wishes? (For the record, I never made Kraft Mac and Cheese at our house, but evidently it was on the menu at friends' houses enough that he developed a taste for it. I guess I should just be thankful they weren't serving meth.)
So tomorrow I will go to the store and buy some stupid, boxed Kraft Mac and Cheese, grimacing as I pull it off the shelf and throw it into my cart. And I will also grit my teeth when the artificially flavored-and-colored "egg nog" shows up in the fridge next to my fabulously-natural Colonial Egg Nog (made from a recipe penned by George Washington himself!) as I just know its going to. It's a holiday tradition, just like bad sweaters and Christmas songs by The Chipmunks. These are all things that must be endured as we plow through the season.
One thing that makes me feel better is remembering a story natural food guru Michael Pollan told once, about walking through the grocery store with a box of Fruity Pebbles cereal in his cart (for his daughter, who insisted on it) and someone noticing and saying something to him about it. His response was that, although natural is better, if we have spouses or children we also have to acknowledge that sometimes we're going to have to compromise, and to pick our battles.
Which I guess means that although Kraft, Knudson, and Kellogs may win a round or two here and there, we natural cooks are still committed, long-term, to winning the food war. And so next week I will temporarily surrender on the Mac and Cheese front, open that packet of orange powder and make something that makes my son happy.
But I have not given up the war. I'm just surrendering, temporarily, on one front. A gooey, artificially orangey one.