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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ugly History of Cooking

Posted by on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 8:18 AM

In the comment section of my post about how the kitchen is really a fiction for those who live in cities, many protested that they love cooking as an activity, as something to do, as a way to burn time. One person went as far as to compare the happiness cooking gives him/her to the happiness repairing and maintaining an automobile gives his/her neighbor—Americans and their hobbies. But if cooking is so wonderful why were the females of almost every human society found on earth forced/bullied/beaten into the kitchen by men? (Read Richard Wrangham's Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humans.) Why did men force women to do all of that wonderful work for nothing? Surely, they were not doing women a big favor. They were exploiting their labor power because maintaining a kitchen is a lot of fucking work.

Give this some thought when you look at your beloved kitchen today: There are many men in our globalizing and urbanizing world who still argue that women are biologically suited for cooking—it's so obvious; it's just an extension of breastfeeding. But this is pure bullshit. The kitchen isn't for women; it's for those who are good at cooking. Talent, above all, is needed in the kitchen, and sometimes that talent is found in men and sometimes it's in women. In a city, we finally have the means to turn over cooking to those who have talent and actually see the kitchen as a paradise.

 

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Theodore Gorath 1
Maintaining a kitchen isn't even a lot of work anymore, as long as you don't do things like spill grease everywhere, or are a messy fool in the oven. I do all the cooking in my household, as the girlfriend has a tendency to burn the water she boils.

Granted, this becomes more difficult when adding more people to feed, but as I see it, a bunch of kids/mooching adults are just a bunch of little dishwashers. Use that free labor.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on November 30, 2012 at 8:25 AM · Report this
2
In the comment section of my post about how the kitchen is really a fiction for those who live in cities, many protested that they love cooking as an activity, as something to do, as a way to burn time.


and

In a city, we finally have the means to turn over cooking to those who have talent and actually see the kitchen as a paradise.


Which is it? Are people lying to themselves when they say they enjoy it and so you're advocating the exploitation of restaurant workers or do people genuinely enjoy it and for some bizarre reason you think that pleasure should only be had by those in the restaurant industry?

You do realize that there's room enough in this world for someone like you who hates cooking and goes to restaurants and other people who love cooking and do it themselves, right? You don't have to convince us that cooking is terrible. It's terrible to you. Your preference shouldn't be threatened by the preference of other people.

This is like some bizarre and tortured metaphor for straight people being threatened by marriage equality.
Posted by Zuulabelle http://www.mellophant.com on November 30, 2012 at 8:25 AM · Report this
NotSean 3
I expect far better trolling on a Friday. For shame.
Posted by NotSean on November 30, 2012 at 8:26 AM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 4
Hunter/gatherer. Men were better hunters. In fact, the bones of ancient humans show the same kinds of damage done in todays rodeos. Women always had babies hanging on them which made root and berry gathering easier. It's just a natural division of work. At least it was.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on November 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 5
But if cooking is so wonderful why were the females of almost every human society found on earth forced/bullied/beaten into the kitchen by men?


In days of old cooking wasn't cooking in our modern context and it's foolish to even go down this road you're going down, as you're conveniently, deliberately, or accidentally skipping over a lot of key details. In ye Olden Days, for a variety of sociological reasons which I'm sure you're quite aware of, women kept the home and children and men kept the fields or their profession.

Cooking then wasn't as it is now; it wasn't drive over to your 1950s grocery and butcher or today's Safeway, stock up, and then cook and clean. It was deep food preparation that may have involved the butchery yourself; animal husbandry; gardening; keeping both a pantry and root cellar; working the well, and a hundred other things I'm obviously overlooking.

You know full well (I hope) what was involved having spent part of your youth in the Third World in Africa, as did I in the borderline between Third and Second Worlds for quite a few summers in Romania on our old family farm up in the Transylvannians. I saw and lived that lifestyle, briefly, as I imagined did you. It was bullying sometimes, but it was also simple practicality:

* Men are physically stronger than women. Fact: this is why they worked the field, or the mill, or hunted.
* Men cannot nurse a baby. Yes, times have changed. Pumps, bottles, formula, the magical gift of refrigeration. In most parts of the world even today this doesn't exist. The concept of stocking milk in the fridge and freezer--let alone clean water for formula, or even formula--does not exist. If the mother didn't tend the home and hearth, the babies DIE. Fact.

Some aspects of our evolutionary and sociological history when looked at from the lens of 2012 are dirty, but that doesn't make them bad in the context of their times, and it's nonsense to play at them being so. Some of these things existed as they did because they were most practical, and in cases the only convenient way for propagation and success of the species.
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Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://www.zombo.com on November 30, 2012 at 8:34 AM · Report this
6
I'm usually a fan, Charles, but you're not making any sense here. I'm willing to accept the possibility that hobby-cooking is, in many cases, a form of conspicuous consumption (or maybe conspicuous production?), as in, "Hey, look, I can do what the servants used to do, but I'm doing it by choice because I can."

That said, what is the difference between people who like to cook in their own home, are good at it, and do it; versus professional chefs who do it for a living? The only difference I see is the middleman, and the cost to the consumer. Besides, I don't think those poorly-paid kitchen grunts see their workplace as a paradise.
Posted by Jude Fawley on November 30, 2012 at 8:35 AM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 7
This is actually true of bathrooms too. Unless you're some kind of bathroom aficionado, you're better off professionalizing the whole thing. The home should only be used for... well, come to think of it. What room in your home couldn't be replaced by a public accommodation run by well paid professionals?

Individual family homes are obsolete. It should all be one big collective.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn http://youtu.be/zu-akdyxpUc on November 30, 2012 at 8:39 AM · Report this
thene 8
Fuck you for trying to use my life to win an internet argument. I WAS forced into the kitchen in my early teens and guess what, I still need a kitchen to keep me healthy and solvent, I just refuse to put in extra time there. I think you're playing the common male socialist game of claiming that the only way you're going to stop exploiting women is if there's some kind of societal revolution, and using that pitiful smokescreen as an excuse to not address how to solve sexism here and now.

