Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Microwaveable Canada

Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X, was once asked to summarise Canadian cuisine. After thinking about it, he said, 'It has to come from a box.'

The unfortunate reality is that that really is an accurate summary. It would be silly to suggest that there's anything authentically or even particularly Canadian about pre-packaged food, but 'instant', 'ready-made' and 'microwaveable' foods seem to define Canada more than any other country, as far as my limited experience can tell me. A trip to a local supermarket reveals that almost any kind of dish that can be bought in a restaurant can also be bought in a cardboard box, frozen and easy to microwave. Things like flour and ground beef seem to be relegated to increasingly smaller sections of the supermarket. To paraphrase my wife's rather blunt commentary, 'if they weren't too ashamed, they'd offer a service to spoon-feed it directly into peoples' mouths'.

What I'm having trouble coming to terms with, though, is the sentence that 'busy families just don't have the time'. In comparison with traditional working-husband-and-housewife families, certainly the modern Canadian (i.e. 'Western') family has much less time to look after the house. There's no denying that. But double-income families are very, very common in large swaths of the world too, and yet they seem to get by without too much in the way of microwaveable entrées. What exactly is the difference?

Well, I guess one thing is that there is a certain inevitability to convenience, in that it's meaningless to resist it. If the shop has 'instant' moussaka, sooner or later you'll try it. If the shop doesn't have it, you'll never think that you'd want it. Ice cream, for example, is something that can be made at home - but because everybody knows it as a 'ready-made' product, nobody thinks about it. And there's no point in being stubborn and making your ice cream at home if it's available 'readymade' in shops. I guess moussaka, for example, is essentially the same thing.

But ready-made tuna sandwiches? Pre-cooked bacon? Surely there's a point at which you say, 'well, that's enough'. Or one day will we not even bother having kitchens anymore and just put fridges and microwave ovens in the corner of our living rooms?

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