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Sexism, Cooking and the American Diet


With a 72 hour fast in my rearview, there is only one thing to talk about... food. As I was winding down my final day without it, I fired up the audiobook version of Anthony Bourdain's, Medium Raw. As a quick bit of context, for those that don't know me or well enough, I'm pretty obsessed with Tony and his work. I admire his curiosity, humility, snark and readiness to throw down a few drinks with locals over their comfort foods.

About a fourth of the way through the book, Tony arrives at the state of food in the average American home. He points out which many of us know, that it is almost always cheaper and healthier to eat at home than dining out. He then asks, why is the state of cooking in the American home so poor? Sure its the case that life is busier now than it used to be but he also takes aim at the lack of familiarity people have with basic skills and knowledge that are valuable when preparing a meal. For his part, he calls out the relative extinction of home economics classes from the school system. Now to his credit, he immediately points out this was a course largely and unfairly pushed on women by a sexist society with clear gender roles. But rather than eliminating the course, Bourdain says a much better solution would have been to send everyone through the class. When we are steeped in the fundamentals of a skill with some practice, we are usually on our way to a better shot at taking advantage of the skills and perhaps even enjoying it.

This morning I coincidentally came across an article about food writer Michael Pollan I'd been meaning to get to. And in it, I saw some overlap between he and Bourdain who might not often see eye-to-eye on things in the culinary world. The article touches on something I read in his book Cooked, which can also be seen on Netflix. In it, Pollan reaches a simple conclusion for the food we all might eat. The idea for a well-rounded diet is this, "you can eat anything you want, as long as you make it." This concept proves useful for two reasons: 1) food prep does take work so you're less likely to eat out of impulse than if you buy it pre-made, 2) you are less likely to open up your spice cabinet and add "artificial flavor", which is listed as an ingredient on the box of graham crackers in my pantry. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants", is Pollan's mantra.

So where does this overlap between Pollan and Bourdain fall? If the average American doesn't know their way around the kitchen well, it would be difficult to adopt the, "I'll prepare and cook most of my food diet". If you feel intimidated by mincing garlic, dicing an onion or making your own chicken broth, chances are you'll quickly tire toiling for endless hours trying to do such a thing.

Bourdain says the average person should invest some time in learning the following

  1. Basic knife skills for chopping vegetables as well as to prepare meat

  2. How to roast a chicken

  3. How to make an omelet

  4. How to cook vegetables

  5. How to prepare a vinaigrette

  6. How to shop for fresh and in-season produce

  7. How to clean and filet a fish

  8. How to steam a lobster, mussels or clams

  9. How to braise a piece of meat

  10. How to roast and mash potatoes

  11. How to prepare a stock or make a soup

While this is not a short list of things to understand, its doable and a place to start. Between Youtube, friends and the local community college, I think these are things that I can have better ownership of and plan to take a stab at.

I'll end by paraphrasing a quote I mostly remember but am having trouble sourcing, [In an era, where we have begun to idolize chefs and watch food programs on TV, why is it we do these things while eating frozen dinners?]

Go Forth Boldly


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