In Praise of Imperfection


I was standing in the grocery store line one day last week while the magazine covers  were screaming their headlines at me:

“The Perfect Pasta”

The Perfect Make-Up”

The Perfect Kitchen”

“The Perfect Dress”

“The Perfect Hair-Do For You”

They all reminded me of a blurb I read in a newspaper 20 years ago. It was titled. “Michelle’s Touched.”

It was a four paragraph little article from an unnamed “Wire Service,” about a then recent magazine cover photo of actress Michelle Pfeiffer. The article stated that if you thought she looked to good to be true it was because…………..well……… she was. 

Her photo had been retouched by a professional photographer. 

The retoucher had, cleaned up her complexion, softened her smile line, trimmed her chin, softened the line under her ear lobe, added hair, added more forehead to create a better line, and softened the neck muscle a bit.

The total cost of the retouch?  $1525.

Seems like the real Michelle Pfeiffer does not look like the magazine cover Michelle Pfeiffer.

And so it is with just about everything in magazines and on TV today. Everything has to be perfect from our perfectly chemically whitened teeth to perfectly machine-made round hamburger patties. Today there is an impossible and unattainable standard of perfection being shoved into our consciousness that is impossible for mere mortals to attain.

The same thing is true of food these days. Pictures of food in books, magazines, TV, and on blogs is of perfect food; much prettier than what actually comes out of my kitchen, or your kitchen, or anyplace for that matter.

The camera sees food differently than we see it with our eyes. The camera picture is flat and has no dimension or depth. So the food we see in pictures today has to be retouched, just like Michelle Pfeiffer was retouched.

They call it ‘food styling.’  Items like cosmetic sponges, damp folded paper towels , shortening, museum wax, Kitchen Bouquet, and modeling clay are used to make the food look interesting for a more perfect picture. Make it look perfect and  interesting.

Food for pretty pictures,  not for eating.

Food styling makes food in pictures look perfect. Some times it takes days  for the pictures of one recipe to be shot. TV shows have three or more cameras shooting from different angles and heights, and several shoots of each step in the recipe process are shot. Let’s say the TV chef is making a chicken dish. There may be as many as three chickens that are used in the shoot.

Then everything is edited to make it all look like one seamless perfect cooking experience. When have you ever had a seamless perfect cooking experience? And have you ever noticed, the phone never rings when TV chefs cook? I swear people know when I am cooking and that is when they decide to call me.

And don’t get me wrong. None of this is wrong.

Where the problem comes in, like with all retouched photos, is that we often don’t know the picture has been retouched. So we tend to compare ourselves or our cooking efforts to these impossible standards. And then we think we are less than.

Same for all those beautiful kitchens we see in magazines. Many times those kitchens are entirely computer generated. They do not exist in the real world. In other words, they are a fantasy. These computer generated kitchens with their cold and balck granite counters and unyielding stainless steel appliances, and everything perfectly laid out in straight rows leave me cold. There is no warmth. No softness. There is no give. There is no life. There is no love.

I see those kitchens and those pictures of perfect food and I think Stepford Wives, the original 1975 movie where the computerized and synthetic women did not bleed, did not laugh, and did not cry. 

I don’t live in a fantasy world where every hamburger, or every cupcake is perfectly rounded and iced by a mechanized machine mold. I don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter world. I much prefer to live in the real, if imperfect world. I make my hamburgers lovingly, if clumsily, shaping them with my hands. My hamburger shapes are unpredictable. Like life. You never know what shape they might be. That is why they are so much fun.

You know. I am not perfect. And at this stage in my life that does not bother me one teeny tiny little bit!  I am comfortable with my flaws and imperfections. I have lived with them a long time now. They are as comfortable as an old pair of worn out and holey jeans.

No one on this earth is perfect. You want perfection? I think you have to go to different dimension to get that. And I am not ready to go there yet. I like it too much here. Thank you very much!!

Plus I find ‘perfect’ boring anyway. Flaws bring interest to people, things, and food. Flaws are fascinating. Flaws prove I have actually done something real. Imperfections prove I am human.

It is the striving to be and the striving to make something the best that I can make it while knowing it will probably not be perfect. That takes courage. To me that is the epitome of a life well lived.

Featured Recipe        Chili Con Carne

The weather has taken a turn here. The leaves are really turning colors, the air is crisper, and the leaves are falling in droves. And the wind is whipping and roiling them into little tornadoes on the ground. Winter is in the air.

This is chili time.

This is a very rich, robust, and hearty chili.

The base for this recipe is from Betty Crocker’s Dinner for two Cookbook, 1976 edition. But over the years I have made so many changes, deletions, and additions I think it is mine now.

Here is what you will need for at least 4 people:
(It can easily serve 6 people.)