Such as, say, the sexism women face in the restaurant industry? Why the fuck do you think that women are any less exploited in a professional kitchen as in a home one? Hasn't this site run articles recently about sexual harassment in the food industry? Have you never wondered why there are so few women at the top of the industry? Nah, thought not, you only address sexism when it's convenient for you to do so.

Talent is way overrated anyway; effort is all that ever matters in life. I'm not sure how you can dismiss 'biological suitability' and invoke 'talent' when the two concepts are essentially identical; when it comes to cooking, 'no talent' is just an excuse guys use to not try.
Posted by thene http://thene.dreamwidth.org on November 30, 2012 at 8:44 AM · Report this
9
#2, thanks for saying what I'm thinking more level-headededly than I would have if I had to type it out.

Just because someone is talented at cooking does not mean that they can or should get a job in the restaurant/food services industry. There are too many other factors.
Posted by alicepenguin on November 30, 2012 at 8:46 AM · Report this
10
I don't cook because I live alone and too much food spoils. Forget fresh vegetables, but I do keep a couple of apples and oranges in stock. For me it is cheaper and less wasteful to eat out most of the time. Occassionally I'll cook pasta with frozen vegetables. Oh, and coffee - lots of coffee.
Posted by Lori D. on November 30, 2012 at 8:47 AM · Report this
11
If I went out to eat for every meal, I would way 400 pounds. Like deez nutz.
Posted by Heavy pants on November 30, 2012 at 8:47 AM · Report this
south downtown 12
keep digging this this stupid hole deeper, Charles.

sheesh...
Posted by south downtown on November 30, 2012 at 8:49 AM · Report this
tainte 13
strawman. i think we should rename the statue under the bridge the fremont mudede.
Posted by tainte on November 30, 2012 at 8:53 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 14
Charles, how do you know women were "forced into the kitchen?"

I know that's what idiotic tv shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father knows best portray, but do you actually know for sure that that's what happened in reality?
Posted by Urgutha Forka on November 30, 2012 at 8:55 AM · Report this
15
Why do you want poor people to starve by taking away their kitchens?
Posted by Senor Guy on November 30, 2012 at 8:58 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 16
@ 4 is on the right path. Sexual division of duties once made sense - like, for most of human history, when life was brutal everywhere. It doesn't anymore.

@ 6, this is far more the norm for Charles than you might think.

@ 14, he doesn't. He's a cut-rate philosopher, and cut-rate philosophers will make up anything to support their internal belief system. Their job is to rationalize their beliefs and make them sound as though they are logical.
Posted by Matt from Denver on November 30, 2012 at 9:01 AM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 17
Chuck,

I'm sorry your wife is (apparently) as shitty a cook as you are a writer.
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on November 30, 2012 at 9:25 AM · Report this
Fnarf 18
All arguments on any topic that refer to being "biologically suited" or evolutionarily suited or pretty much anything related to prehistory are complete bullshit. Not only do you not know, but it doesn't matter. Nothing that happens in a modern kitchen has anything to do with "how things used to be". It's not that reductive. It's a hobby, it's a quotidian practicality, it's an historical and cultural adventure, it's pleasure. It's not that hard to do.

And all of the philosophers who have ever lived have not contributed as much to the well-being of humanity as one woman (or man) making tortillas for lunch.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on November 30, 2012 at 9:28 AM · Report this
19
people will often present the argument that females are busy raising children; men are stronger ect. We need to move toward a parentless society; let the state raise the children and designate certain elite specimens as highly payed career pregnancy carriers [until the artificial womb is here]
Posted by bluer is better on November 30, 2012 at 9:31 AM · Report this
CATSPAW666 20
Charles, once again, tries to use biology to explain his wish to be a colonial era aristocrat.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on November 30, 2012 at 9:47 AM · Report this
21
Charles, I see where you're coming from. But I think you're overlooking how radically kitchen maintenance has changed in the post-war era. New consumer products developed over the past seven decades- the refrigerator, the gas stove, the blender, the dishwasher, the George Foreman Grill- have reduced the amount of physical labor involved in cooking and cleaning by orders of magnitude. Combined with our industrial supply chain that abstracts the acquisition of foodstuffs (grain, milk, meat), and you have a situation where an activity was both necessary and grueling and is now optional and potentially fun.

Transportation has followed a similar trajectory- if I wanted to travel from New York to Los Angeles, it would require many months of overland travel, acquiring a coach and sufficient supplies, and my odds of reaching my destination safely were not encouraging. Now, I pay a relatively trivial amount of money, I'm seated in a large metal craft, SENT SOARING INTO THE SKIES, and in less than six hours (much of that time I spend reading, or watching a movie, or taking a nap) I'm on the other side of the country.

I'm not a technoutopian, by any means. But there are ways in which sets of technologies have made our lives demonstrably easier, such that they've facilitated social progress. Where would modern feminism be without the birth control pill? Life is hard, but we're steadily learning to use more of our brainpower to front-load more of the labor of life to make it, of not easy, then at least less daunting.
Posted by un_beknownst on November 30, 2012 at 9:55 AM · Report this
22
I've had a hard time categorizing Mudede's awfulness before. Is he perhaps the David Brooks of Marxism?
Posted by dirge on November 30, 2012 at 9:58 AM · Report this
COMTE 23
@19:

I didn't read @5's comments as a defense of maintaining historical gender-roles in modern society; quite the opposite in fact. It was (at least in my interpretation), simply meant as an explanation for why such roles were assigned in a historical & biological context.

Obviously, those of us in more economically and technologically advanced societies no longer need to be restricted to such traditional roles, but that doesn't necessarily preclude an individual from choosing to adopt such roles of their own volition.

