Dear Michael Ruhlman,

Dear Michael Ruhlman,

I like you. I like your work—you’ve got a knack for explaining difficult cooking techniques in ways that make sense to almost anyone. And Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking? One of the smartest not-a-cookbooks I’ve ever read. But your assertion that people who cook from scratch, quickly, are somehow supporting the processed food industry is way off base. In explaining why, onstage at the IACP conference, you called “bullshit” on the notion that Americans may be too busy to prepare a leisurely meal, you wrote:

Part of the problem is the magazine editors and television producers drumming us over the head with fast and easy meal solutions at home. It’s the wrong message to send. These editors and producers and publishers are backing the processed food industry, propelling their message. What I say to you magazine editors and producers, to you Rachael Ray and you Jamie Oliver and your 20 minutes meals: God bless you, but you are advertising and marketing on behalf of the processed food industry.

Really? You really think Jamie Oliver is helping out the very people he rails against on a daily basis? By offering a healthy, fast, from-scratch alternative to processed food, he’s somehow helping mega-corporations to sell that very crap? I’d argue—and so would he, and countless other people, I imagine—that what he’s doing is providing just about the only viable alternative to processed food.

Because for most of us, not having time to cook isn’t a conscious decision. We’re stretched too thin, with work (i.e. jobs we need and can’t just quit because we don’t want to work so hard, as you suggest when you write, “Working 12-hour days is a choice.”), families, and life itself. I do choose to spend my time cooking and writing about it, but many people I know don’t share my passion. Many of the people I’m working with lately are new moms and dads, who are struggling every day to find a way to feed themselves well, and healthfully, without resorting to takeout. Right now I’m writing the Quick Suppers chapter of Parents Need to Eat Too, and I’ve got more than 100 moms, all of whom have babies at home, testing recipes with me. These women aren’t choosing to be busy. They genuinely are busy. They have infants hanging off their bodies and toddlers sticking hands in the toilet and jobs that keep them away from their children for too many hours each day. These women want to cook dinner; they just don’t have the time, or the energy, to spend hours doing it.

My mom-testers and I live in the real world, where being overwhelmed by life commitments is just part of our day. It would be nice if we could afford to slack off on some of them, decide not to finish that TPS report and risk losing a much-needed job (or in my case, submitting that chapter and blowing a book contract), but that’s not going to happen. So instead I’m working with them to figure out ways to fit making dinner into our ridiculously busy schedules. I don’t consider this supporting the processed food industry. In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.

Yours truly,
Debbie Koenig

OK, readers, your turn: What do you think of Ruhlman’s argument?