Yesterday, in the supermarket, buying food for my family, I felt guilty. I was buying nutritious food, to make a hot meal for my children. I was serving them meat and salad, with fruit for dessert. And yet I knew it wasn't enough. And I didn't want anyone to glance into my trolley.
You see, I was buying pre-made burger patties to serve with dinner. They were gourmet burger patties made with 100% beef, but they were pre-made, not home-made, lovingly, from scratch. And I had also bought some pre-crumbed schnitzels to whack in the oven, and even a (gasp!) ready-to-serve lasagne for a particularly busy day.
And this is wrong. This is bad parenting. This is no longer acceptable. We mothers are no longer expected to use pre-packaged foods. It is no longer enough to put meals on the table, even if they are healthy and nourishing and well balanced. With the advent of the Thermomix, and Paleo, and organic, and 'clean eating', it isn't even enough just to cook anymore. We are expected to cook all of our food ourselves from base ingredients, otherwise we have failed our children. We are somehow sub-par.
Life got easier for a while, for those responsible for family meals – and, let's face it, those responsible are still overwhelmingly women. With convenience foods and fast-foods and take away and home delivery, we women could spend less time in the kitchen, and more time in other activities. We were freed up to work more, to parent more, to relax! But now the tide has completely turned, and we are being drawn back to the apron once more.
Now, it is not okay to use convenience foods. Now, not only should we be making burgers and schnitzels from scratch (using 'clean', organic ingredients sourced from ethically sustainable sources), now, we should be making everything from scratch. The internet abounds with pictures of Thermomix nut butters and Paleo mayonnaise and home-made pastas. There are 'real' tomato sauces which taste so much better than the commercial brands! And watermelon sorbets with only one quarter of the sugar! And though every single one of these recipes promises to be 'quick and simple and easy', I can assure you that they are not nearly as quick and simple and easy as going to the shops.
Now of course there is nothing wrong with making your own food. There are people who genuinely enjoy making elaborate meals for their families, and if that's how they want to spend their time I applaud them. But the flipside is the pressure on people like me, people who see cooking as a chore and prefer to get through it as quickly as possible. I am a pariah for daring to buy pre-crumbed schnitzels and my children will suffer for my folly.
The implicit message in food writing and commentary these days is that it is not okay to take shortcuts. And whilst I stop short of claiming a worldwide conspiracy to tie women to their aprons, this is certainly the effect of the movement.
But I'm resisting. As a mother of three kids who are radiantly healthy and not overweight, I will not be making my own butters or sauces. I will continue to use convenience foods for the freedom they afford me, which I value higher than home-made pasta.
And besides, that store-bought lasagne was fantastic. Freedom tastes pretty damn good to me.