As for myself, well, the adherents to Chaz' ersatz socio-political construct can have my kitchen - when they pry my 8" Henkels chef's knife from my cold, dead fingers...
Posted by COMTE on November 30, 2012 at 10:00 AM · Report this
TVDinner 24
Echoing thene a bit, I've been really struck by how male-dominated professional cooking is compared to cooking in the home. When you're getting paid to do it, it's the domain of men. When it's unpaid labor, it's the domain of women.

The worst insult I've heard on Gordon Ramsey's "Kitchen Nightmares" (British version now available on Netflix!) is, "My grandmother could cook this!" Because to do something like a woman who has spent her entire life doing that thing is so awful?

Posted by TVDinner http:// on November 30, 2012 at 10:03 AM · Report this
25
"feed the trolls, twopence a bag..."
Posted by fuddy on November 30, 2012 at 10:04 AM · Report this
Rob in Baltimore 26
I almost never eat at restaurants. I cook pretty much every night. It's not difficult, it's not hard work, nor is it terribly time consuming. Sorry if you and your spouse cannot manage such tasks. (Or perhaps you just feel empowered in letting others wait on you, your highness?) I maintain a healthy diet, and I'm not going to put that in the hands of the restaurant industry, that is much more interested in turning a profit than they are my health.
Posted by Rob in Baltimore http://www.wishbookweb.com/ on November 30, 2012 at 10:05 AM · Report this
Charles Mudede 27
@13, that was weak. it's funny how those who refuse to really look at my seemingly extreme arguments turn to calling it trolling. it is for you an easy way out. it also has become a tired way out. but what you should always be aware of is this: my arguments stand on a mountain of books.

@18, there has been tons of anthropological studies on this subject by truly great minds. you can't just dismiss them and say know one knows.

@5, thank you for recognizing that my opinion is also drawn from direct exposure to poor and less technological societies. your comment is the most meaningful so far. but here is my point: the institution of the kitchen corresponds with sedentarism. meaning, it is an agricultural institution. the kitchen, like marriage, like property ownership, are rural forms. and so, each house in the city is really duplicating a farmhouse in the country. we do not have pigs in the yard, but have big kitchens in the house. do you now see the bizarreness of this? it's like looking into a car and seeing horses are actually the horsepower.

what is specific to urban life, the actual urban invention, and this is pointed out in glaeser's book triumph of the the city, is the restaurant. my purpose is to find the urban forms, which tend to be friendlier to the environment, and replace them with these older forms, which tend to do more damage than good. we can't all live in farmhouses. we are not farmers. we need to live like who we are: city people.

Posted by Charles Mudede on November 30, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Report this
28
Charles, I have no shame in saying you're being an idiot.

You presume that the efficient division of labor resulting from our evolutionary roots means that women were "forced" into the kitchen, rather than suited towards it in the past. Further, you take that argument and construct a strawman about how "many men in our globalizing and urbanizing world who still argue that women are biologically suited for cooking" without giving examples. Then you wrap all that bullshit into some commentary about how we should turn "talent" over to those who "see the kitchen as a paradise."

Newsflash: many people who cook and prepare food for a living don't see it as a paradise, but as a job to provide for themselves and their families. Many of those people aren't doing anything magical, they're following the instructions of the "talented" - something almost anyone who can follow a recipe can do. And what of those of us who are talented in the kitchen, but are more talented elsewhere? Should we not seek to fulfill that aspect of our lives in private and use the comparative advantage of our other talent to obtain our provisions?

It appears you are projecting your own kitchen inadequacy upon the rest of the population. However, your argument is piss-poor. Since getting into modernist cooking, I've been able to consistently create perfectly cooked meat using a simple water bath and cooking sous vide. Sure, I sometimes like to go out for the luxury or convenience of it, but there's no way you can tell me that it makes sense to go to Daniel's to buy a 60 dollar steak that I can perfectly make at home for 1/10th the cost. The steps are stupidly simple as well: buy USDA prime ribeye. Add salt and pepper. Vacuum seal. Insert into water bath at 55C. Watch an episode of Dr who with my wife. Remove from water bath, pat dry, sear with blowtorch or on a pan.

Same thing goes with salad. It's fun and easy to make a great Caesar salad, and for a couple bucks of ingredients (lettuce, egg, olive oil, garlic, lemon, anchovy paste, any flavor amendments [e.g. mustard, red wine vinegar, black pepper], and optionally parmesan and croutons) I can make enough salad for multiple people. That would cost me $20+ at a restaurant, and that's if they don't drown the leaves in lettuce (plus, many use the cream based caesar dressing, which just isn't as good).

What's really annoying, though, isn't that you don't want to cook for yourself. It's that you don't want anyone else to do so for themselves, either. You're no better than the religious bigot who wants to enforce the mandates of their belief system upon the rest of the general population.

As I said previously, there is an advocacy here where the "city" concept you seem so keen to push would make sense - community kitchens in apartments, condos, etc (albeit with private refrigeration and/or pantries per unit) could reduce the waste and potentially even the energy usage of multiple people cooking. But you're not saying that; you're telling everyone "you suck at cooking unless you work in a restaurant, and you're wasting your time." What makes you think that you're correct?
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Posted by Tawnos on November 30, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 29
@23
I didn't read @5's comments as a defense of maintaining historical gender-roles in modern society; quite the opposite in fact. It was (at least in my interpretation), simply meant as an explanation for why such roles were assigned in a historical & biological context.


Exactly. Having seen how the non-Western and non-industrialized world does these things still--first hand, and having lived it for about a total of 1 to 1.5 calendar years in my life give or take, I was explaining why it was that way historically, not excusing it today. If my wife earned what I do, I would cheerfully try trading roles with her as a stay-at-home dad.

I know two men that do this--one for an 18 month old, and one who will starting this month. I'm actually damned envious of them. Spending last week on vacation was the first extended period of non-stop time I got to spend with my son since the week after his birth in March. I loved it and already miss him, and can't wait for my burning off the rest of my vacation in the end of December for two weeks of being around the house in that role.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://www.zombo.com on November 30, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Report this
30
Charles, let's leave past millenia aside for the moment. Let's concentrate on the here and now.

