Reclaiming the Kitchen: The Art of Cooking

In this excerpt from her newest book, Barbara Kingsolver discusses how her family came to connect with food culture and the art of cooking. A day of cheese making proved to be just what the doctor ordered.


| June/July 2008



Cooking

Cooking is the great divide between good eating and bad.


Photo by John Ivanko

Excerpted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Harper Collins, 2007).

For 19 years I’ve been nothing but a working mother, one of the legions who could justify a lot of packaged, precooked foods if I wanted to feed those to my family. But if I were to define my style of feeding my family, on a permanent basis, by the dictum, “Get it over with, quick,” something cherished in our family life would disappear. And I’m not just talking waistlines, though we’d miss those. I’m discussing dinnertime, the cornerstone of our family’s mental health.

I understand that most Americans don’t have room in their lives to grow food. But the art of cooking is a dying art in our culture. Why is a good question, and an uneasy one, because I find myself socioeconomically entangled in the answer. I belong to the generation of women who took as our youthful rallying cry: Allow us a good education so we won’t have to slave in the kitchen. Somehow, though, history came around and bit us in the backside: now most women have jobs and still find themselves largely in charge of the housework. The art of cooking at the end of a long day is a burden we could live without.

It’s a reasonable position. But it got twisted into a pathological food culture. When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen, we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. “Hey ladies,” it said to us, “go ahead, get liberated. We’ll take care of dinner.” They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply. If you think toxic is an exaggeration, read the package directions for handling raw chicken from a factory farm.

In Defense of the Art of Cooking

Now what? Moms and Dads are running on overdrive, smashing the caretaking duties into small spaces between job and carpool and bedtime. Eating pre-processed food can look like salvation in the short run, until we start losing what real mealtimes give to a family: civility, economy and health. A lot of us are wishing for a way back home, to the place where care-and-feeding is happier and more creative. We’ve earned the right to forget about stupefying household busywork. But kitchens where food is cooked and eaten, those were really a good idea. We threw that baby out with the bath water. It may be advisable to grab her by her slippery foot and haul her back in here before it’s too late.

It’s easy for us to claim no time for cooking, harder to look at what we’re doing instead, and why every bit of it is presumed more worthy. But most of us are lucky enough to do some things for fun, or for self-improvement or family entertainment. The art of cooking can be one of those things.





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