As the writer and creator of the Real Food column in the Crawfordsville Journal Review, a column which focuses on eating fresh food prepared at home, I would never have thought I’d be writing about food in a box….Why, my food writing began as a celebration of Crawfordsville’s burgeoning Farmers’ Market…but, an e-mail last month changed that. In my inbox I found the nicest invitation: one of my former students had invited me to lunch—which he would prepare and serve.
When I arrived, he was busy chopping herbs and tossing greens, consulting a brightly colored recipe card. We chat and catch up. We chuckle about students, talk about education policies, muse about Africa, and bemoan the presidential race shenanigans. All the while, my personal chef nimbly zests a lemon, brings pasta water to a boil, and points to the pretty appetizer plate of pears and cheese. White wine was on offer.
Our conversation rolled on as we enjoyed our fresh, flavorful meal of beet pasta topped with “knick knacks” of walnuts, fragrant oil, herbs, lemon zest, and goat cheese. Alongside the pasta was a green on green on ruddy red baby kale salad dressed with a Caesar dressing of the chef’s own making. Salud! Dessert of Greek yogurt topped with sliced nectarines followed. In Indy or Lafayette, I would have expected to pay around $25 for such a fine meal, what with the wine, the dessert, and the appetizers. I doubt any restaurant meal would have met this standard of freshness and bright deliciousness.
Not only had I eaten very well -- watching this young adult cook with skillful confidence, employing excellent, fresh ingredients had taught me a lot. My home chef was comfortable with herbs, spices, and other tasty items which none of us would have found in our grandparents’ pantries. Today’s young (or not so young) cooks not only have the worldwide web at their fingertips, they have worldwide cuisine…and they have an ace in the hole.
Millennials like things crisp and clean, fast as the speed of a keystroke. They like do-it-yourself projects. They like to accommodate busy lives by having all sorts of goods shipped to their doors. Importantly, they also know far more than their elders about how vital it is to eat healthy foods. Not lost on them are recent studies reporting that middle-aged and young people living now may be the first generation to have shorter lifespans than their parents, given the pernicious creep of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
To avoid such dire consequences, young professionals, especially, are pulling out that ace in the hole: they’re opening up their iPads and subscribing to Blue Apron or another cook-at-home meal delivery service.
“Meal kits” composed of premeasured ingredients and recipe cards can now be shipped to your doorstep in refrigerated boxes for about $60 a week. The kits contain ingredients for three meals, and will feed from two to six people at a cost of roughly $10 a meal. Hundreds of small and mid-size farmers supply the fresh food.
I decided to turn over the local rock to see just who is tapping into this trend by posting a message on Facebook. Within minutes, seven or eight enthusiastic comments blink onto my screen: Respondents from New York City to California to Texas to Chicago say they’re getting fresh ingredients delivered to them. Lots of locals partake too. As for Millennials, several respondents, all under age 40, noted that they have tried three or four different services and went on to compare them.
One local reply came from a young colleague who writes, “I will tell you that I’d never prepared a fish dish before in my life. Now, I buy catfish on purpose. Learning new preparation techniques has been really nice and I’m trying recipes I would never have tried on my own because of all the spices I would have had to buy and possibly never use again….I’m eating much healthier. [My housemate and I] have thrown tiny dinner parties preparing bigger quantities of the same meals.” Parents make peace with a teenage child when they cook together; couples get engaged while cooking together.
The extent of these businesses’ success can be measured by the stir they’ve caused in the Fortune 500 community: Blue Apron is worth billions of dollars, according to its investors. The many other meal-in-a-box companies springing up suggest that customers’ appetites for this service have barely been whetted.
If the goal is to empower new chefs, it looks like it’s working. Still, I do hope all these Boxers, now equipped with cooking skills and a real taste for fresh food, will trek down to their nearest Farmers’ Markets once spring arrives. The local food will be even fresher and less expensive.
Cook up a storm, you pugilists!
Helen Hudson is a former Icelandic scholar, professor and teacher. Her educational career took her to Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin and Indiana -- all away from her Iowa birthplace and upbringing. An addiction to her passion for food and sustainable living, she works with passenger mail and is involved with community organizations in Crawfordsville where she lives.