What is home food? What is eating out? What is eating in?

This post started out as part of the progress report I gave on Wednesday. However, that post became so long, I decided to splinter this off into it’s own post (because it was guaranteed to be long). I think this turned out to be a good thing, as the last post had a comment from one of my good friends commenting on the apparent number of grey areas in this new self-challenge1.

She’s not wrong. There are a lot of grey areas, and they do lead to potential loopholes which lead to rationalizations (or potential rationalizations). Part of the reason things were derailed last time was because of these grey areas. I solved them (I thought) which is why I thought I had this “eating in” thing down this time around. I thought I had the confusion defeated, and the only true challenge would be my own desire to eat out2.

This time, even in the first week (and a bit), there have been other challenges, potential loopholes, problems and sets of confusion. This post is going to detail the questions that have come up so far, and the decisions I’ve made in each case.

h2. Challenge #1 – Royal Pies.

It started with a realization and a tweet. Namely, I realized I had very little food in my home that I knew how to (was willing to?) throw together for meals. I was thinking about Bill’s lunches, and how I’d, months ago, purchased him two Pleasant House Bakery Royal Pies to take for lunches, and he’d discovered they’re completely inappropriate for reheating at work3. They require baking, specifically, and for long periods of time. His office has toaster ovens, but 20 – 60 minutes of reheat time isn’t going to fly at work. Thus, one lonely pie has been sitting in our freezer for months, and it was probably going to be up to me to eat it.

So. I have a Royal Pie. I’d bought it at Downtown Farmstand, which is very much a grocer and not a restaurant. I’m reheating it at home. BUT, I am reheating it, not baking it, and it was made very explicitly by a restaurant. Is it restaurant food or home food? I actually wasn’t sure. It’s just not something I’d ever before thought about.

This led me to, on a whim, ask my Twitter followers the question.

Angelique (who I hope will comment and flesh out what I’m about to say) said to me via IM that it was “home food”, but partially because I’d had it for a couple of months by the time this started. She said it would feel different, to her, if I’d purchased it during the challenge month for the challenge month.

I only got three responses4. Two that said it was “home food” (but only one that you can see), and one that asked why it mattered.

Why does it matter? Well, mostly as a thought experiment. Because this whole thing is something of a thought experiment. I was (and am!) curious what others think. I hadn’t had to consider it before, and I wondered if others had. Hell, to be honest, I wonder(ed) if it mattered.

I concluded that it was “home food”. In the end, the comparison ended up being similar to a Marie Callender’s Pot Pie. If I’d purchased that, in a Dominick’s, some people might accuse me of being lazy in my “eating in”, and certainly they’d be right, but no one would tell me it was restaurant food. If I’m wrong and you would say a Marie Callendar’s Pot Pie is restaurant food, let me know in the comments.

That was just the first challenge, and came up the first morning of the first day. Later that day, two more were thrown at me. They involved lunch.

h2. Challenge #2 – What to do about leftover restaurant food?

I didn’t actually think particularly hard about this. It turns out my want to not waste food, my want to have a lunch when I know I’m going to be facing a ton of kids, and my knowledge of microwaves won the day and I took it for lunch to my first day of volunteering (aka took it for lunch the first day of the challenge).

This is the story. Bill and I ordered in the night before the challenge. We’d ordered Thai, and he’d had all of his, and mine had about one meal leftover. This exact scenario was explicitly called out as eating “out” when I defined my terms, and “restaurant food” was what “[needed] to go”. So, when I didn’t finish all of my dinner on the 10th, I definitely felt a twinge of, “Well, what now?” I decided I’d figure it out as I went along. The next morning, I decided I might as well finish it off as lunch. I would count it as “in”, but “in with an astrisk”.

The next challenge actually saved me from that.

h2. Challenge #3 – What to do about provided food?

I arrived at Girl Scouts with a lunch in hand, only to be told that Girl Scouts was (this time) providing lunch. In fact, the lunch was hot dogs, cooked by one of the folks in charge. I eat hot dogs. Eating the home-cooked hot dogs would keep me from eating my indulgently purchased leftover Thai from the day before.

But it left me in a conundrum for the following day. Because the next day was ordered in cheese pizza. And I knew it was going to be, as I left the building.

I was in a state. Because, as I left, that was clearly “eating out”, and I still didn’t have a lunch for the next day. I didn’t really want to burn one of my four, precious meals on pizza from some unknown place, but scrounging up lunch for the following day was going to be a trick.

