Why Food Experts Don’t Matter and the Philosophy of 30 Minute Meals



Recently, a heated food debate has surfaced between the dyed in the wool “food expert” Michael Ruhlman (he’s written some fine books on food, appeared on TV, and speaks at conferences) and the food philosophies espoused by celluloid FoodTV starts such as Rachel Ray and Jamie Oliver.  In a Huffington Post article, Ruhlman argues that people should make the time to cook a whole chicken (w/ potatoes) in the oven for an hour and that if you, as an American adult, choose to heat up a Lean Cuisine meal instead of cooking that chicken it’s not because you don’t have the time, but rather you choose not to make the time to cook, from scratch, food at home.

Personally, I’m torn with Ruhlman’s assertion.  On one hand, my nose turns ever so northward when I hear the phrase cooking is too complicated and takes time (and as Michael asserts, I say, bullshit!), yet I can clearly see the want and need to cook a quick meal in under 30 minutes after a long day at the office and a screaming baby.  However, there is one thing that I do know, and assert boldly; that is, the American public should stop listening to so called “food experts.”  And, moreover, it’s ok to read Ruhlman’s books, watch Pepin on PBS, and maybe even spend a few minutes with Mario Batali and Rachel Ray on FoodTV, but please think for yourself e don’t take what food stars say as “food truth.”

I’ve arrived at my food philosophy via my Italian heritage.  I grew up with “from scratch” food and, on the occasion, was allowed to dabble in the processed food world (my mother allowed me to eat potato chips and the occasional “Steak’um sandwich.”  So, I cringe whenever I hear someone in the food industry utter the words local, organic, Sous vide (French for under vacuum), micro-gastronomy, etc. as a reference to some sort of Über-cuisine.  To anyone looking to appreciate food, I say to them go out and buy nice ingredients (the best you can afford – see my article on the myth of equating good food with spending power) and experiment with cooking  at home.

Specifically, and as an example, go and buy some good dry pasta, a nice bottle of extra virgin olive, and a hunk of Grana Padano.  Thereafter, go home and cook the pasta and combine it with the olive oil and grated cheese (that will take you 15 minutes; hence a “15 minute meal”).  Is this a bad thing?  No, rather it’s a pragmatic truth that modern life does have drastically different time constraints (regardless of how a family or individual made their way, or “choose their way”, into this situation) and that most individuals want to eat tasty meals that do not require excessive amounts of time to consume.   Given a long day at the office I’d rather, for example, purchase a rotisserie chicken from my local market than spend an hour watching it roast in my oven (including the minimal prep time).  If I had a light day and I’d like to stand in my kitchen come dinner time for about an hour and half, I’ll roast a chicken, make risotto, finely chop some fennel and parsley for a salad, and even make a small appetizer of toasted bread with homemade ricotta.

The point is that it’s too easy to say that folks should both turn away from 30 minutes meals and healthy and high quality foods prepared by an outside source.  Yes, on most occasions, folks should find time to cook from scratch meals at home (as we do here on Scordo), however there are pragmatic times when “making time to cook” is truly not a possibility (this is a hard truth, even epistemic if I can get fancy!).


  1. Vince,
    This debate going on it interesting. I wholeheartedly agree that people have chosen to not take the time to cook. I’m just not sure it’s a choice on purpose. I think that many of my generation and the generation after me grew up with working mother’s and the rise of the prepared and processed food industry. I grew up on that crap. I hated food until I met my husband, who also grew up with a working mother but whose family took the time to cook from scratch for most of the time. When he started cooking for me, I was mesmerized. For the first 4 years of our marriage, I cooked one meal out of necessity. When we had children who were old enough to eat, I started to cook real meals with real food because I didn’t want them to grow up eating the same crap I did. Unlike most of their generation, my kids grew up with family meals made from whole foods. Their friends clamor to be invited for dinner. Friend after friend has regaled me with stories of how their families not only eat processed foods but most nights do not eat together. My kids, ages 21, 18, and 16 have told me how grateful they are that we have dinner together every night. I hope the movement toward families eating real food together gains momentum and really changes how America eats.

  2. Hey Vince—
    You know, we’re spoiled. I’m really spoiled because I spent a lot of time with my nonna, and all she did was cook. We were raised on great quality food, and I feel compassion for those who never had this privilege, and have eaten mostly over processed food.
    I plan on doing a blog post soon on the advantages of cooking and eating with family consistently. I hope to reference your splendid article here, as I agree with it 100%
    Nice job, as usual!

  3. Food doesn’t have to take time; it just requires thought. Well done. Salute!

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  7. Thank-you so much for this article. I love to cook and I hate processed food. Fast food and overly processed food makes me ill. I am Italian and I love a good meal.(My father was born in Ripabotoni, Italy) I love your articles and your recipes. Keep them coming!
    Vicki Martino

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