Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Macaroni Musings

We need to talk about mac n’ cheese, because apparently I have some strong opinions.

When I was a young child, I would eagerly dump packets of orange powder into the steaming pot of macaroni noodles, excited to watch these noodles transform into the glorious concoction that is mac n’ cheese. I gobbled them up, savoring all of their fake-cheesy goodness. There was just nothing like it. Years later, when I got married, I decided that I would make mac n’ cheese for a meatless meal. However, rather than fly to those convenient boxes of my youth (which, while delicious, were not very filling) I decided to prepare homemade mac n’ cheese. I happily made a roux, cooked it into a sauce, added real cheese, poured it over noodles, and was filled with pride at my culinary pursuits. Those were the days when—as an excited newlywed—I plunged myself wholeheartedly into homemaking (in between college classes) and operated under the belief that “homemade is always best.” (Yes, those were the days when I even made homemade flour tortillas and, on occasion, homemade noodles)

Homemade mac n’ cheese was good, but it definitely lacked that delightful zest of the boxed variety. It wasn’t until a few years later when a coworker gave my husband the best recipe for mac n’ cheese; the ultimate recipe that we periodically prepare (and enjoy immensely).

Even though this multi-cheese recipe (which is more like fondue with a couple noodles tossed in) is incredible and what we’ve raised our children on, the boxed variety still has an appeal. A few months ago, two of my children were given boxes of mac n’ cheese as a gift, and I rediscovered the delight of this simple food—and the ease! This is why so many moms serve their children boxed mac n’ cheese, I realized as my children happily scooped the glossy orange noodles into their mouths. It’s easy, cheap, and they love it. And, I can’t deny it, I still find myself enjoying it, too.

But then, one day, we opened a box of Organic Mac n’ Cheese that we had been given (we only had two boxes in the cupboard, one organic and one “regular,” so I prepared separate pots). It did not look cheesy, it was not very creamy, and it tasted very bland. This was a box of top-level mac n’ cheese, yet our entire family kept filling our bows from the pot of cheap, not-organic, mac n’ cheese—because that, at least, tasted cheesy and delicious.

 As I looked at the rate in which the cheap mac n’ cheese was being eaten, and the way in which the organic stuff was not being eaten, I began to wonder why we even have that organic, all-natural, “healthy” boxed mac n’ cheese in the first place.

I understand that even health-food-people want convenience too, but I just don’t understand the reasoning behind organic boxed mac n’ cheese. Do we really care if our highly-processed convenience food is organic? And if they aren’t cleaning the factory equipment that’s used with some all-natural essential oil cleaner, does it even matter? Are the little paper packets organic, too? Is the packaging sustainable? If we're going to spend more money on "organic" food, we at least need some consistency from the company. Furthermore, why should we buy it if it doesn't taste nearly as glorious as the cheap, non-organic variety?

(SIDE NOTE: Someone recently visited us and brought a dozen eggs from Whole Foods, and I laughed at the irony that there was a ton of unnecessary plastic packaging; it was a far cry from the recyclable, minimal material used to package eggs at a local farm we've often visited) 


I wonder if the image is part of the appeal. After all, if you offhandedly mention to other people that “I’m just going to make a pot of [insert brand name of organic mac n’ cheese] for lunch,” that sounds nicer than “I’m just going to toss a box of cheap mac n’ cheese into a pot for lunch.” If you’re pulling out a box of the “organic” stuff, it shows other people—and ourselves—that we are mindful about our children’s health and we are doing something proactive about it. Perhaps it makes us feel better about ourselves too. We think about how even though we’re making a boxed convenience food for lunch, at least it’s healthy...right? 

This leads me think about the times when I have been living according to the image I want to project to other people (or myself), instead of actually choosing what is good for me and my family in the moment. 

All the occasions when I see something that looks good in appearance, but fails to satisfy our deep yearnings. 

All the times when, without thinking about what my children actually need, I try to grab whatever book or activity looks impressive and foist it upon them, so that I can reassure myself (and others) that we are succeeding at life. 

All the times when I've tried to pile on activity upon devotion upon activity so that I can look as if I have "liturgical living" down pat, even if my heart is not in it at all. 

All the times when I've taken whatever looks important at face value, without  examining it and checking to see if it's actually good--or if its appearance is a mere fa├žade to gain a following. 

And I think about all the times when I make a big fuss about little things, and how sometimes, I just need to lighten up. Like that one time, when I wrote several hundred words all about mac n' cheese. It's just a convenience food. If you want to drop  your money on the organic varieties, go for it. As for me, I'll be sitting over here with my forty-cent box of ultra-cheesy, non-organic goodness. 

6 comments:

  1. What an interesting topic! I agree - boxed mac-n-cheese holds a delight that no other type can compare! It's just so.. good! But I am definitely gonna try out that 6 cheese recipe! I find in this day and age, it is all too easy to project a certain image, do things to impress others without stopping to think of the real reasoning behind it. It's harder to do things from a place of authenticity with so few doing the same. Love how you paralleled this topic with organic and boxed mac-n-cheese :)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, Elisabeth! I hope you like the 6-cheese recipe if you wind up giving it a try! (we've found that there is some flexibility with the cheeses-we often don't use the Romano and will used smoked gouda instead, or if we have a little less of one cheese will add in a little more of another, that kind of thing)

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  2. I agree this is an interesting topic!! And I am hugely into health food (long before it was a trend...my mom has always been into researching it, etc). I'm also more picky about it because of Gianna's diagnosis, but I tend to be simple in my philosophies rather than following a specific, trendy diet. (I love 100 Days of Real Food cookbook...very normal and family friendly and includes good ol dairy and gluten). One thought I had near the end of your post when you talked about the image we want to project is that I have a feeling the companies of processed organic foods capitalize on that....they know culture wants to be appear health-conscious so all they have to do is slap a certain label on it and boom, it sells. Great reflections in your post. Everything in moderation. Sometimes you just need a mac and cheese, hot dog, or chicken nugget dinner with no guilt, you know?

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    1. I am all about simplicity and "family friendly"-I will be checking out that 100 Days of Food for my meal planning, thank you for mentioning it!! And yes, I think marketing is huge; some of the foods that are marketed as "health-conscious" don't even seem THAT healthy to me. And yes, I absolutely agree about the moderation. Sometimes those convenient meals can be a huge sanity-saver when life is absolutely insane.

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  3. Haha yes! Sometimes you just need to talk about mac n' cheese. One of my kiddos is very particular and will only eat the organic, aged cheddar mac-n-cheese that you microwave in a little tub. I like Velveeta mac n' cheese with shells. My husband likes the elbow variety better, or his mom's homemade mac n' cheese (which is admittedly amazing). We usually get the kids their fancy-pants m&c and skip it for ourselves just for ease, but I'll get some of the kind I like every once in a while. Very comforting.

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    1. I love that your family is so particular about mac n' cheese haha. If we are ever gifted a box of the fancy stuff again, now we know we can just send it to your kids since my kids don't seem to eat it haha!

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