Spacer April 2, 2005
  | Asymmetry | Archive | April 2, 2005 |




Trouble in training: She's started to cruise!


My mom doesn't cook. I remember childhood meals that were nutritious, frugal, and uninspired; after her second marriage my food memories become actively noxious, like most of my other memories from that period. Nowadays she reads cookbooks, eats my cooking with every evidence of enthusiasm and says she should learn to make this or that, but as far as I can tell she lives on toast. In fact, with a few exceptions for holidays, no one in my immediate family shows much sign of enjoying cooking.

I have inner debates on whether or not everyone should cook, cook well and joyfully. I forget who said it, something along the lines of how humankind would never get anywhere as long as half of the species was acting as unpaid servants for the other half, and there is some sense in that. I read in Perfection Salad of the Saintly Homemaker, of women so spiritually perfect that the most deadly dull drudgery would be performed with not merely contentment but pleasure, and the old feminist hackles rise. Who--women or men, in these theoretically equal-opportunity times--should be forced to do what they don't want, let alone have insult added to injury and be told that they ought to enjoy it?

The other side answers, But it has to get done, doesn't it? People have to eat. What's the point in hating something necessary? What about thousands of years of religious traditions (both eastern and western) stating that the most menial, manual of tasks are the paving stones in the path to enlightenment? Not that I think early twentieth century housewives were particularly enlightened, mind; I suspect that some of them were bitter, and others didn't mind, and most of them just got on with what had to be done, which is what most people do, most of the time. But maybe some of them really were saints; it's never been an enviable job.

People have to eat, so someone has to cook, and despite the whole unpaid servant thing it's not practical (or healthy) for most of us to pay professionals to do it all the time, whether they be restaurant chefs or food scientists concocting a new low-cal, low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium frozen meal. And since it has to get done, and done just about every day at that, why not enjoy it?

The other side answers back that it's easy for me to say; I do enjoy it. I like to turn over a recipe in my mind, like shopping for food, like the feel of a knife in my hand, the click of the stove's ignition (just like in that wine commercial!) and the hum of the mixer. And I glow at the sight of a cleaned plate, because in the end the point of it all is giving pleasure to other people (for myself, I generally don't cook anything more complicated than an omelet). Which is where cooking well comes in. Cook like you hate it and no one profits; enjoy what you're doing, provide food that tastes good, and happiness multiplies. It seems simple, and yet it's clear that this equation, central to my own life, is unimportant to many.

All of which is one long-winded way of saying that humans are complicated, I suppose, and understanding of life as a whole continues to elude me.

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Except where otherwise noted, all material on this site is © 2005 Rebecca J. Stevenson