Why We’re Not Eating Out Very Often These Days

There are several reasons, actually.  Here are the most important ones:

The Economy

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s been some economic problems in the US (and the rest of the world) lately.  Obviously, most of us are being conservative with our paycheck and monthly budgets.  That alone is a reason to eat out less.  But the more important reason has to do with the economy of running an eatery.

A restaurant has to make a profit for the owners to stay in business.  If food is more expensive (it is) and customers determine where they eat based on how much it costs (they do) — then cooks and owners have to find ways to keep their menu prices low to keep customers coming through the door.  A café can keep prices low in several ways —

  1. They can operate with fewer employees.
  2. They can sell more liquor.
  3. They can charge for extras – like chips & salsa, or rolls & butter.
  4. They can make serving sizes smaller.
  5. They can use cheaper ingredients.

And it’s that last one — #5 — that’s my biggest problem with eating out these days.

When a café (or a home cook) opts for cheaper ingredients than they have used in the past, it is quality and health that pay the price.  Margarine is cheaper than olive oil or butter.  Fatty, assembly line meat is cheaper than high-quality lean beef or pork.  Farm raised fish is cheaper than wild.  Stale is cheaper than fresh.  Industrially grown — with all its massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides — is cheaper than skillfully farmed and organically farmed.  Pasta, rice, potatoes, and white flour are cheaper than fresh veggies and fruit as side dishes.  A fried chicken sandwich — which is a small piece of chicken wrapped in breading and then wrapped in bread — is cheaper than a piece of grilled or roasted chicken.  A milkshake made with partially hydrogenated fats + high fructose corn syrup solids (a non-dairy alternative to fresh milk which all but 2 of the leading fast food chain serve) has no milk and is therefore completely shelf stable (no wasted food) and is therefore CHEAP, compared to the real MILKshakes people think they are drinking.

And the truth is — even after our economy picks back up — don’t expect any of the places you eat at to go BACK to spending more money.  After all — if their customers didn’t notice or didn’t mind, then why sacrifice profits in favor of higher quality food?

All it took was one taco salad last fall where I found an artery mixed in with the ground meat –And eating-out lost its appeal.  That would never go on a plate in my kitchen, and I’ll be damned if I’ll pay somebody else to serve it to me out of theirs.

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Anthony Bourdain

You know the great executive chef (emeritus?) of the brassiere, Les Halles in NYC, Anthony Bourdain, from the show No Reservations on the Travel Channel?  Do you know how he became famous outside the kitchen of Les Halles?   You know Bourdain because he wrote a book in 2000:

And it was a helluva book.  It still is.  And it was a sensational book at the time he wrote it because professional chefs had never talked openly about their profession — the business of buying/cooking/preparing/selling food, or the sub-culture they live in and perpetuate.  That TV kitchen-Brit, Gordon Ramsay, would have been nothing more than a passing breath of hot air if Bourdain hadn’t blown restaurant kitchen wide open, first.

But the initial result was — Bourdain was not just the black sheep of the profession — he was tainted.  Hated.  Resented.  Scorned.  And if the culinary industry had succeeded, he would have been black-balled from the profession entirely.  It didn’t matter that he was a GREAT french chef.  In fact, that may have made it worse.  He was one of the stars of the culinary world.  And like a snake in the grass, he bit  — and it was venom on those pages.  And it was also humor.  And it was enlightening.  And self-deprecating.  And well written.  And something we all need to know about the food we eat, from the lowliest café, to the most high-brow plates of the night.  That he has since become more famous as a foodie is a funny turn of events, but doesn’t diminish his skills with a knife — or a pen.  His excellent history on Typhoid Mary is also a great read, as is his Les Halles Cookbook.

A few tips until you take time to read it: never order your food well done, don’t send food back to the kitchen, and forget brunch — have breakfast or lunch instead.

For why all those warning (and hundreds of other things,) you need to read Kitchen Confidential.  It’s named after a crime-rag for a reason.

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The Preponderance of Bad Taste

Okay.  I’m a snob.  I like good food.  I like good service.  I like to eat in attractive places that are crisply clean, well imagined, and smell wonderful.  I don’t care if it’s cute and campy, or table-clothed and candle-lit — but I do care if the people running the business care.

Unless you can afford eating among the Michelin Stars, there’s not a lot of originality out there.  And worse — where there is originality, it’s not always good — either because of taste, because of the quality, or because of nutrition.

And there are enough places out there in the bigger world where the food is good, that I know the difference.  And that’s why it’s impossible for me to tolerate going somewhere just because it is cheap, or close, or easier than cooking myself.  None of those is a good enough reason.  And since I live in the land of lazy, tight-wad old sticks — the restaurants here have fallen to appease lowest expectation.  The result is — there are so few good places to eat within 100 miles — that I’d grow tired of any one of them if we only patronized them, but did it every few days.

Rather than grow tired of the few really excellent choices — I’ll just cook for myself, thanks, and save the eating-out for special occasions and celebrations.

Do I ever go out to eat?  Yes.  But my first consideration (okay — after taste) is this:

Are the people preparing and selling me food
trying to help my efforts (everyone’s) to be healthy?

Once that question is answered, that determines where I eat — the picking the right menu items, and deciding how much to eat is the whole task.  And like everything else — requires attention.

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