Rosalind, whose husband, Earl, is just finishing an overnight shift as a detention officer, then returns and wakes 10-year-old Evan. His later school start affords him a comparatively leisurely 15 minutes to wolf down cereal before another mad dash to his school. After dropping him off, she then stops at a 7-Eleven to grab coffee before heading to work at an aerospace company. There, she's a principal director, with weighty responsibilities. Almost every day, she eats a bowl of instant oatmeal for breakfast and a hastily swallowed take-out lunch.
"There was a time when I cooked," Rosalind says with a sigh. "I liked cooking. I don't cook anymore. I assemble."
Several states away, geographically and metaphorically, the Rogerson family of Santa Fe faces a very different mealtime dilemma. Until recently, Hank Rogerson, 42, earned a respectable salary as an assistant professor of moving image arts at the College of Santa Fe, a private liberal arts school. But the college, rocked in part by the recession, slashed employee salaries in February, which for Hank meant a 78 percent drop in monthly wages. Food shopping for the family became a minefield. "On days when we've just paid bills and there's not much left in the checking account," Hank says, "I'll find myself standing in the store thinking, "Okay, if I buy eggs now, can I get milk, too? If I can't buy both, which do we need more?" We have two small children. How am I supposed to make those choices?"
Food is where many of the most reverberant, of-the-moment issues of family life and recessionary economics meet. How can you feed your family well when you're busy and exhausted? How can you buy healthy foods when your budget has drastically shriveled? "Those are almost universal problems right now," says organizational expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life. "I doubt if there's a single family out there that isn't wrestling with either not having enough money or not having enough time to eat well, and probably both."
Enter the pros. O went to a lineup of top chefs, organizational experts, nutritionists, and even the new secretary of the department of agriculture, asking them: How can these two families—and all the rest of us who are strapped for time and money—prepare meals that are healthful, speedy, inexpensive, and, not least, good? The advice that came back was, in part, philosophical, touching on the emotional import of food. But most of it was flat-out, you-can-do-this practical, with a surprising emphasis on pork shoulder. "Anyone can cook pork shoulder," one chef said. "It's easy to prepare. It's very, very cheap, and one shoulder can feed an army."
"These are tough times, financially and emotionally," Morgenstern says. "But they're also a chance to redefine our relationship to food and family and community."