Tuesday 6 December 2011

Cooking as a political statement

I like to cook. It is an activity that ticks lots of boxes.
  • It's a great hobby for people who work from home a lot and have a hard time switching off.  I have to eat so I can justify taking a break  to cook.

    • Mostly, it does not require 100% of my attention and because it takes place in stages, I can do something else at the same time. I can chat with a friend thanks to my magic earpiece or talk with my son about his day. Sometimes I catch up with a bit of Masterchef on the iPlayer.
    • It saves me from constant back pain. Over the past 5 years, I have noticed that if I spend more than 3 consecutive hours at the computer my back aches. Everything slows down, I want to be somewhere else. When I cook I am on my feet. I dart around the kitchen, I climp up and down ladders, I stretch up to top shelves and I squat down to peer at cakes through the oven door. I scrub, quite vigorously, and roll and knead and chop and peel. Sometimes I can get quite hot and flushed. Being in constant motion and using different muscles in my body in lots of ways means that the blood is pumping through me and this prevents and relieves back pain. I am a happier, more pleasant, more productive person when I am without back pain. So cooking is good.
    • After much reading, experimenting, debating and blog following, I can safely say that eating meals that I have cooked myself, from scratch, with as many fresh, natural products as I can find and afford is part of my Healthy Eating Definition. So cooking is is a way to eat the way I want to be eating.
    • I like the end product. My cooking is nearly always tastier than the shop bought version. I like food, I like fresh, vibrant flavours and want my taste buds to sing. Processed food just doesn't do that. Good food brings me joy. And joy is a good thing. A very good thing.
    • I learn new stuff all the time. New techniques new ingredients, new concepts and schools of thought about what we eat and how we make that decision. And with wisdom comes power, the power to make choices. When I feel powerful and in charge of my life, when I feel that I am making choices, I am happy. And happiness is a good thing. A very good thing.
    It is this last aspect of cooking which I was reminded of the other day.  Quite by chance I happened to be in the car when Radio Four aired a 15 minute talk by Angela Saini as part of the Four Thought series (a sort of Ted Talks for radio). Saini is a witty and engaging technology and science journalist and although she wasn't specifically talking about cooking, a few things she said reminded me that picking up a frying pan can be something of a political statement.

    Referring to the growing trend of DIY and recycling stuff she says: "That's why in a way making, knitting and crafting have become something of a counter movement to consumerism. They're not just fun things to do anymore, they're almost…subversive. Why should manufacturers tell us how our products should look? How long they should last and what we can do with them?"

    It made me think that cooking, which is also in the realm of making and crafting can be  subversive. When I am in the kitchen, I'm doing my bit to stick my two fingers up at consumerism. When I cook, when I make meals from scratch I am not letting a food manufacturer tell me what a dish should look or taste like. When I experiment in the kitchen, I'm not letting anyone dictate portion size or ingredients, nobody is telling me how much or what to eat. When I make things to eat I don't have to compromise on quality for the benefit of profit or to pay for multimillion advertising campaigns. When I eat food that doesn't come in packaging I choose what goes in and what doesn't, the ingredient list is short. When I cook, the food is mine and I can do as I please. I am in charge. And that is a good thing.  When I am cooking as the Kitchen Fairy and showing other women how to make food I am doing a bit of grass roots politics and taking the battle out of the supermarkets and into the kitchens. The more women I can inspire to pick up a frying pan, the more powerful we become. And the more powerful we become, the better :-)

    Are there any other political cooks out there who want to join in the frying pan movement?


    1. yes - ME. I love to cook. I used to hate it when I was dieting, as I had to cook "approved" meals. Now I'm free to create and it's wonderful.

      I also think growing your own food becomes a political act. When a tomato comes in packaging whence it was put by slave labour, tastes of nothing and leaves a nasty physical and moral aftertaste then growing your own in a way of saying "up yours" to the large supermarket system and to the governments which support that.

      Sorry - you've got me on to one of my favourite topics - food politics. If anyone is interested I suggest checking out Felicity Lawrence and Joanna Blythman in the UK and Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan in the US. Also see the film "Food Inc", that's real eye opener.

      Back to cooking - yes I love it. I use it to destress me. I have a small TV in the kitchen and one of my favourite indulgences is to do some batch cooking while watching anything River Cottage. Pure bliss!

    2. I enjoy cooking too and made a banana loaf and a batch of fairy cakes over the weekend - it is very de-stressing and enjoyable as are the end results! I can recommend fairy cakes with greek yogurt ... mm mm!
      I'd never thought of cooking as subversive before - I do appreciate the convenience of being able to use ready-made foods at times when I'm particularly rushed or feeling particularly tired but it's very satisfying to create something myself, particularly if I don't follow a recipe.

    3. I like your thinking. I didn't realize that was the word for it but yes that is how I feel when I cook from scratch things like chicken nuggets etc. I think of the fresh ingredients I am using and what commercial ones have and I do have a little smug feeling that I have done my bit against food that has so much added stuff to it. "Subversive" it really does appeal to the little "hippie" in me.
      Sorry my "hippie" doesn't know how to post this without pressing annon.

    4. Hey Jenny, yes. Politics can also jump out of the the frying pan and into to the vegetable patch! Now all I need to to do is find somewhere bigger than a window box to grow some stuff :-)

      And thanks Gretel and Subversive Hippie: home made banana loaf and chicken nuggets are going on the political cooking manifesto. As do homemade baked beans and muffins.


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