In my house, no woman is forced into the kitchen because--guess what? No woman lives in my house! Only two men live there. And both of us like to cook. We either take turns doing it, or we divide the duties and work together. It can be fun, and it can be creative, and we'd rather do it than eat dinner in a restaurant every night.

So don't drag straw men (or straw women) into the debate. Don't tell me that cooking is "boring" and "best left to those who can acutally cook," and don't try and convince me that I'm some sort of chauvinistic, gynophobic Neanderthal because I want a kitchen in my house. Again, you're trying to force all people into one very narrow view of what you think is best for all.
Posted by Clayton on November 30, 2012 at 10:11 AM · Report this
Fnarf 31
@27, this supposed "evolutionary function" of which you and your anthropologists are so enamored is interesting from a purely theoretical understanding but it DOES NOT MATTER IN THE KITCHEN. And it is clear that you have no earthly idea what actually goes on in modern kitchens.

Here's a hint: it's not all about the cooking.

Kitchens have a social function too. All of your arguments apply equally well to parties; there's no evolutionary reason for them, they're nothing like they were in 50,000 BC, our bodies were not identifiably designed for them -- and yet, we have them, and we like having them. And we very often have them in the kitchen.

That's because we LIKE kitchens. And, contrary to your assertions, I would maintain that there are historical and cultural and yes, very probably evolutionary reasons why humans enjoy gathering with their friends in places where food is made, where a stove and a sink and a refrigerator and a table with chairs are located. We gather around the sink with our glasses of wine, just like the TV commercials, because WE LIKE IT.

There are, in addition, several dozen other interesting things that humans do in kitchens that more than justify the space they take up in the home. That's just one of them.

It's sad that your takeaway from all of your evolutionary whatever reading is that human civilization is unnecessary. It's not really up to you. We're going to continue to do what we do whether you think it's sensible or not.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on November 30, 2012 at 10:27 AM · Report this
32
@31,

Well said. Ever been to a house party, Charles? Did you bother to pay attention to which room most of the people congregate in?

The person who told Charles he was extra bright and special way back in grade school did him (and, for that matter, us) a real disservice.
Posted by Mr. X on November 30, 2012 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 33
@27
we can't all live in farmhouses. we are not farmers. we need to live like who we are: city people


I want to agree with you -- now that you've cleared up your point substantially -- but simple practicalities get in the way.

Village life: we knew all the neighbors. Worked with them, side by side. I recall one night one trip where some dog went rabid. Full on, snarling, lunatic Cujo thing. It began killing geese in the field around sunset. No one knew who's dog it was, but the geese were de facto communal. So some crazy stray get sick and insane. The village had about 10-12 families, and us kids were quickly herded inside. Damn near two dozen teen men and adults swarmed from all over with shotguns and rifles, tracked down the dog in an hour, blasted it, and burned it to cinders on the spot, along with all the killed geese. Later that trip our neighbors killed a huge pig, and every family brought them food. Became a huge feast, and every family also walked home with a ton of pig, while the slaughtering family walked away with tons of winter produce for the cellar and pantry (and booze!).

City: how do you replicate this? A restaurant isn't communal, really. I know a family who has a restaurant down by Rainier, and they on Thanksgiving opened it up for several family members with professional kitchen training to cook the family's dinner for twenty with others helping -- the families brought food and then all did the clean up to reset the restaurant for the next day. That's the closest thing I can think of. In the apartment buildings I previously lived in, the biggest had 10 units. Everyone always knew everyone--like the village life--but aside from an odd party, sharing of DVDs, tools, wi-fi, or BBQ, there was no communal action.

The big difference is in that village context you not only live with but also work with others, in the same close environment. It's the same in my neighborhood now in SW Seattle. All the adjacent neighbors in the houses know each other. We can practically chat out the window to each other, living room to living room. We trade tools. I've traded wi-fi with a neighbor while hers was down. I did some yard work for one, since I was doing it anyway, it overlapped our line, and it was fun exercise. But that's it. I grilled and experimented with smoking meat all summer, finally having a house. I could never even coordinate any of them coming over, since everyone has their own detached lives with no communal center.

It's just how city life is, and the trade off. The older you get--as family sets in--the harder it is. Before my group of friends had kids, we used to get together every single Monday night, at least 3/4 weeks. One person's place--they were most central and had the best A/V setup. Someone would bring snacks, one couple cooked dinner, one brought alcohol, one brought a couple movies for the group to pick from, all on rotation. That was the closest.

I just don't think it's practical or possible in today's modernized and fast paced urban life.

This is probably the closest to what you're looking for in an American context, outside of the Amish or native tribes--Anthony Bourdain down in Cajun country. Start the first video at 11m 38s. The second in it's entirety.

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-0Ej72-j…
* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr5VdmClp…
* http://deepsouthmag.com/2011/06/anthony-…

Warning for wimps: a pig takes a bullet in the face and is butchered by a crowd 18 ways to Sunday.
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Posted by Joe Szilagyi http://www.zombo.com on November 30, 2012 at 10:33 AM · Report this
34
Charles - you cannot win this argument. You are wrong so just get over it. Most people want the freedom to eat what they want and the best way to do that is to cook it themselves.

@8: It does look like he combed the comments for something to use and found sexism so he jumped on it.

Yes, women used to do most of the cooking. And they did most of the house cleaning and child rearing too.
But while the women were working damn hard in the kitchen, the men werent' exactly doing nothing. They had hard work to do too. It used to be that most work outside the home was physical hard work. In most cases, both men and women worked hard.
While it's still often the case that men work outside the home and women stay home and cook, I am seeing more and more cases where the husband is the one that stays at home and does the cooking, cleaning and child rearing. People now have more freedom to do the things they are good at rather than stick to gender roles.
So saying we should get rid of kitchens because they enslave women is just total bullshit now. The kitchen does not enslave me, not does it enslave my spouse. Instead it gives us the freedom to prepare food exaclty the way we want it and to eat exactly what we want to eat.

