The real price of food in America

It’s the time of year when American turkeys are looking nervously over their shoulder every time that the farmer comes anywhere near them. If their heads are not already hundreds of miles away from their shoulders, that is. With Thanksgiving less than ten days away, old family recipes are being dug out of dusty drawers across the country as people prepare to make stuffing or cranberry sauce for their gathering of relatives.

The weird thing is that for a fair number of people, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the few that they actually bother to cook, or indeed where the family gathers together around one table. Mainland Europe still tries to cling on to the principle of the family dinner, but in the UK and (especially) the US, the concept of sitting down as one at a given moment is sadly disappearing quicker than ice cream at a five year old’s birthday party.

In the United States at least, that’s hardly surprising. At the end of my road in Brooklyn are a butchers and a diner. On the diner’s window, there’s currently a big sign advertising their Thanksgiving Dinner for 10-12 people, listing all the trimmings including stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy and so on, at an all-in price of $169.99. The butcher has a similar sign on their window for their Thanksgiving deal, featuring a turkey big enough for 10-12 people and all the various sides that you could hope for. Hell, they’ll even cook the turkey for you so that you won’t have to spend three days soaking the roasting pan afterwards.

And the price for this do-it-(vaguely)-yourself feast? $199.99. That’s thirty dollars more expensive than cooking for yourself at home, even though the restuarant will be providingyou with all the cutlery, crockery and waiter service – and doing the washing up afterwards.

It’s not true outside the big cities, but in New York and other metropolitan centrescenters, there are plenty of people who don’t cook their own food because it’s cheaper to order it in. Sure, they may be eating meat made primarily of corn, and consuming their own bodyweight in monosodium glutamate, but who cares when you can get a giant helping of General Tso’s Chicken for six dollars, eh? Ordering in food is a treat for me and The Special One – for many people in New York, it’s become a way of life.

Can anybody tell that I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment?

Now, time to dig out my world-famous gravy recipe in preparation for next week. Oh, and spare a thought for those (pasture raised) British turkeys who are currently sitting around in their barns laughing smugly at the fate of their American counterparts, and haven’t yet realised that December is just around the corner…

13 thoughts on “The real price of food in America

  1. Alasdair

    Dylan – if you have not yet encountered them – look for Roasting Bags …

    Large transparent heat-resistant oven-heat-tolerant plastic bags …

    Take bag big enough for well-stuffed turkey and some …

    Put in a large table-spoon of flour plus seasonings (salt, pepper, etc, to taste) … cut up some potatoes (other veggies as per taste – I favour cloves of fresh garlic) and put ’em in the bag and then shake bag up and down and sideways to coat the potatoes (and optional veggies) with the seasoned flour mix …

    Allow potatoes and veggies to form a layer along one ‘face’ of the bag, on which to sit the stuffed turkey …

    Stuff turkey as per customary preparation for your household (I flavour a pork-based sage and onion almost-meat-loaf mix) …

    Put turkey on bed of vpotatoes/vaggies …

    If you like bacon, put rashers of bacon in a single layer over the top/breastbone of the stuffed turkey – this keeps the bag from even thinking of sticking to the bird … (be warned, for whatever reasopn, most people fight over these rashers (grin)) …

    Add a cup or three of liquid – I use one cup of red wine and one cup of water … seal the bag with the handy-dandy tie supplied with the bag …

    Bake/roast the turkey for however long your oven and bird size dictates …

    As the bird cooks, the flour and bird juices and added liquid literally makes the gravy … the bird ends up moist and delicious …

    And no need to sand-blast the roasting pan afterwards, just throw away the roasting bag, instead …

    (And, no, I don’t work for Reynolds, who makes the roasting bags stocked by our local supermarkets)

  2. carrie

    yeah, i really miss family dinners. i don’t miss turkey tho 😉

    love that book! have In Defense of Food but haven’t yet read it yet. i’m very much into that kind of thing.

  3. Lillie

    I heard on the radio the other day, an advertisment for Trader Joe’s.

    They have (delicious) turkey gravy — without the lumps.

    16 ounces for $1.99

  4. Expat Mum

    We eat a family dinner almost every evening – mind you, that’s because I can’t be bothered to drive my kids to extra-curricular activities. (No really, they do most of their music and sports at school which is two blocks away).
    We are eating Thanksgiving Dinner out however, as we are flying to the -in-laws on that day. Great way of getting out of slaving in the kitchen. 🙂

  5. that Girl39

    Take away should not be the norm and one we do indulge in only as a treat like yourselves. I listen to certain family members and friends raving about their bargain food, spending as little as possible on the family food shop but squandering it on other stuff! I just don’t get it – if you have spare money shouldn’t it go on decent food? At the same time you can educate your kids about the importance of cooking too. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the latest Jamie Oliver series after I saw the first episode where a mother only feeds her 5 year old daughter take out donner kebab(!) and chips as she doesn’t know how to cook. Heartbreaking.
    What’s the US equivalent of a donner kebab?

  6. fishwithoutbicycle

    Friends visiting me in New York once asked me if it was true that they were building new apartments without full kitchens – just a hot plate and microwave – as New Yorkers order in so much.

    Admittedly I am going out for Thanksgiving dinner with friends, but generally I do cook at home and ordering in a treat for me too. I prefer the health benefits to knowing what’s in my food 😉

  7. Milo

    I miss family dinners. We had them when I was a child (though I was at boarding school for 5 years so eating with my peers is what I grew up with). Fond memories though.

    I own my own place and live alone these days so it’s a case of ‘meal for one’ in the evening, only I don’t tend to eat in the evenings as work provide lunch and I only need 1 square meal a day!

    That said, I do enjoy eating out which I do fairly regularly too!

  8. Expat Mum

    The doner kebab is referred to (here in Chicago anyway) as a gyros, pronounced kind of “Heeross”. Funnily enough, the word kebab is “kabob” which I can never quite get my tongue around!

  9. Expat Mum

    I’ve just walked past the Greek place round the corner and must correct myself (idiot!) . A kebab here is called a kabob, but they don’t seem to be as big as in the UK, ie. not as popular. The meat that you slice off the big hunk (technical eh?) is the gyros. Sorry.

  10. amelie

    I always wondered if people who moved to the States got into the Thanksgiving tradition… it seems like you’ve settled into it quite nicely. As for me, I’m trying to figure out how to cook the whole thing for eight people in my tiny Paris oven. And… craziness ensues.

  11. Esther

    This will only be my second Thanksgiving and I’m DEFINITELY into the tradition – it’s the only time of year in LA when everyone eats real food instead of wheatgrass smoothies and steamed broccoli.

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