A bit of home-made philosophy?

Preparing the sausage swirls for my last recipe post, I wondered if it was any cheaper to make your own and freeze them in bulk, since this is not a particularly expensive meal and it is very easy.  So, below is the calculation for that recipe.  Short answer: it isn’t cheaper, it could be more than double the price if using pre-bought pastry. I have not dared to look at what the costs would be to do this with organic ingredients.

It makes me wonder what life are we are collectively living.  The costs of the processed item–paying someone else’s wages, the packaging costs, transport and all the other overheads, the potential waste of food unsold past its best-buy date and environmental costs, plus the costs of taking up shelf space in a shop with all of its staff and overheads and yet, and yet, the costs of the processed food product is still cheaper than making your own.  I have taught some economics classes and lots of business courses at university level, so I do understand economies of scale and supply chain efficiencies, yet this sort of madness still throws me.  It means that my own handwork and effort in my own home are worth no financial gain to me.  Of course, the ingredients for making at home all have their own supply chain costs built-in, but even still. 

  • Purchasing 8 x Large Sausage Rolls, Waitrose Essentials Label = £2.40
  • Purchasing ingredients for 8 x Large Sausage Rolls, (making pastry) = £ 3.60
  • Purchasing ingredients for 8 x Large Sausage Rolls (buying pastry) = £5.10

So, does society now celebrate this form of thrift, the housewife/husband who shops around for the cheapest processed foods to serve their family?  Far from it, we laugh at chavs that eat chips and Macs and turkey twizzlers and ask questions about it in our media and our parliaments. Economists, however, would tell you that buying cheap, cheaper, cheapest is the rational, economic utility maximising response, i.e. it is the most sensible behaviour to display in this world we have created.  It follows it is everyone else not utility maximising who can be said to be behaving weirdly, but that can’t be right either, can it?

Home-cooking, if it demonstrably cannot provide any cost benefits, becomes then about taste and flavour, control over the type and quality of the ingredients, possibly with some environmental advantages too in reducing packaging going into landfill, but really, it comes down to whether you enjoy the experience and have the time to indulge your enjoyment.  It becomes, therefore, about luxury.  Generations of my family have cooked at home for reasons of thrift, but in less than half of my own lifetime a complete and seemingly irreversible volte face has taken place.  As the ancient Chinese curse invokes, we most certainly do live in interesting times.

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Categories: Oddities and Food Stories

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3 Comments on “A bit of home-made philosophy?”

  1. September 1, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    The more I cook I realize how true everything is that you are saying! As someone who lives in the U.S., where packaged food is more than abundant, it can sometimes be hard to convince myself to cook, because it is in fact expensive. I made pita chips the other day, and though the ingredients were just over half the cost of buying the chips at the store, I still had to figure in the time it took to make them and the clean up afterwards. In the end, I felt like I lost. It may have really been smarter to buy them premade.

    To add to what you said about the economics of it all I think a huge factor is that these manufactures are making such large quantities of each food that they can do it so much more quickly and efficiently compared with the common housewife, in a typical kitchen.

    The two things that keep me cooking are that; somedays I enjoy cooking, and also I can control what ingredients actually make it in to my dinner–i.e. less preservatives and dyes!

  2. September 3, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    Totally agree re: controlling the ingredients, and its not just weird chemicals and E numbers. Lots of people may have no idea quite how much paprika and chilli they are unwittingly eating every day because it is widely used as a colourant in pre-packaged food–Hellman’s mayo is a good example. Chilli and peppers/paprika are known irritants and allergens and folks might not make the connection between their weird rash and their sandwich unless they get so ill they have to be tested.

  3. September 7, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    This is a really interesting posting, thanks. At first I was quite shocked by your findings as I’d believed that it was mostly cheaper to make things at home.

    I guess that’s true when you compare eating out in restaurants compared to home-cooked food. But what of ready meals? I suppose they are cheaper, but gawd knows what goes into them.

    Home cooking may work out more expensive but I believe the quality will invariably be higher (assuming the person making them at home can actually cook well). As you say, perhaps home cooking is now a luxury. Perhaps it is, but it’s a luxury I don’t plan on giving up any time soon.

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