Posted by swing state voter on November 30, 2012 at 10:37 AM · Report this
35
Slaves labored in the fields but lots of folks love to garden ...
Posted by waydownyonderinthepawpawpatch on November 30, 2012 at 10:38 AM · Report this
36
@35:
That's a pretty good comparison, and one I can relate to since I grow most of what we eat in this household.
Posted by swing state voter on November 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM · Report this
37
Charles, you're a bit if a riot.
Your main point--that maybe it would be better to leave cooking to the experts, as long as the density is there to support it--might be supportable in a context where the experts actually did produce affordable, nutritious, and delicious food. Saddly, that is nowhere near the case in seattle, nor in most of the (many) parts of america i've lived.
In contrast, it was definitely the case in indonesia--for several years i got my main meals from tante gemuk (the fat lady) on the corner, without having to worry about excess salt or grease or not enough vegetables or, and this is key, that it would be worse than what i could produce myself with minimal effort at home.
The same was true when i lived in japan. Something in between that situation and here obtained when i lived in europe.
So as much as i might be sympathetic to the idealistic impulse, i question the pragmatic reality. Moreover, if one looks at why those other places succeed where america fails in this regard, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that food in america, even taste in america, sucks mainly *because* not enough people eat good food at home. They literally dont know what real food tastes like, and dont cultivate the skilset among the young who might have a talent for it. Contrariwise, ordinary prepared food in indonesia, japan, or europe is better in large part because palates haven't been spoiled by neglect and abuse.
Posted by Xtoph on November 30, 2012 at 10:47 AM · Report this
Michael of the Green 38
I enjoy adding a few fresh eggs into the batter. It gives me a sense of creative contribution. I'm not above understanding that. But I'm not an engineer of the soul, so.
Posted by Michael of the Green on November 30, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this
39
Charles is a funny guy. He protests the devaluing of "women's work" by devaluing it.
Posted by Charlie Mas on November 30, 2012 at 11:24 AM · Report this
40
"...if cooking is so wonderful why were the females of almost every human society found on earth forced/bullied/beaten into the kitchen by men?"

This is clearly a non-sequitur; Charles is arguing that because women have historically be forced/beaten/bullied into the kitchen, nobody can possibly enjoy cooking today. Sorry, the the conclusion simply does not follow from the evidence presented.

There are too many analogous examples: in the past, slavery forced many into agricultural labor. That doesn't prevent people from liking to grow their own food now. In the past, many people were forced to make garments in sweatshop. That doesn't prevent people from liking to design and make their own clothes. In the past, women had no control over their reproductive choices and frequently died in childbirth. That doesn't mean that women can't make a conscious choice to bear children or to enjoy motherhood today.

The problem I see in all three of Charles' controversial posts in the last week (one on micro-living and two on kitchens) is that Charles is incapable of any thought that doesn't fall into neat binaries, especially if that thought does not neatly align with his own.

Posted by Clayton on November 30, 2012 at 11:25 AM · Report this
seandr 41
Credit to Charles for his ability to cast an interesting and novel light on things no one else has given any thought. Frankly, the inability of commenters to even entertain this idea is disappointing.

As someone who sucks at cooking, I'm probably biased, but I find the ramifications of culture without full kitchens in every domicile interesting and not unpleasant to contemplate.

As for the "saving money by cooking" argument, if everyone ate out all the time, restaurant prices would come way down, restaurant options would go way up, and efficiencies (both economic and environmental) would be introduced, just as they would if everyone stopped driving their own cars and used public transportation.
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 11:37 AM · Report this
CATSPAW666 42
the concept that if everyone ate out all the time, prices would come down, is ludicrous.
Everyone eating out would not lower the costs of fertilizer to grow food, oil to transport it, gas to fuel the stove, labor to cook it, rents on restaurants, or pretty much any of the other cost inputs into restaurant prices.

We already have cheaper places to eat- school cafeterias, for example. And, without exception, the more the emphasis is on mass production and low price, in cooking, the worse the food is.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on November 30, 2012 at 11:55 AM · Report this
43
@41
My problem isn't the suggestion that some people don't need full kitchens, or that some people might do well with micro-living units; it's Charles' prescriptive and moralistic pronouncements that *all* people should live this way. When people say that they like to cook and/or find it economically more sustainable than restaurants 21 times a week, what does Charles do? He attempts to discredit differing opinions by suggesting (in this post) that a desire for a full kitchen is a retrograde assertion of misogyny, and that his opinion is the only valid one because as a writer (as he asserts in an earlier post), he is an "engineer of the soul."

Puh-leese.

Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast would run posts like these under the heading, "Poseur Alert."
Posted by Clayton on November 30, 2012 at 11:56 AM · Report this
44
Folks, why are we brushing our teeth? We should be paying people in the teeth brushing industry to brush our teeth for us. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you enjoy it.
Posted by Joel_are on November 30, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 45
@41,

For an example of efficiency in food production, look no further than McDonalds. Good quality, prepared food will never be comparable in price to cooking your own. You are wrong.
Posted by keshmeshi on November 30, 2012 at 12:21 PM · Report this
46
What I find personally shocking in all of this is that Charles doesn't appear to understand the role of kitchen related activities in community building, the rearing of children, the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, or even understanding the need for regulation of commercial activities, etc at a time when individuals are increasingly alienated from the world they live in.
Posted by anon1256 on November 30, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 47
As someone who sucks at cooking, I'm probably biased, but I find the ramifications of culture without full kitchens in every domicile interesting and not unpleasant to contemplate.
And as someone with some skill in the kitchen, I'm likely biased in the other direction. So what I would say is that some domiciles should still have partial or full kitchens, so that those of us who do manage to whip up a meal that is competitive with what's available commercially, and whose careers involve disseminating knowledge on dietary management, can continue to do so.
As for the "saving money by cooking" argument, if everyone ate out all the time, restaurant prices would come way down, restaurant options would go way up, and efficiencies (both economic and environmental) would be introduced . .
Certainly; I imagine that the fact that nearly every meal cooked at home is healthier than nearly every meal cooked in a restaurant would be remedied in a similar fashion if consumers demanded more realistic portions, more organic or locally sourced product, and the use of healthier fats, phyto-nutrients, and so on. Here's the thing, though: if the consumer is to lead this charge, he/she will first need to be able to afford it. That means eating out at current prices, which just isn't in the budget for most people who actually, you know, work for a living.
. . . just as they would if everyone stopped driving their own cars and used public transportation.
Same problem. My wife and I managed without a car for over a decade, until she became a massage therapist (some professions simply involve too much equipment to transport by bus). But life on the whole was fantastically inconvenient, as friends and theaters stubbornly refused to move to within easy transit distance of our apartment and confine their operations to the Metro schedule.

