Is the above just a cheap, obvious pun? Not entirely.
Much of what working folk eat in the U.S. today, particularly in cities and their suburban nodes, is preposterously easy and cheap to produce. See restaurants like Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and California Pizza Kitchen, where pre-chopped ingredients are thrown on a frozen thing and heated, or units of factory hacked and extruded food are nuked and served in a “family dining” environment.
Consider also city food depots like Pret a Manger, which take perfectly ordinary highly-perishable ingredients, trawl them through the Dead Sea (most sandwiches contain 1000-1500 mg sodium), and serve them in sandwiches or soups in Manhattan financial centers. Or Melt Shop, which makes every type of grilled cheese with amendments like caramelized onions, prosciutto, or pickles, and little else (n.b.: I love their “Dirty” sandwich). Or any of these buffet dumps in Manhattan that get various casseroles, salads, steamed vegetables, unctuous goos with objects, etc. from regional processing centers. The food is dismayingly similar from one such establishment to the next, varying largely in the patina that distinguishes how many times it has been re-served.
Even more grim is the booming speedfeed biz which undercuts the above by just a few dollars: “organic” dumplings (totally uncertified) locally produced and clamshelled in a grocery deli section, TV dinners, that appalling sushi you can get at convenience stores, gas stations, and any other place with refrigeration including morgues.
The most unworthy speedfeed is hummus. Cheap ingredients, easy preparation and long shelf life made it an obvious choice in which for industry could bury us. But its elemental simplicity and potential variations (different nut butters/beans/condiments/spices/accompaniments) make it an ideal template for experimentation, particularly if you haven’t cooked much—and those qualities only enhance the ones industry prefers. I think a whole cookbook could be dedicated to it!
I made hummus dogmatically for 20 years: garbanzo beans (dried), tahini, lemon, olive oil, soy sauce (a suggestion from an Iraqi friend), too much raw garlic. Maybe some cumin. Then I had too many dried beans around and started fooling with all the parameters: sprouted black beans with lime? sunflower butter? horseradish? Dijon mustard? beer? And this is not even considering what you can layer on top of hummus: caramelized onions, sumac, smoked paprika. It was the greatest fun because the results were never inedible, and always somewhere on the spectrum of tasty.
They did terrible violence to hummus orthodoxy, however. This is not the fusion cuisine of wasabi on a hamburger or Asiago teriyaki buffalo wings in a burrito. This is refusion cuisine, refusing to eat the dreck in our trough but always striving to embody a) ease, b) shelf life, c) affordability, d) versatility, e) transportability, f) internationality (leave “cosmopolitan” to chefs with cable shows). That’s a high bar, but after a lot of food poisoning, wasted money and diabetogenic levels of sodium, I am making more of my own food than ever—and never getting bored of it.
One could even argue that refusion cuisine is a form of engaged art: a creative effort invested into something to nourish and inspire, a thing best shared—but that also returns and redounds to its creator.