Sunday, July 9, 2017

Blue Apron Slaves

I read somewhere recently that roughly one third of American households have made use of some sort of food delivery or preparation service by now.

We have.

A friend sent us a free week of meals from a company called Blue Apron. I'd never heard of it (though Blue Apron sends out more than 30 million meals a year.) We tried it, and have continued on with the service—for now.

A cardboard box arrives on the doorstep every Thursday containing the recipes and materials to make three dinner-time meals. It's sort of fun to unload the box, wherein you'll find little vials of vinegar and honey, slim plastic containers of fresh cilantro and tarragon, robust cucumbers, serrano peppers and cute fingerling potatoes, packets of yogurt, thick bundles of soba noodles, plastic bags of barley and farro, and occasionally a fresh peach or a couple of limes.  

There are also bags of fresh chicken, beef, salmon, and pork, surrounded by packets of ice.

The accompanying recipe sheets, printed in color on thick cardstock, show you, step by step, how to chop, prepare, assemble, and cook the meals. The quantities are well-proportioned so that an average couple (e.g. us) can eat the entire meal, or save a bit of the starchy side dish for later consumption.

One obvious benefit of this approach is that the exotic Chinese sauce required for a given dish (one tablespoon) won't sit on the shelf in the refrigerator door for years. It's all gone! Those fresh herbs you typically pay too much for at the supermarket and hardly use won't inflict any collateral damage as they turn yellow and shrivel in the fridge because they're all gone!  There are lots of packages to dispose of, but most of them are little packages.

The cooking process is fun, no question. As for the meals themselves, I would say that a) none of them have been bad;  b) all of them have been interesting; c) all of them have made use of flavor combinations that have never appeared in our kitchen before; d) none of them have been great.

So, what's not to like? The cost? It's hard to say. Each meal costs $20 for two. No waste. No drive time to the store. Still, that's pricey.

The main drawback to this method, as far as I'm concerned, is that it engenders a condition of utter passivity in the mind of the cook. Here's the box, here's the stuff, here's the recipe: make it.

This is a far cry from the usual situation, in which I say to myself: those tomatoes in the fridge are getting rotten. Should I buy some basil and make bruschetta or buy some bacon and make BLTs? And that butternut squash that's been sitting around: I dimly recall a recipe involving fresh sage and scallops. Yes, but can I find it?

If I go with bruschetta, I really ought to get some good bread from Rustica. I can get that at Surdyk's. Maybe pick up a little tub of that Tuscan bean dip, too. Hey! I think the Alte Garnatxa white is on sale right now....

With Blue Apron, I have never felt so much like a prisoner, stripped of initiative and imagination, coddled and force fed. Meanwhile, we have not cooked a single Blue Apron meal that I'd add to our homemade cookbook of favorites.Though that peach salsa we had last night (see below) was awfully good. To "keep" a recipe would require some extra effort at measuring. They don't tell you what quantities are required; they just give you the exact amount you'll need.

On the other hand, this summer our consumption of frozen pizzas has dropped considerably. And we've gotten into the habit of suspending delivery every other week (easy to do on the website) to alleviate the pressure. I guess we're not quite ready to go cold turkey. But soon the thought of responding to an endless succession of cardboard boxes containing pretty meals, all different but identically structured--meat, starch, chopped vegetables--will become intolerable.

We must break free of this quintessential "first-world problem." Soon!

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