Mind you, I LOVE the IDEA of a life centered around public space, public amenities, and public services. Until civil engineers can actually create such a utopia, however, I will always advocate for what will allow me to be of greatest service to my fellow man. At this point, that happens to involve a kitchen and an apartment big enough that my wife and I can both run our client-oriented businesses in our living room.
More...
Posted by thelyamhound http://thebayinghound.blogspot.com on November 30, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this
GhostDog 48
@45

Agreed. The thing is that most restaurants by necessity have to use a lot more preservatives because they are storing food for a lot longer.

@41 and Charles

An interesting argument, but for me personally I can't get behind it. For me, the ability to cook is tied in with my independence. Because I know how to cook I don't have to bend to other's will in regards to what I should have(otherwise known as a "menu"). No matter how many people go out to eat there still will never be the variety that I can have in my kitchen because I can create my own dishes or modify dishes to exactly the way I want.

For example, I am a big fan of a dish called cacio e pepe. The thing about that dish is that it pretty much has to be made to order and requires that the person cooking it pay attention to just that one thing. This makes it where you don't see it in a commercial kitchen all that often(there are only around 10 places in Manhattan where you can find it and considering how many Italian places there are in NYC that only goes to prove my point). Therefore if I don't cook it I have to spend about $50 to get it(I live outside of NYC).

Another example is a Jamaican curry rice and beans with spinach and half and half. You can't get that anywhere except in my kitchen because I created that dish off the cuff out of what I had in my apartment and, like cacio e pepe, would be hopelessly impractical to make in a commercial kitchen anyway. But that recipe, like a few others, have become staples in what I eat that I would never have been able to have unless I had a kitchen and an almost surreal interest in Anthony Bourdain.

Posted by GhostDog on November 30, 2012 at 1:16 PM · Report this
McJulie 49
Pointing out the "ugly history of cooking" is about like pointing out the ugly history of sex -- it's not going to stop anyone.

For years I resisted taking control in the kitchen because I was a feminist, damn it. I expected my husband to do his share.
Before we moved in together he said he liked cooking. I had seen him make spaghetti sauce. But it turned out that what he meant by "cooking" was adding a can of tuna to a box of Kraft Dinner.

So for years we went out to eat 90 percent of the time. When he made more money, this was an acceptable compromise. Then I made more money. I realized that I had a choice: let him spend all my damn money, or cook at home more.

I love my husband, but... the problem is men, not kitchens.
Posted by McJulie on November 30, 2012 at 1:30 PM · Report this
50
@47:
"Certainly; I imagine that the fact that nearly every meal cooked at home is healthier than nearly every meal cooked in a restaurant would be remedied in a similar fashion if consumers demanded more realistic portions, more organic or locally sourced product, and the use of healthier fats, phyto-nutrients, and so on."

The problem I see here is how the consumer could actually verify what is in the food. We can go by taste, sight and smell, but unless the list of ingredients and the amounts of those ingredients are available or we are back in the kitchens watching all the food prep, I just don't see how we can tell how healthy the food being served to us really is. Yes, some things are obvious, but there are a lot of ingredients that aren't. Restaurants are in the business of making money so they are going to make food that appeals to people as cheaply as they can and that isn't going to be the healthiest food possible. Can you tell by eating something that it is organic or locally produced? Can you always tell by eating something that one fat has been substituted by another?

I like to make my own food because I can control exactly what goes into it and I just don't see that happening in a restaurant situation, no matter how good it is.
Posted by swing state voter on November 30, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
COMTE 51
Now, now @49:

As a latch-key kid growing up in the '70's, I learned how to cook out of simple necessity: my mom usually didn't get home from work until around 6:00 p.m., and my stepfather was one of those "I want dinner on the table before I've finished my first beer" types, so it literally fell on my shoulders from about the time I was 12 or 13 to make sure that happened.

That being said, I ended up becoming a much better cook than most of the female members of my family, who were all pretty much exclusively coached in the stereotypical mid-western "meat and potatoes" school. And growing up as an independent adult, I find my culinary skills have become sufficiently advanced that my female friends buy me high-end cookbooks as birthday presents, so I must be doing something right in the kitchen.

Therefore, I would say the problem is neither "men", nor "kitchens", but simply "people" (including Chaz, apparently), who've never learned how to make proper use of kitchens, and thus find the spaces intimidating and extraneous to their lifestyles.
Posted by COMTE on November 30, 2012 at 2:04 PM · Report this
thelyamhound 52
@50 - Fair enough. I'm just trying to offer maximum benefit-of-doubt.
Posted by thelyamhound http://thebayinghound.blogspot.com on November 30, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
NoelleyB 53
I shouldn't cook because women used to be forced into it? So then black people shouldn't garden because of the agricultural work forced on the slaves of our nation's past? I think both of these arguments are equally full of shit.

Also "Americans and their hobbies!?" I seriously doubt that Americans are the only people on earth who fill their leisure time with useful but unnecessary tasks.
Posted by NoelleyB on November 30, 2012 at 2:09 PM · Report this
54
@50,

Not all men - I do all of the cooking when I'm hanging out with my significant other (who generally orders out for herself and her kid during the week when I'm not around because neither of them cooks beyond microwaving frozen dinners and making top ramen).