1-2 tablespoons lard or oil

1 medium onion chopped

2 or 3 large cloves garlic chopped

1 pound ground chuck

2 – 16 ounce cans diced or whole tomatoes

2 – 8 ounce cans tomato sauce

3-4 teaspoons chili powder

Dash paprika

2 – 8 ounce cans kidney beans

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional toppings

Green onions

Cheddar cheese shredded

You may be able to tell, the cheese is left overs from my fridge.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS: I use a mixture of canned tomatoes; from petit diced to medium diced, and/or whole tomatoes. Depends on my mood or what is on sale. 

Same for the kidney beans. I use a mixture of dark and light red, or white kidney (also known as cannellini beans) beans. It makes the chili more colorful and interesting. My chili is a fiesta of color. Yipee!!!!!

If you like spicy and heat add some chilies or jalapeños and/or use cayenne red pepper.

Here is what you do:

Melt the lard or heat the oil.

Add the chopped onions and sauté until nicely browned. I added some left over onions from the frudge in here too.

Add the garlic and sauté until soft.

Add some of the ground chuck and cook until browned.

Add the rest of the ground beef and cook until cooked through and is  browned.

Drain excess fat. Then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, and the tomato sauce.

I also added some chopped up left over tomatoes I had in the fridge. Chili is a great way to use up left over veggies in your fridge, like carrots and celery.

At this time also add the chili powder, salt and pepper, and the paprika. If you are adding the hot spicy ingredients do it here. 

Heat to boiling. Then reduce the heat and cook uncovered 30 minutes. Then stir in the beans with their liquid.

Heat until beans are heated through and the chili is bubbly.

Serve in a bowl and top with some shredded cheddar cheese and some chopped green onions.

I served my chili today with a salad of grapefruit slices. I like the tartness of the grapefruit with the chili.

Tomorrow I will have a bowl of chili with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I think chili with grilled ham and cheese is a perfct paring.

What do you like to serve your chili with?


1-2 tablespoons lard or oil                          $0.14

1 medium onion chopped                            $0.51

2 or 3 large cloves garlic                            $0.24

1 pound ground chuck                                $3.59

2 – 16 ounce cans tomatoes                       $1.89

2 – 8 ounce cans tomato sauce                   $1.00

3-4 teaspoons chili powder                         $0.20

Dash paprika                                             $0.06

2 – 8 ounce cans kidney beans                   $1.90

Salt and pepper to taste

Total Cost = $9.53
Cost per person for 4 = $2.38
Cost per person for 6 = $1.59

Bon Appetit!!!!

Quotes of the Day:    To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is a great accomplishment.        Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.      Marilyn Monroe from: Marilyn: Her Life in Her Own Words

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10 comments to In Praise of Imperfection

  • Your chili recipe looks delicious – I love chili. It makes such a great make-ahead meal that you can just have on hand, and I don’t know a lot of people who don’t like it.

    And I like being imperfect. It gives me something to talk about 🙂

    • Roberta

      I agree with you 100%, FK. And I also think chili tastes best after it has sat in the fridge a day or two. Gives the flavors a chance to mix together well.

      I like being imperfect too. It gives those who don’t like me something to chew on!! LOL!!!

  • Very interesting. I didn’t know about the food photos, but of course. It’s a type of advertising. Very worthwhile thing to point out. Thank you.

    For anyone having a bad hair day – or feeling otherwise less than perfect – I highly recommend googling “before and after photoshop celebrities” and viewing one the many links that comes up. The beautiful people really don’t look the way we see them once they’re packaged, so the rest of us shouldn’t feel bad about a little blotchiness or a few extra pounds. They have it too, but it always gets photoshopped out

    • Roberta

      Excellent suggestion, Jan. I did not know that any websites like that existed. I am going to go right now and find some real photos. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Amen to living in a real imperfect world! Perfection is only an aspiration, not a destination! I love your article!

  • Amen to living in a real imperfect world! Perfection is only an aspiration, not a destination! After all, imperfections makes us human! And I’m cool with being one 🙂

  • Ivy

    I am a self-professed lazy cook, we both know that. When I make chili, I take the ground meat (venison is preferred), chuck it in the pot, then throw the onions and whatever else I want to saute in right with it. I let it just all cook together from the start. The ground meat has plenty of fat to make the onions tasty, and when it all cooks down, there’s no draining involved. Yay, one less dish to wash. LOL! (I loathe washing the dishes…worst chore in the house!)

  • […] more stews and soups. But use less beef in those recipes. These days when I make either Chili Con Carne or Beef Stew instead of buying a whole pound or more of ground beef,  I use three-fourth a pound […]

  • Great post! I totally agree! As a new photographer and a blogger, I got a food styling and food photography book. I was looking for some examples on how to make my photos really look professional. I was SO disappointed when I discovered that the books were all about using fake ingredients to make “food perfect.” First, I’m not looking for perfection, just better than what I was doing before. Second, I’m not going to create a bunch of fake food or WASTE good food just to style it!

    • Roberta

      You have integrity, Lisa. I don’t mind the fake food and doctoring it so much. Just want people to know it so they don’t think less of their own cooking efforts. But I do just hate that food gets wasted when there are so mnay hungry here in USA and around the world.

      Thanks for your lovely and thoughtful comment. Blessings. Good luck with yur career too.