Making a typical breakfast of bacon, eggs, and coffee takes between 5 and 20 minutes. A lunchtime hamburger clocks in around half an hour. Making fish for dinner with a side of rice with modern tools? That’ll take another 20 minutes.
Of course, most Americans spend even less time on food preparation. In 2011, the average was 30 minutes a day. In 2014, estimates rose, with Americans averaging 5.9 hours of cooking per week.
It’s clear that modern technology has made it easy for us to feed ourselves quickly. But what about those who came before us? What was it like for our Paleo ancestors to make these same meals with ancient tools 50,000 years ago?
We did the math for our dinner of fish and rice, and here’s what we came up with.
Paleo Dinner Prep: Now vs. Then
At the end of a long workday, making a hot dinner of fish and rice could mean as little as a half an hour of food prep, including a stop to the grocery store.
For our Paleo ancestors? Well, that first half hour includes harvesting, drying, and separating the rice before boiling it, making a fishing rod, catching, cleaning, stuffing, wrapping, covering, cooking, and uncovering the fish itself.
Of course, spending less time on food prep may actually have negative consequences. More than one study has shown that those who spend more time making their food have higher quality diets, consume more fiber, and spend significantly less money on food.
Step-by-Step Dinner Prep: Now vs. Then
You’ll find that making a modern meal of fish and rice takes just nine steps – all of them simple and quick. For that same meal made Paleo-style, add another 10 steps. All of them more complicated and time-consuming and add up to a whopping 15 to 20 days for a single meal preparation.
Today, we buy our fish and rice at the grocery store. The rice is ready to microwave, and the fish is filleted ready to fry, saute, bake – you name it. However, using paleo tools, it would have taken several weeks to harvest, dry, toast, hull, and cook the rice. While you’re working on that, don’t forget you would have had to catch and cook a fish.
American Eating Habits and Health
We have chosen fish and rice as our typical American dinner, but the reality is that a lot of Americans choose packaged food over fresh food. We’re more likely to reach for a frozen fish dinner than a fish we have to prepare ourselves. As for rice – instant is golden.
This preference makes a lot of sense when you consider that Americans are more overworked and overstressed than ever before – which makes the convenience of fast food and frozen dinners even more alluring. Over fifty percent of Americans polled in one survey said they thought doing their taxes was easier than figuring out how to eat healthy.
With this frozen food-buying, convenience-loving culture, it might not come as a surprise that Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and oils; they also consume way more sugar and salt than they should.
Do Americans Eat Seafood?
The average American eats about 14.9 pounds of seafood each year – that’s far less than chicken, beef, and pork, but more than turkey (despite our Thanksgiving binges).
Of that seafood consumption, the average American consumes 4 pounds are shrimp, 2.3 pounds are salmon, and another 2.3 are tuna (mostly of the canned variety). All are affordable at the grocery store, although this can be due to controversial reasons. Shrimp, for example, can be the product of slave labor in Southeast Asia while salmon has come under scrutiny due to its added color and PCB levels found in the farmed variety.
Paleo Dinner: Another Balancing Act
The tough-but-important truth is that – despite the indisputable value of modern tools, like cutting boards and chef’s knives, stovetops and spatulas – too much convenience can be a bad thing.
Here at Kettle & Fire, we’re all about slowing down with organic, healthy food made in a way that keeps it close to nature. We simmer our bone broths, made from organic ingredients, for 24 hours to extract every nutrient from the bones.
If you feel like we do, this Paleo series is for you. If you haven’t already, check out breakfast and lunch.
The descriptions and times listed for each step are estimates based on a collective analysis of a variety of reputable sources; however, these videos and infographics are for entertainment only.
Infographic and Video Sources
Fair Use Statement
We’re happy to share our work with people who are interested in natural food. Feel free to reproduce any of the images or information in this project. All we ask is that you please credit the source and link back to this page.