The refrigerator part did not arrive. My menfolks assure me that it has been two weeks that we have been without a refrigerator, though to me it seems like a lot more.

Now that I have a reasonable work schedule again, I have the option to go buy food and come right home and cook it and eat it, so fresh foods are not entirely impossible, though this is an expensive and inconvenient way of doing things. Especially for nights when I have rehearsals and stuff soon after work, and for breakfast, this is a non-solution (or, as Mr. Bush would put it, “not an anecdote.”)

So I went ahead and bought some foods that can be kept in the freezer or on a shelf and prepared without the use of milk or eggs. Hot cereal is a perfect choice for breakfast, of course, but my boys will not eat it. So I wanted some alternatives for them. This involved some standing and staring, trying to guess what might taste good.

Because this — in addition of course to the cost, ecologically unsound packaging, and nutritional emptiness — is the problem with these foods. They do not taste good. They do not taste like food. If you look at the labels of these convenience foods, you find that they have, say, 7 grams of fat and 14 grams of sugar, less than 1 gram of fiber, and 2 grams of protein. Instant potatoes, pasta sauce, cookies, breakfast foods — it hardly matters what the product is, because they basically all are composed of sugar and fat, with tiny bits of protein and fiber left over from the original foods. We have meat from the freezer, and apples and carrots and potatoes in the pantry, so I do not expect anyone to actually succumb to kwashiokor in the near future, but still.

When eating these things, I cannot help wondering “Why bother?” After all, if there is no taste and no nutritional value to speak of, there is little point. In particular I often find myself thinking that — if I am destined to eat simple carbohydrates and saturated fats — I could be eating Chocolate Nemesis or apple pie. There is not much nutritional difference between a processed breakfast food from the grocery and a good pastry from the French bakery. The only point of eating convenience foods is in order to stop being hungry. So, if we end up without a refrigerator for another week, we could just pick the non-perishable things that taste best and eat those. If this means we ate nothing but chocolate and Triscuits, it wouldn’t be any worse than instant pancakes.

Our local paper has a column which reviews convenience foods. The author usually tells the price of an item and then describes it as “tasty” or “filling.” This doesn’t really help, does it? Herewith, some reveiws of the convenience foods we have tried out during our three-week sojourn in the land of processed foods.

  • Betty Crocker just-add-water muffins and biscuits, which #2 son found and was rather excited about. These do not taste like food, but like sugar and flavorings, and their texture is like cotton balls. They contain lots of sugar and both saturated fats and trans-fats, but no fiber and little protein.
  • Bisquik just-add-water biscuits. I used to use Bisquik — up until a couple of years ago, in fact — and I like the taste. But these are even worse nutritionally than the just-add-water muffins. They are worse than the Biquik you buy in a box and use in combination with fresh ingredients, too.
  • Nutrigrain Waffles, which I have eaten before, taste quite a bit like food. They cost a lot more than homemade, but they are also much faster, and with 3 grams each of fiber and sugar, they are not all that bad.
  • Brown and Serve sausages are nasty. Their flavor is unlike anything real. This may not be fair. I read in The Smithsonian magazine recently that human flesh tastes like young cassowary, a description that I found pretty meaningless. And recently, when my husband and #2 son were talking about eating live creatures, #2 son asked, “But don’t they move around in your mouth?” and my husband responded, “Not after you bite them.” So it may be that this sausage tastes like something else that I have never eaten. The trouble is that real sausage comes in quantities that are more even than my boys can eat at one meal, so I wanted something that would come out of the freezer in small quantities and be eaten straightaway.
  • Schwan’s Beef Taquitos. I like these. They taste like real shredded beef and corn tortillas, which is I think what they are made of. If served with fresh salsa and a nice fresh salad with avocado and some beans and perhaps a bit of cheese, they would be a good fast dinner. The other frozen meals we tried from Schwan’s were not as realistic.
  • Frozen ravioli tastes fairly good. Spaghetti sauce from a jar is good with them, even though it contains as much sugar as ice cream. With salad and fresh whole-grain bread, this could be a thing I would eat from choice. Canned ravioli is not good. I ate this as a child, and fed it to my own children when they were little, but it does not taste like real food. It is sweet and mushy, not something you really look for in pasta.
  • Luzianne Jambalaya mix is something that we bought, but which the boys have so far refused to try. “I just don’t think it would be good,” says #2 son. I gave it to #2 daughter.
  • Aunt Jemima Complete pancake mix makes pancakes that my boys like, though to me they do not taste like real food. They are composed mostly of sugar, but they do have some protein.
  • Frozen vegetables. Thank goodness for them. We eat these anyway, since we have a short growing season here. Not compared with Finland, I suppose, but still. Canned tomatoes are also useful, and dried fruits. See? I am not completely prejudiced.

I am fantasizing about nonfat yogurt, whole-grain muffins made with fresh milk and eggs, salads…

Okay, now that I have finished whining, I think I will look at the health food store for better choices. Health food store convenience foods are expensive, but maybe they are made of things other than sugar and hydrogenated palm oil.