Back to the Microwave 

How the sustainable-food movement drove one busy family to the frozen-food aisle.

It was the corn soup that did it.

We'd picked up a few perfect ears of white corn from the farmers' market that morning. I'd been eyeing a recipe in the latest Bon Appétit magazine. My husband agreed to keep the kids out of the kitchen for a bit while I pieced together the dish. Soon, I imagined, we would sit down to an early dinner of fresh corn soup — really the essence of late summer — and the kids would smile at each other, my husband would remark on my superb culinary skills, and we would all appreciate the glory that is farm fresh food and a home-cooked meal.

I sliced the kernels off the first ear. Nearly half fell onto the floor. Then I ground the remaining ears through a cheese grater. Milky residue dripped into my shoes. Navigating around my cramped little kitchen began to get more dangerous as the corn detritus on the floor made a slippery mess. I added the corn to steamed milk and poured half the mixture into my food processor. As I pushed down on the lever, a hot stream of corn milk splurted out the container's seam, drenching my shirt and nearly scalding my torso. My husband checked on me periodically, saying, "Why don't we just have spaghetti?"

After several more steps to the perfect corn soup, I strained the now-blended milky mixture through a fine sieve, leaving about four cups of faintly yellow fluid in a pot. It was a meager return on my investment. Sweaty, wet, dirty, and smelling of an Iowa farm field, I called the family together and ladled out the warm liquid into beautiful blue china bowls.

"I don't like soup!" was the first remark from my four-year-old daughter. The two-year-old took one look and shoved the bowl across the table, slopping some. He began to dance on his chair. My husband stayed quiet. He slurped a spoonful. Then he got up, went into the kitchen, and returned with three types of hot sauce, a bag of cilantro, some diced onions, and a stack of tortillas.

I sat glumly spooning lukewarm milkiness into my mouth. I tuned out the complaints whined by the kids and the eye-contact avoidance practiced by my husband and I entered a contemplative moment.

My problem is that I've been reading too many books. That's what got me into this mess in the first place. First, it was Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. That put an end to Happy Meals on road trips to Grandma's. Then it was The Omnivore's Dilemma. No more chewy Oroweat bread with high-fructose corn syrup. And finally, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle banned the beloved banana, whose carbon footprint was just too large.

But while I was thinking about what kinds of foods are good for my kids' bodies and our Earth, my family was seeing less and less of me. Why? Because I was flailing around in the kitchen guiltily trying to slow-food my way to dinner before the kids had low-blood-sugar meltdowns and started doing backflips off the couch. I was not having any fun in the kitchen. While cooking was once a joy, and eating still is, having kids afoot puts a particular pressure on a chef to outdo even Rachael Ray's feats of speed-cooking. What I was learning was that Rachael Ray and Michael Pollan don't mix.

That's when it came to me: I'm not going to cook anymore. And like some rebellious housewife from the 1960s getting her first taste of feminism, I made an announcement.

"I'm on strike."


My strike progressed for a week, then two, then four, and my husband, Tony, stepped up valiantly. Among my friends, Tony is famous for his sensitivity and his rejection of stereotypical male attributes. He does most of the housecleaning, was a stay-at-home dad, likes to bake, and has always put my career ahead of his own. He was raised by a single mom and his grandmother, and he doesn't hesitate to call himself a feminist.

But he can't cook.

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