Saturday, May 30, 2009

It Just Doesn't Occur To Me

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I'm pretty focused on food. I subscribe to cooking blogs and newsletters, and I have opinions on the prominent recipe sites around the intertubes. So I was a bit taken aback when I got the most recent America's Test Kitchen e-newsletter, which featured a link in the content summary for lemonade. I clicked it and was taken to an article outlining the results of a taste test among store-bought lemonades.

I had to pause to digest that for a moment. See, I had expected that the article would describe ways to optimize homemade lemonade, or perhaps ways to jazz up regular old (slices of ginger, flower petals, or maybe some blueberries). Store-bought lemonade. Frozen lemonade even, in some cases. And all of them came in packaging of one form or another. It just wouldn't occur to me to buy lemonade. After all, there are three ingredients in the stuff: lemon juice, sugar, and water. None of these are difficult to come by if you're already in the grocery store. Isn't it just as easy to grab some lemons as to grab a heavy container of frozen concentrate? The lemons, after all, won't melt on the way home. Lemons will give you zest for baking, as well as juice for drinking. After that you can use a wrung out lemon half to clean mineral scale off the shower walls, or remove tenacious bathtub stains with the help of cream of tartar. And after that you can throw it on your acid-loving plants in the garden. What's left after drinking store-bought lemonade? Packaging. Landfill. Plastic that's going to kill a sea turtle or an albatross chick somewhere. Recycling if you're lucky and conscientious.

I just don't get it. How did we as a society get to the point where people are too helpless or "too busy" to make lemonade? Is it any faster or easier to mix up lemonade from frozen concentrate than it is to juice a few lemons? Why is there a market for prepared lemonade? With about 27 grams of sugar to the 8 ounce glass, this stuff is an occasional treat, or it should be. Can we not find the time and summon the skill to prepare one of the simplest of summertime indulgences? Does taste count for nothing?

The taste testers, incidentally, found five out of the eight store-bought lemonades pretty well undrinkable, including the lone organic brand. How do those odds sound to you?

Okay, rant over, folks. Thanks for your indulgence.


Kathryn said...

I agree with you to a point. It is easy.

But i'm living with a chronic illness & often when i get the food home i purchased i barely have energy to put it away, much less prepare items. So my husband does eat a lot more processed stuff than i'm comfortable about not just because of the frugal issue, but also for the health.

He is a lemonade connoisseur, & is very particular about what he likes. The one i buy is lemon juice, sugar, & water. None of the chemicals.

However, your post does point to one thing in this country: we like things quick & easy!

Candace said...

I agree with you.
I think some people would never think of buying fresh lemons and making it. Much like you would never think of buying concentrate.
Since moms started going off to work, it has been all about convenience. Many young moms were raised on processed stuff, myself included.
My mom never made anything homemade, ever, still doesn't.
So, I've been on my own as far as learning those skills.
Things are bound to come aroud, I hope.

Maya said...

I agree. We are rapidly getting to the point where everything must come from a package. For what its worth, I quit my readership of anything Cooks Illustrated related last year after I read this

The point at which we start claiming intellectual property rights on food is the point at which I check out entirely...

Amy said...

I've never drank a concentrated lemonade where I thought 'wow...this is better than the real thing!'

pelenaka said...

Since I rarely go mainstream grocery shopping I am always amazed at the items that sell to the masses not to mention the prices.
Already diced/shreded/grated veggies for one. I mean how hard is it to dice celery? From scratch.
Apprently as hard as it is to mix up a pitcher of Lemonade from scratch.

K said...

I'm not a big lemonade fan, but I feel the same way about ice tea - how much does a few tea bags, water and sugar (and a splash of lemon juice if you are so inclined) cost? And how hard is it really to make?

And *no* store bought mix tastes as good as home-brewed ice tea!!

Rabbit Hill Farm said...

Nice post. How ironic that the drink we most associate with slowing down and relaxing (especially in the summer) now has to be speeded up and put into an "instant form"

Great food for thought. I'm going to make some real lemonade this weekend!

