"Did tonight's meal kit get delivered yet?" I'm trying to recall how many times I heard my mother say those words.
Oh, yeah, never. It's hard to believe there was a time not long ago when you had to go to a restaurant or to a friend's house to eat something you didn't make yourself in your own home. The idea that almost any restaurant would and could deliver food right to your door was as laughable as having more than three channels on the television or having a computer in your house. Why would anyone on Earth need that?
Now, there is one commercial after another telling us how wonderful it is to have meal kits delivered right to your home: "Get three scrumptious, gourmet meals for the price of two. Get five for the price of three. If that sounds like a bargain - it is! Especially compared to eating at a three-star Michelin restaurant. In France. That's why we never mention the prices, but how do you think we pay for all this advertising? Order today."
You're still cooking the stuff, you're just not going to the grocery store to get it. Seems to me that the only people who can actually afford to buy food this way are Silicon Valley CEOs and hedge fund managers. Well, probably not the hedge fund managers. They have private chefs at home, so it's really only the vested "techionaires" who use meal kits.
The biggest meal kit company, Blue Apron, has 750,000 subscribers. Grubhub, a service that delivers food from restaurants that don't have their own delivery systems, made over $1 billion last year off 14 million customers. Has shopping become that loathsome? Has cooking become more difficult in the last 50 years? Is throwing pasta into a pot of boiling water beyond anyone's skill set?
It probably started with pizza delivery. It's easy, inexpensive and there's not much to clean up. And who doesn't like pizza? Maybe people had one delivered twice a year in 1965 on special occasions? A few years later, once a month. A few years later, once a week. Now Domino's is on the speed-dial.
But meal kits are not easy and inexpensive. It's hard to imagine a more expensive way of eating than having a meal kit delivered to your door. Something tells me the kind of people who can afford to eat this way are also the ones who have the fanciest kitchens. The kind of kitchens you see in the glossy magazines, with a water faucet over the stove so you don't have to lug a pot full of water from the sink to the stove to boil pasta. The kind that have custom Italian tile all over the walls and granite and steel countertops and top-drawer appliances and islands with sinks in them. Yet, the last thing these folks want to do is cook.
There are lots of commercials for meal kits, but you'll never see a commercial for "Cook at home from scratch and save thousands of dollars a year," just like you'll never see a commercial for a head of broccoli or a tomato. It's almost a law of consumerism: The stuff you need the least does the most advertising.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that we want food delivered right to the house. After all, online stores deliver things to us all the time. But dinner isn't a thing. It's a ritual. Dinner is sharing, it's talking, it's listening, it's healing, it's being part of a whole.
Can all that come in a kit?
Jim Mullen is a columnist with Newspaper Enterprise Association.