Today, I found myself standing completely still in the frozen food isle of the supermarket, without a single thought in my brain, lips slightly parted, staring blankly at the two dinners I held in each hand. One was a bag of something called “Sautes For Two” Steak Gorgonzola, by Stouffer’s. The other was some sort of miniaturized Philly cheesesteak, rendered in appetizer form, intended to (presumably) be eaten by the handful.
I was locked in a moment of self-doubt. I knew that they would be equally terrible, that each would contain weirdly salty meat, and some kind of vague chemical aftertaste. Where I was stuck was on the price. Each of these options cost about $7.00, which I couldn’t help but notice is what actual food costs. If I was going to spend seven bucks getting something for tonight’s beer to sit on, I could buy a real steak, and throw it on the grill. A cheap steak, sure. But I could saute up some mushrooms. Why, I could probably still have enough left over to add some spinach and a baked potato. Why was I going to waste the money and calories on something that was going to be so, so inferior to something I could actually make myself?
As I sat staring at these two options and thinking about how little I wanted either of them, the “Banquet” brand frozen foods caught my eye, and I decided to go another way. Costing just 97 cents each, I thought about how I could have seven dinners instead of just one. Instead of buying something that was trying to approximate the sensation of eating a real meal, I would spend as little money as possible, on something that was unapologetically basic. Each promised to be “a great source of protein,” if nothing else, and it got me wondering: Just what in the hell can you expect for under a dollar for a frozen dinner?
Presented without further comment are my seven dinners, as they actually came out of the oven, as well as how those dinners appeared on their boxes, where they were professionally lit and photographed.