Anonymous said...

I had similar thoughts some years ago when I overheard a customer ask a supermarket clerk where to find the graham cracker crumbs. It made me curious, so I went looking, and there are indeed already crumbed graham crackers ready to buy. Nothing much surprises me anymore about the lengths some people will go, and the prices they will pay, for the sake of "convenience".

debra said...

i offered my neighbor's 6 year old daughter a cold glass of lemonade this afternoon; lemons, honey and water. she turned up her nose, told me it was a "yucky" color and "not like the good kind". seems the "good kind" is a store brand kool-aid knock off. her mom told me that we're just "too earthy" for her daughter's taste.

Joanne said...

In Australia, lemonade is a bottled, carbonated beverage that often doesn't even have lemon in it! You're traditional lemonade-stand product is the stuff of Disney movies to us! I have made it once and sure enough, my kids weren't keen on it but I loved it!
I recently saw a recipe with frozen lemon concentrate and wondered what it was. I agree that prepackaging has gone way too far- shredded cheese, that has to have an additive to keep it from clumping! Pre-pack salads are huge here. I agree with your reader that the sheer amount of mothers working has contributed to this, particularly as they want to eat "healthy" but don't have time for preparation.
Convenience comes at a price, though, usually literally. So the vicious circle begins; work-busy-buy convenience products-need to earn more-work-busy-buy convenience products, etc.

ilex said...

Given the sharp decent of the average American palette, I'd say those odds of drinkability sound sadly dead on. Then again, Americans can't tell the difference between margarine and butter, either.

Wendy said...

We stopped drinking lemonade when we started eating local, because as locavores, we don't "do" processed foods, and lemons don't grow in Maine. My kids were very disappointed ;).

Your point is well-taken, however. It is rather disappointing to realize that there are a lot of people out there who think that green bean casserole using frozen green beans, canned mushroom soup, and French's onions is "homemade" food, and I once saw a whole cookbook full of recipes for "homemade" dishes like that green bean casserole. Very sad, indeed!

Kate said...

Well! I never would have expected my little rant to garner so many responses. Maybe I ought to rant more often. But the comments sure seem to indicate that I'm preaching to the choir, and I've never seen all that much point in doing that.

Kathryn, I can see your point about people with disabilities and chronic illness. I guess I see why prepared foods are necessary in certain cases. But I still don't know why there were 8(!) different brands of lemonade for the taste testers to choose among.

Debra - how sad!

Joanne, I think I had once heard that "lemondade" is the Australian equivalent of American "soda" or "cola." But I had completely forgotten that factoid. Thanks for reminding me.

Wendy, I hear you on the locavore issue. Though I'm not there yet, I am working towards it, and I am more and more aware of this with the remaining food shopping we do. One of my goals for next spring is to start some citrus trees in large self-watering containers. I'll have to drag them into our garage each fall so they don't die, but at least we'll have a limited supply for cocktails or the occasional pitcher of lemonade. These things should remain treats at our latitude. Fortunately I gave up orange juice many years ago, without any locavore motivations.

safira said...

Pelanaka, I felt the same way about pre-cut veggies until I spent some time this spring with my mom. She's elderly with rather severe arthritis in her hands and finds wielding a knife painful. Pre-chopped veggies are a great help for her and others in her position. (I'd bet Kathryn, who also struggles with a chronic illness, has to resort to them sometimes.)

I admit I use lemon and lime juice from a bottle, simply because we use so much of it that it's more frugal than the fruit.

SacredAngel said...

Sometimes the lemons at my store are quite suspect. Small and/or relatively dry. On top of that they can be expensive too. Some weeks it might cost me 55 cents to get three large lemons with enough juice for a gallon of lemonade. And then other weeks I need to buy 14-16 of these suckers and beat them to death to get the juice for a gallon of lemonade.

The price and quality of lemons normally makes my choice for me.

And pre-diced veggies can be a lifesaver. Having the manfriend cook dinner is not helpful if he manages to slice off a finger.