Sunday, June 3, 2012

Is the pantry the new freezer?

There's something I've been thinking about lately, what I see as a recent seismic shift in the kitchen: Is the Pantry the New Freezer?

Remember how back in the roaring 1980s everyone was investing in big side-by-side refrigerator-freezers? It was the heyday of the new generation of frozen convenience foods, from Haagen Dazs and Tofutti to Pizza Pockets and Lean Cuisine. Seen as a step up from post-war TV dinners, the new frozen foods were seemingly of a higher quality while also being more nutritious and still as convenient as pulling back a corner of plastic film on a plastic tray and microwaving it for four minutes. (Little did we know about trans-fats, leaching plastics, and high sodium back then.)

Fast-forward to the mid 2000s. From being located up top to moving to the side, suddenly new refrigerators were being engineered with the freezers down below. (I just bought a Jenn-Air like this, myself.) Full of annoying partitions and baskets, they barely hold a damn thing. But here's my theory on why this poor industrial design is actually good news for food….

Basically, we're no longer relying on the freezer to feed us. We're going to the greengrocer, farmer's market and supermarket more often. In other words, we're cooking fresh food, and just need a few basic pantry items to round out our dishes. So long freezer, hello fresh chicken, veggies and secret seasonings!

At the same time, pantry items have improved greatly over the years. Think about it: Red lentils + canned San Marzanos + quality spices + fresh onion and garlic = quick, delicious dahl. Plus basmati = my favourite workaday meal. Split peas + organic Tetra stock + Bay leaf + marrow bones or ham hock = a penny-pinching soup for the ages.

I’ve got a million of them -- and you probably do too. So take a look at that pantry again, for the very first time.

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