Gongol.com Archives: September 2023

Brian Gongol

September 16, 2023

News To cook a better dinner

It isn't hard to understand the impulse that some people have to make fun of a situation like the one depicting Sen. Mitt Romney putting ketchup on a salmon fillet in order to make it palatable. To those who like it prepared well, the thought of drowning a piece of fine Alaskan salmon in ketchup is a crime. ■ But there is something deeper to the tale: Romney isn't ordering his salmon at a fine restaurant; he's cooking it for himself. While it's entirely possible he simply doesn't like the taste of the fish and wouldn't under any circumstances (not everyone has a taste for seafood), suppose that he might enjoy it if prepared differently. ■ Learning how to prepare foods well makes as much difference as the raw materials themselves. It would be easy to make a bad meal out of a great salmon fillet, if the person cooking it didn't know how to do it well. Mistakes can be made in the thawing, the seasoning, the temperature, the finish, and even in how the meat is flaked away from the skin. ■ Food has a funny place in American popular culture. We don't have a real national cuisine like lots of other countries; perhaps the closest we come is a national consensus on how to put hamburgers on a grill. Lacking a common traditional method of preparation, we have evolved toward a consensus that thrives on meals like chicken nuggets and French fries: The cooking centers on frying oil and the seasoning centers on salt. ■ The ire directed at Romney's approach to salmon is a lot like the condescension often directed towards the eating habits associated with poverty. Sometimes the problem is one of bad choices. Sometimes it's limited access. But sometimes people eat poorly because they haven't acquired the capacity to make pleasing, quick meals from affordable basic ingredients. It's a capacity issue, or perhaps more precisely, a problem of people needing to build capacity and not knowing how to do it. ■ Lots of healthy foods need to be transformed by good preparation in order to become really appetizing. It isn't obvious how that capacity should be built, either. Should everyone have to master a few Julia Child recipes before being conferred a high school diploma? Should everyone receive a voucher for a refresher course in cooking once a decade? Should the government subsidize certain time-saving devices like air fryers for households that qualify for nutrition assistance? ■ Sometimes solving a bigger issue means drilling around for answers to root causes. But it's important to look carefully, because it's not just a problem of poverty. Plenty of Americans with lots of financial means could use some guidance, too.

@briangongol on Twitter