For those of you who remember those first frozen meals that we called, “TV dinners,” weren’t they fun? The food was mediocre to bad — a chicken drumstick, mushy peas, fake mashed potatoes. But, it was the novelty that made it cool to eat out of an aluminum tray on a folding stand in front of the console TV watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or Bonanza on a Sunday evening.
Frozen meals have come a long way since then. There are low-calorie gourmet offerings of lemon-pepper chicken with a side of rice pilaf, vegetarian meals, Thai, Mexican, and Italian choices. There is still an attractive convenience factor to frozen meals as a time-saver and the plastic trays can be recycled. But a recent newspaper article was headlined, “Nestle’s frozen foods market drops sharply.” We learn that two-fifths of U.S. adults say frozen dinners have little nutritional value, and the Lean Cuisine sales have dropped by more than a quarter in the past five years. Lean Cuisine’s competitors, Healthy Choice and Weight Watchers have also seen sales declines in the double digit percentages in the past year.
This is a sharp contrast to 1981, when Nestle introduced the low-calorie Lean Cuisine meals and sales tripled in the first year. Nestle was forced to ration supplies to retailers! What changed? The article attributes declining sales to the recession, which caused customers to prepare more meals from scratch, for less cost. A mother of two from Charlottesville, Virginia, is quoted as saying, “It’s not hard to make stuff from scratch. I know what I’m putting in the food. It’s less processed and it tastes better.”
As well as the recession, the movement to eat more locally grown foods, even home grown foods, is catching on. Farmers markets are proliferating, and grocery store chains are featuring more organic and local foods. People are more aware of the pitfalls of overly processed food full of artificial flavor and color. Silicon dioxide? Propyl gallate?
Not everyone has the space or time to cultivate their own food in their own yard. We wish we could. One delightful perk of living in Amish country is the chance to buy their produce and pies and breads at farmers markets. And if you venture out among their farms and gardens during the summer months, as I do on my bicycle, you can vicariously have a garden. Amish gardens are usually large and colorful, growing corn, squash, cucumbers, radishes, and beans, as well as several rows of vibrant zinnias, petunias, begonias, and bachelor’s buttons. That is why a new book, An Amish Garden: A Year in the Life of an Amish Garden, by Laura Ann Lapp, caught my eye. With beautiful photographs and chatty prose, Lapp relates the chores and delights of tending a large garden and harvesting the results. She even makes her own pizza sauce from scratch with tomatoes she has grown, tomatoes that she preserves for the winter. Lapp says her family likes her pizza sauce so much they will never eat bottled, store-bought sauce again. I believe her! That is the ultimate in farm-to-table, locally grown eating, and more power to it.