Generalizations usually suck, and Charles' generalizations that purport to be deep philosophical thoughts suck even harder.

Tenants come and go, but buildings without adequate cooking facilities are forever. Fuck that shit.

Posted by Mr. X on November 30, 2012 at 2:11 PM · Report this
55
Oops, I meant @ 49
Posted by Mr. X on November 30, 2012 at 2:12 PM · Report this
treacle 56
@45 I love your dry wit, keshmeshi :)

H'okay, to Charles now-elaborated point: " but here is my point: the institution of the kitchen corresponds with sedentarism. meaning, it is an agricultural institution. the kitchen [is a] rural form. and so, each house in the city is really duplicating a farmhouse in the country. we do not have pigs in the yard, but have big kitchens in the house. do you now see the bizarreness of this?"

" my purpose is to find the urban forms, which tend to be friendlier to the environment, and replace them with these older forms, which tend to do more damage than good."

1. No, I do not see the bizarreness of this. Wheels were invented tens of thousands of years ago, yet we still use wheels today. Chopsticks haven't changed in 5,000 years. People, urban people, are more alienated from one another today than they were even 100 years ago... this is better? Not really.

2. Sedentarianism: We are still living in a sedentary society, even more so that when we lived in a rural society.

3. Are airplanes (invented 100 y'ago) more urban than boats (invented ???? y'ago)? Does one do more damage than the other?

4. Modern agriculture does loads of damage to the environment: lowering of water tables, chemical fertilizers damaging soil and water microbial life, reliance on petrochemicals to distribute, irrigate, harvest and ship food; monocropping; GMOs.

IN SUM: Kitchens aren't going away any time soon, gender divisions in cooking and earning --one could easily argue-- have largely changed due to the equalities enabled by capitalism (although I suppose other economic systems could have produced the same thing), it is highly unfortunately that you chose to make rather inflammatory and specious arguments in favor of this anti-kitchen institution campaign, that was really distracting. Although I'm sure it raised your comment & hits count.

I'm out.
More...
Posted by treacle on November 30, 2012 at 2:34 PM · Report this
treacle 57
Oh, and people in the city currently have goats and chickens in the yard... does that count? Or does it have to be pigs?
Posted by treacle on November 30, 2012 at 2:35 PM · Report this
58
The primary problem with women being forced into cooking is not the activity in question but the FORCING WOMEN part.

Communal kitchens in a building full of efficient apartments sounds fabulous. That's not what you advocated. You said people who cook at home are wasteful, inherently, and should just eat out all the time. (Let them eat cake...) Add in a poor argument that is...to put it mildly, horribly insulting, and very close to the suggestion that women who enjoy a historically feminine task are somehow bad feminists, and you piss people off.

Face it, you argued your point badly. It's ok, everyone burns the roast now and then.

Posted by sambiddlecom on November 30, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 59
@ 57, Charles probably finds the whole urban homesteading phenomenon horrifyingly backwards. I expect him to condemn it on Slog one of these days.
Posted by Matt from Denver on November 30, 2012 at 3:23 PM · Report this
60
This is the most illogical argument ever. Some women are/were forced to cook so no one can enjoy it? Some women are forced to have sex, too. Soooo according to this logic, sex is bad too??
Posted by Cabusi on November 30, 2012 at 3:49 PM · Report this
seandr 61
@CATSPAW666:
You are forgetting profit margin in your costing, which goes down in any business, including restaurants, as volume increases and becomes more reliable.

Also, I assert that a distribution system involving millions of individuals transporting food to their domiciles (and refrigerating it) is less energy efficient and more costly than a distribution system that delivers food in volume to a smaller number of neighborhood restaurants.

@keshmeshi:
Increased diner volume means more business for all restaurants, not just chains. Consider - if you and I dined out every single evening together, McDonalds wouldn't see a dime, but if I had anything to say about it, places like Spinasse, Ravish, Momiji, Sitka & Spruce, and Cafe Campagne certainly would.

Anyway, if people want to cook, they should cook. I just think this is an interesting thought experiment.
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 4:43 PM · Report this
seandr 62
@GhostDog: For me, the ability to cook is tied in with my independence.

Yes, Charles' proposal makes me a bit queasy for a similar reason. If cooking becomes a specialty across our culture, we become dependent on the "food system" to fulfill a very basic human need - eating healthily. That system has certainly failed us in the past (e.g., I ate nothing but Lucky Charms and monster cereals for breakfast in the 70s).

One could argue, correctly I think, that the increased interest in the art of (home) cooking in the last two decades is at least partly responsible for the easy availability of healthy, natural foods that were all but impossible to find in the 70s.
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 5:04 PM · Report this
63
@62 - "Gourmet" items were more difficult to find in places like Seattle during the 70's but globalization, deregulation, green-washing, and just plain intensive industrialization of agriculture and the raising of animals have made it more difficult to guarantee the safety of food sources, which questions your assumption that it is easier to find healthy food nowadays.
Posted by anon1256 on November 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM · Report this
thene 64
#61/#62 - two catches with your arguments; firstly, people who cook at home can always just shop at the same places restauranteurs shop (big city markets and ethnic markets, wholesalers) and thereby get food for roughly the same cost that restaurants get theirs. Sometimes (depends on the place) this means having space to store a bit in the way of bulk goods, but that's generally no real detriment. Because of this, home cooking can always undercut independent restaurants (and I am figuring that Chuck's utopia contains many independent restaurants, not the onward march of McD's et al). Secondly, the increased interest in the 'art' of home cooking since the 70s has accompanied a decrease in people actually doing it, so I wouldn't read too much into its significance.
Posted by thene http://thene.dreamwidth.org on November 30, 2012 at 6:16 PM · Report this
65
My husband and I are going to watch a Christmas parade at the home of some friends tomorrow. In honor of the occasion, I spent part of the evening baking a banana-cranberry bread as a hostess gift. I was under the impression that I enjoyed making it, and in the past my husband and our friends have claimed to enjoy eating it. According to Charles, though, we're all just desional;all I was really doing was oppressing women while demonstrating my lack of humanity by working in a full kitchen in a house of more than 200 square feet
Posted by Clayton on November 30, 2012 at 7:31 PM · Report this
seandr 66
@64: Because of this, home cooking can always undercut independent restaurants

Good point. However, there are other costs to home cooking to consider besides the cost of goods:

* Time to shop, prepare the meal, clean up
* Cost of appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher)
* Energy costs of running said appliances
* Costs of cookware and place settings
* Rent/mortgage for kitchen square footage, cabinetry, surfaces, plumbing, etc.

