Feeding ourselves and our families has never been more complex. One minute everything we love is bad for us, two years later it’s good for us. Everyday we’re bombarded with stories about GMOs, pesticides and herbicides, chemical agents in our food system and water, food recalls and misleading advertising. So we look for better options, but are supermarket prepared meals really a better option?
What’s Fresh & What’s Not
Big box supermarket chains offer “in-store prepared meals” as our lives become more hectic. Marketed as “freshly made” and “chef’s recipe”, many are far from it. According to a Consumer Reports article out earlier this year “freshly made” does not necessarily mean “made with fresh ingredients”. Some ingredients have been previously frozen or processed. In many cases those items marked “freshly made” are made in a central facility miles away then shipped in bulk to be thawed, or re-heated in-store days or even weeks later.
While the Consumer Reports article focuses on the American marketplace, much of same business practice is in place in Canada’s big box grocery chains. Centralized kitchens are common practice, as it can be cost prohibitive to have an in store kitchen in every location. Some chains keep their production local, others ship throughout the province or territory from one high volume facility.
Often packed in oxygen free containers extend the shelf life of bulk prepared supermarket meals. In the industry we call these “modified atmosphere packaged foods”. This system greatly reduces spoilage and boosts profits as modified atmosphere packaged foods outlast most prepared, air sealed meals by 50 – 400%. So watch for the “packaged on” date and decide for yourself.
Read That Label
Chances are if you’ve picked up a prepared meal in your local supermarket, you may not have checked the ingredient list. As some of the ingredients used are often previously processed you may find sodium benzoate (a preservative) or disodium pyrophosphate (to maintain color) plus artificial color, chemical stabilizers and wheat gluten. Chances are you were trying to avoid processed food only to find it made it’s way into your cart. All prepared foods must list ingredients, so be vigilant about reading labels.
While a list of ingredients is mandatory, nutritional information is not. Beware the salt… and added fat. Even something as simple as a processed chicken stock can send sodium values through the roof while fat content can skyrocket in an effort to get just the right mouth-feel.
Real, Whole and Ready to Go
At Epicuria our prepared meals start with whole, all natural ingredients. Our kitchen looks like Mom’s kitchen; fresh vegetables, whole fruits, butter, milk, eggs, meats, nuts, sugar, flour, salt and spices. It’s on a larger scale of course, Mom probably didn’t bring in 20 kilos of butternut squash on a Wednesday for soup, but what we do at Epicuria is far from manufactured.
We buy local, and seasonal whenever possible. Our whole ingredients are washed, by hand. Peeled, chopped, cracked and filleted, by hand. We’re not above using the industrial grater to process 10 liters of coldslaw, but even that, is managed by human ingenuity – and a good pair of hands.
From our daily muffins to a sit-down catered, plated meal for 300; the food we serve has been passed from hand to hand in our kitchen. It was mixed, seasoned, stirred, and then as we finished, we tasted it to make sure it was just right.
We use fat and salt. Of course we do, food wouldn’t taste good without it! We season by hand, not by rote and we’re conscious of both the salt we use and how much of it we add to what we’re cooking. We lean towards olive oil, canola and all natural butter. We don’t own a deep-fryer but occasionally we get naughty and drop something into a big pot of hot oil. A little indulgence is healthy.
You could call what we do real food. We take real food, cook it, package it and put it on our shelves for you and your family. You could call it prepared meals, or prepared food. We take a list of ingredients, clean, cut and cook as needed, so that it can be enjoyed later with little or no further preparation. But we like to call it whole food – whole, natural, packed with and nutrition. Our shelf life on most fresh items is three days. Our production runs number in the tens, not thousands. Our ingredients list reads like a recipe, not like a chemistry set, because we feed you the way we feed our families.
Could you cook what we cook? Absolutely! If you ask us, in many cases we’ve even give you the recipe (chances are it will be a recipe for 30, but you can do the math, right?!). Cooking isn’t rocket science. Cooking is a craft, even an art in the right hands, but anyone can cook. The trouble is, in today’s busy world sometimes you don’t have time to cook and that’s where we come it. What we’re serving, besides great tasting healthy food, is time. Who we’re serving is our community.
In keeping our business local we grow the local economy. In focusing on our neighbors and feeding their families, many for the last 25 years, we know and care about what we put in our food. We make real meals, packed fresh, right here in our shop.
Unlike big box grocery, we have come to know you. When we create amazing meals, snacks, condiments, dips, sweets and desserts, we give you nutrition to support good health plus a little space in your day when you don’t have to cut, boil, whisk or bake. We give you whole, delicious food and (often times) an extra hour in your day.
In that hour you can read with your kids, go to yoga or rake the leaves, you could even call your Mom and get her favorite apple pie recipe. At Epicuria, we’re here to feed your life.
Words & Pictures By:
Cori (Corinna) Horton is a Food Marketing Specialist, freelance writer/ photographer and the voice behind the blog Food Gypsy. Based in Canada’s National Capital Region she takes great joy in exploring all things DELICIOUS!