Bill and Angelique actually convinced me that “provided food” is probably okay for the sake of the challenge. It was a hard sell, but the logic was that feeding volunteers is part of what organizations such as Girl Scouts do. So food that’s “supplied” by a friend taking me to a restaurant is in clear violation of the spirit and letter of the rules. But, in the instance of “thank you for helping us not only deal with, but teach science to, a hundred children, here’s your cheese pizza from a place you would never in a million years order from, but is good for feeding a ton of people”, is probably okay.

This one? It definitely gets “eating in with an astrisk”.

h2. Challenge #4 – What about our favorite bagel shop?

Bill and I regularly buy bagels for the freezer from New York Bagel and Bialy. These make great and fast breakfasts for the mornings. When I pull them out of my freezer, I have no doubt I’m eating at home.

But what about if I ask them to cut, toast and cream cheese a bagel there? Bill asked me this one, and I realized I had no idea. I still don’t. We can’t eat the bagel there (usually we go back to the car and eat it there, before we get back on the road). We aren’t eating anything I wouldn’t eat at home, and call home food in another circumstance.

No idea. I didn’t have a bagel, but that isn’t because I judged it “eating out”.

h2. Challenge #5 – What about snacks?

This entire time, I’ve been focused on meals out. Meals are where the calories mostly come from, meals are where the cost mostly is, meals is where I get most lazy and feel the most bad about eating “out”. Meals are where I feel like I “should” have paid more attention and had a different plan at home, or where I “should” have explicitly planned to be out (as I do with my monthly dinner).

Snacks? Snacks in the world almost never happen, for me. I’d given them exactly zero thought.

So, honesty time. This is also the time where Jen’s comments really ring true. I didn’t have a bagel at the bagel shop because we, without considering it, bought & split a pastry there too. Which we ate in the car. I didn’t even think about it until after the fact. I didn’t come to any conclusions about snacks.

Wednesday (I think) Bill invited me to share a cupcake from a cupcake stand with him. He even asked if it was eating “out”. I said I didn’t know, but I had one with him anyway. Cupcakes are a fiendish weakness. It was really good. I don’t think I regret it, even if you all convince me that it was eating out5.

h2. In Conclusion

Man, hell of a long post, eh? It’s just because this is a bit complicated for me.

When Jen asked, “Why?”, my internal answer was, initially that it was just for the hell of it. To see if I could.

That’s partially true. It was (and is) dressed up in things like “saving money” and “eating better” and all of that. That’s because those things are true.

But, and this is what Jen’s comment really made me consider and think about, in the end? This challenge is almost like a mini-challenge as relates to this whole damn blog. So then I answered her with that.

It’s about becoming more intentional. It’s about thinking more before consuming. It’s about saving money, and it’s about eating better, but overall, it’s about enjoying eating out more. Making eating out more of an “event” and less of “an option”.

When I tried and failed in February to do this, I had not heard of Cathy Erway of Not Eating Out in New York and The Art of Eating In fame. Except to link for your edification here (and one recipe that I cribbed from completely without looking at any other part of the blog including the blog’s name in early January), I’ve not at all looked at her sites. I met her, briefly, at Edible Institute 2012 (she wouldn’t remember me). I follow her on Twitter, because of Edible Institute. I don’t plan to check out her site(s) until I’m done with my own month-long challenge. I figure, I have to figure out my own rules and my own whys before I crib from someone else.

I do think, though, that it’s only fair to share with you guys those links, since I know they exist. Maybe they will change your judgment and input on what I do, and that’s fine by me.

I’ll be most thoroughly checking out Erway’s blog on 12 May. Until then, I hope to hear what you guys have to say about snacks, leftover restaurant food, bagels, provided food and Royal Pies (or Marie Callender’s). I hope that if something hits you in terms of a hypothetical you’d like to pose to me, you do so.

In the end, this is a challenge to be more intentional, and it’s a thought experiment to see where boundaries lie. I deeply appreciate your help in both regards.

fn1. My answer to here is also there, of course, but this post will echo what I wrote in response. By the time it posts, she may have further responded. WHO KNOWS?

fn2. Which, as established, is very high. Enough so that this has become a real challenge.

fn3. Thankfully, he’d discovered this at home, when he decided to eat some lazy food. So he managed to eat one of the special treats I bought for him.

fn4. Four, actually. However, the fourth was from Pleasant House Bakery saying they didn’t understand the question. I’m going to e-mail them (eventually) and re-ask in more than 140 characters. Or maybe I’ll just e-mail them this post. But then this wouldn’t be a nearly secret blog anymore. OH, THE QUESTIONS.

fn5. The pastry? I’ll totally regret the pastry. Even though I had less than half of it.