At the close of World War II, American housewives became the target of a barrage of advertising for frozen, canned and packaged foods, marketed on the concept of convenience and the insinuation that no woman had the time to cook from scratch anymore. Industrial food processes invented during the war for soldiers needed to find a new market, fast. Thus, women were suddenly portrayed as apparently being too busy dashing from bridge club, to garden club, to women’s league, to PTA meetings to spend time cooking, and in yesterday’s mail, I caught a blast from the past in the copy being penned by Trader Joe’s in their Fearless Flyer.

Trader Joe’s isn’t suggesting you’re gaily spending all of your time at society meetings. I suppose they are playing more on the fact that most people work like mad these days just to keep a roof over their heads in our awful economy. But their oft-repeated message of convenience might just as well have come out of the freezer section of the 1950s. It’s been said that if you repeat something often enough, people will come to believe it.

Here’s the message you’ll read in the October 2012 Fearless Flyer:

Making soup from scratch is a lovely, romantic notion. In theory. In practice, it gets a little more complicated. It generally involves spending long hours in the kitchen, plenty of chopping and dicing, copious amounts of stirring, and did we mention long hours standing in the kitchen?

In My Personal Experience
The above statement is ridiculous. No one stands around in the kitchen while soup cooks. Bring it to a boil, set it to simmer and then get on with the business of life until the homemade soup is done an hour or two later. Polenta may take copious amounts of stirring, but soup certainly doesn’t. Making soup from scratch is no ‘romantic notion’. We do it once or twice a week here on the family farm. We make a big batch of the best soup in the world and put the leftovers in sealed mason jars in the fridge for lunches all week. Even the most ingredient-filled, complex minestrone takes no more than 15-20 minutes to put together and once it’s simmering, there’s nothing else to do but wait for it to finish cooking itself!

Creamy, buttery, heavenly potatoes. No washing. No peeling. No mashing…involve virtually no effort on the part of the cook

In My Personal Experience
If you’re making no effort, you’re not cooking. The above copy could have been taken right out of those June Cleaver-era cookbooks that tried to convince readers that they could be a ‘real gourmet’ by pouring a can of cream of mushroom soup over frozen broccoli to serve their husband’s boss for company dinner. Potato flakes are certainly a retro-appropriate oddity, maybe suitable for a 1960s foodie party, but most Americans have access to fresh potatoes, right? And homemade mashed potatoes take about 20 minutes from start to finish to prepare. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re hard to make.

When it’s breakfast and you’re short on time…

In My Personal Experience
There it is again…insinuating that you have no time. Trader Joe’s wants you to eat something that sounds very much like a Pop-Tart. I suggest you roll up some re-fried beans in a hot tortilla and have a banana on the side. Please, don’t let anyone tell you that there is no time for you to eat a nutritious breakfast. Quick doesn’t have to mean empty calories from the freezer section.

These Snack Packs are so easy to pack in your child’s lunchbox for school…

In My Personal Experience
So, the family in today’s example not only had no time to prepare breakfast, but the children are also being shorted on a homemade lunch? I imagine it is easy to plonk packaged food into a bag…but you don’t need to be talked down to like that. You’re capable of so much more. Like sending a homemade lunch to school with your child who will be working and playing all day and needs optimum, organic nutrition at every meal. Let’s not advocate taking shortcuts where children’s nourishment is concerned.

You can heat it in the microwave or oven…making it wonderfully convenient, too.

In My Personal Experience
If you own an oven, you can cook your own food, and that’s plenty convenient. If you think about it, food from factories just isn’t very appetizing, no matter how you reheat it.

We’ve long been fans of the ease of bread from a tube.

In My Personal Experience
The above statement pretty much says it all. If you’re eating bread from a tube, soup from a can and dinner from a freezer, you have achieved the factory consumer status 1950′s marketers were working so hard for.

Why I Fundamentally Disagree With Convenience Marketing Messaging

Turning control of food preparation over to factories is precisely why Trader Joe’s is still scrambling over the peanut butter recall that recently sickened so many citizens (the majority of them being children) with more than 100 different salmonella-contaminated products. And the trouble is, it isn’t just Trader Joe’s who found it ‘convenient’ to purchase their peanut butter from mega-giant, Sunland, but so did Whole Foods and Stop And Shop and every other store stocking products with a ton of different company brands on them, but all actually produced by a single, central manufacturer.

People let go of control of food in the ‘convenient’ 1950s, and that’s how the United States went from having tons of independent farms to industrial agribusiness fields owned by just a few corporations, tons of independent slaughterhouses to just a few owned by a few corporations. When disease is generated in one of these few, centralized locations, the products go everywhere and everyone gets sick.

It’s a cheap shortcut to buy from the huge corporation, instead of the small, careful farmer. The acquisition of little brands by big ones happens behind the scenes and the confident 1950s generation may have been looking the other way while all of this centralization started to happen, but I’m not.

I find it darkly ironic to read the short-cut, convenience, no-time-to-cook messaging in the flyer of a company that has stocked its shelves with factory foods that have been recalled again and again. This year, it’s the peanut butter. In 2011, it was romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes and pizza spices. And in 2010, it was a ton of products containing cilantro. And so on and so on.

Trader Joe’s wants to tell you that you should take short cuts and eat factory foods because no one has time to cook, but I think they’d better look to their own issues first. Their willingness (and the willingness of Whole Foods and other grocery stores) to opt for the convenience of factory food production results in these never-ending outbreaks of mass foodborne illness, year after year.

You Don’t Have To Pay The Price For Corporate Shortcuts
The FDA is broken and you cannot count on them to protect your family from contaminated foods. What you can do is prepare as much of your own food from the least-processed ingredients you can grow or buy. The preparation of food is one of the most basic acts of being human. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have time for this basic act of life.

In my own life, I stopped buying jars of Tahini years ago (for making hummus) after getting sick from a contaminated jar. Now, I toast my own sesame seeds and put them in the blender along with the other ingredients. This is a less-processed solution, and I’ve never been sickened again, and the hummus is delicious.

If your family counts on peanut butter and you can’t afford a grinder on your own, how about pitching in with 2 or 3 other families to buy one for peanut butter for all? I know you will clean the machine with much more care and on a much more frequent basis than any factory will.

If you want soup, cook it yourself from fresh vegetables. One batch a week will see you through many lunches and dinners. It is a very pleasant activity, and you can take pleasure in it.

Now, you may not have the ability to press your own olive oil, tap your own maple syrup or gather your own sea salt, but I know for a fact that it’s totally possible to put 99% of the family’s food on the table from scratch, and the cooking of it is a joy.

So, beware those repeated messages of convenience. When their end product is loss of control over your food and trips to the emergency room, the shine wears off. This isn’t the 1950s. We know better.