When’s the last time you made a meal from scratch?
If you take those words as literally as Andy George does, probably never.
He’s the mind behind the YouTube channel “How to Make Everything” — and he means everything.
Take, for example, a simple chicken sandwich. Dressed with cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle, making this everyday lunch item required six months and more than $1,500.
The process also included a cross-country trip, beheading a chicken and blowing wheat chaff all over his apartment.
That’s because George started from the ground up — literally. He grew, sourced or manufactured every part of the sandwich from actual scratch, including sunflower oil for the mayonnaise and rennet for the cheese.
Here’s how he did it… and why.
Why Cook From Scratch?
You might think it’s a bit extravagant, not to mention wasteful, for George to go to so much trouble and expense to create a meal he could grab at a drive-thru for a tiny fraction of the cost.
But his motivation makes the project anything but superfluous.
George wants to call attention to the “web of industries” that provide us with everything we need at the modern-day speed and convenience we expect. (To say nothing of the incredible affordability of these finished products, which would have been unimaginable luxuries centuries ago, and are the results of years of innovation and hard work.)
“Every day, we use hundreds of items without a second thought of their origin or creation,” George says in a video detailing the his mission.
For many of us, the hardest we work for our food is to peel back the plastic wrapping on a microwave dinner, and the closest we get to farming is feeling up watermelons at the market.
Even if you cook “from scratch,” you’re doubtless using pre-packaged ingredients, like salt and flour, that once took massive amounts of time and resources to obtain. All we have to do to get them now is head to the local grocery store.
So to more fully appreciate exactly how easy we have it, George took “scratch” cooking to its literal extreme.
How to Make Everything from Scratch — Really
He started by planting seeds for what he’d need to create all the component parts of the sandwich, from obvious ingredients like lettuce and tomato to more nuanced necessities, like wheat and sugar beets for the bread.
He also planted sunflowers, whose seeds he harvested and pressed to obtain the oil he needed to make mayonnaise. He built the press himself out of a car jack and steel plates.
When his sugar beets failed to flourish, George was forced to turn to an alternative source of sweetness: honeybees. He suited up and harvested his own honeycomb, spinning it in a radial extractor to get the sugar that would sweeten and improve the texture of his bread.
He also learned why salt was once precious enough to trade for currency. George had to fly from his native Minnesota to the West Coast to harvest sea salt from Pacific ocean water. Yes, this was the easiest option — and the most cost-effective, since his sister in Los Angeles let him crash on her couch.
He did run into one scary snag on his return trip: Although he smartly boiled out the salt before leaving California to circumvent the TSA’s liquid rules, agents still had questions about the resulting bag of white powder.
He also accidentally ended up with 200 pickles, instead of the single one his sandwich required. Guess he won’t be buying any Vlasics for a while.
How Much Does a Chicken Sandwich Cost? More Than You Think
George says making the sandwich cost $542 in direct, out-of-pocket expenses.
But when he includes his “conservative estimate” of 140 hours’ labor, paid at a minimum wage rate of $7.25, George’s total cost balloons to $1,554.
(It’s $1,557 by our calculation — a difference that seems small, but that could probably buy half of an assembled chicken sandwich at your local drive-thru.)
Creating the sandwich took George six months and a nightmare-inducing amount of planning — since he didn’t use any preservatives, he had to time everything so all the ingredients would be fresh and ready at the same time.
So after six months of working and waiting, how’d the sandwich turn out?
“It’s not bad,” George says in the video, before chuckling and putting his head down in defeat.
“Six months of my life were… not bad. Yeah.”
Considering George’s understated reaction to the product of so much effort and expense, I know I’m certainly more grateful for the technologies that shorten the sandwich-making process, as George puts it, “from six months to six minutes.”
And next time you take out a loaf of sliced bread, a jar of mayo or a package of cheese, maybe take a second to think about exactly what went into making it.
Your Turn: Have you ever really made something from scratch?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Although she is a Florida native, she is ashamed to admit she has never harvested her own salt. For shame.