These costs will vary from home to home, but I'd guess that for a lot of people, an eat-out only world would make restaurant prices quite competitive with home cooking.

When I look at what we pay for meat at Whole Foods, I can't help but wonder if price differences are already smaller than people think (assuming you don't drink any wine, which is outrageously marked up by restaurants).
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 7:33 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 67
@61,

I think you missed my point.

There's only so much room for economies of scale when you're talking about GOOD food. On those rare occasions that I can see what's going on in the kitchen at my favorite restaurants, there are maybe three to five line cooks working at any one time, and these are fairly reasonably priced joints like Senor Moose and the new Meander's in White Center.

When you start getting into larger operations, you can divide the work up a little bit more, by having separate stations for different items on the menu and by having more of an assembly line flow for chopping vegetables and the like, but you're still never going to make it so efficient that it's comparable in cost to home cooking, not unless you have a prepackaged, mass production ethic like McDonalds has, and that model is the very antithesis of good food. You'd be better off heating up a frozen lasagna at home.
Posted by keshmeshi on November 30, 2012 at 7:42 PM · Report this
seandr 68
@63: Healthy isn't just a matter of safety - it's a matter of nutrition as well. And while safety remains a problem (even with organic foods, as Odwalla demonstrated), I believe nutritional food is much more widely available now than in the 70's, across all income brackets.

Way back when, people just seemed to eat the crap that the industry churned out without asking a lot of questions. At least they did where I grew up. Food Inc (the movie) makes a pretty convincing case that better food is now available, and the reason for that is changes in consumer demand.

Also, one can find good, cheap food at chain restaurants today that simply didn't exist back then, when everything had to be a fucking hamburger and fries. Sub sandwiches and burritos are two fast foods that can be done cheaply, nutritionally, and tastily. Those chains have been steadily growing while McDonalds has struggled.

Personal anecdote - when my kids were younger, I'd sometimes take them to McDonald's Playland in Ballard on rainy days, and while they loved the playground, they told me quite bluntly that the food was shit (a point which was reinforced by the fact that I wouldn't order anything for myself - can't eat that crap anymore). When I was that age, eating McDonalds was heaven. Not sure if the food at McDonalds has changed, or we have, or both.
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 7:55 PM · Report this
seandr 69
@keshmeshi:
Imagine if a restaurant like Coastal Kitchen was guaranteed a full house for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7 days a week. I live nearby, and while they do well, I'm guessing that would be 4-5 times the business they currently do.

Assuming the owners didn't simply pocket the extra profit (which they couldn't given the competition in an eat-out only world), they would lower their prices. Agreed?

Would that make their prices competitive with home cooking? If you factor in the hidden costs of home cooking I mentioned @61, I think we could be getting pretty close, although I admit I don't have this all worked out in a spreadsheet or anything.
Posted by seandr on November 30, 2012 at 8:15 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 70
@ 66, the food cost comprises no more than 30% of the menu price. There is no way that the costs of home preparation amount to more than double the cost of the food. And don't forget that menu prices don't include tip or tax.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 1, 2012 at 8:40 AM · Report this
71
This is what you get when you try and apply a single, flawed ideology to all aspects of life. It's why Soviet apartment blocks had communal kitchens and why their restaurants were awful.

You can find equally nonsensical beliefs--with a fascist twist-- over at freerepublic.
Posted by ryanmm on December 1, 2012 at 1:40 PM · Report this
72
Charles' argument is bizarre. There are all sorts of things including sex and childbeaing - that men have forced women into over the millennia. Take away the coercion and these things may become things women choose to do gladly. It's the coercion that's the problem, not the activity. This is like complaining that black people objected to slavery, but what, now some of them claim to enjoy working?
Posted by Fishface on December 2, 2012 at 7:33 AM · Report this
73
So since cooking in the home was historically an oppression of women, according to Charles' "mountain of books", city dwellers should therefore junk their kitchens and eat out instead, thereby supporting a male-dominated (and historically aggressively exclusive) culture of chefs and restauranteurs?

Posted by DonServo on December 2, 2012 at 9:06 AM · Report this
sissoucat 74
Rich people have no need for a big kitchen, true enough. Seeing rich women pictured in lifestyle articles "having fun cooking" in their kitchens is pandering to stupidity. Of course they don't do it daily ; they spend too much time in shopping and manicure to have time to cook.

Middle class people still do need a kitchen. Home cooking is much less expensive than restaurants - because the cost of labour is nil.

Just like a spouse is much less expensive for a man than relying on a sex worker. As for females, not needing penetrative sex to get off makes a vibrator or one's fingers an even less expensive solution than a spouse.
Posted by sissoucat on December 2, 2012 at 9:08 AM · Report this
75
@68 - True, nutritional value enters the equation but as modes of production are increasingly adopted on larger scale, safety issues arising from these practices can grow in importance like in cheap meat production/packaging for example.
Posted by anon1256 on December 2, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
McJulie 76
@49 uh... the final line seemed like more of a joke when I thought of it in my head.

If I'm being sincere, the problem is people, approximately half of whom are men.
Posted by McJulie on December 3, 2012 at 11:57 AM · Report this

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