September 25, 2005

"Cuisine is sacrifice. There may be joy but there is also pain."

Writes the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, (via A&L Daily):
"I work in the ordinary and the banal," Kaufmann says. "It interests me and it interests more and more readers." He had thought that mealtimes would provide a droll light subject but found it complex and grave instead.

The complexity lies in the fact that French housewives dream that cooking will bring them happiness and love.... There may be a bit of narcissism there, notes Kaufmann, who adds that cooking is not all virtue and grace....

There has ... been a revolution in French eating habits.... A recipe is no longer a guide for beginners, Kaufmann says, "but an instrument to perform an existential rupture." Nothing in family cooking is anodyne, he writes at least twice, and the seemingly modest phrase "Oh, it's just something simple" merits detailed deconstruction.
What is more risky: cooking for others or allowing someone to cook for you? No wonder we prefer to nourish ourselves with casual snacks and fast food.

16 comments:

PatCA said...

Ann, I'm sorry, I find nothing sociologically significant about the act of preparing food. I enjoy cooking, even for myself. The food tastes better.

His book sounds like just another excuse to bash families and their Empty, Western Existence!

Ann Althouse said...

PatC: Even though some of his language is pretentious, I think food preparation is highly signifcant from a sociological standpoint! It has a lot to do with the structure of the family, sex roles, child rearing, the carrying on of tradition, bonding rituals, etc., etc.

k said...

Mmm... this one is complex. I am right now on the downhill side of simmering up a pot of family-recipe Sicilian-style spaghetti and homemade meatballs. A loaf of Mark Bittman's 60-minute bread is rising in my oven on "proof" cycle. And yet, I am not sure any of my kids will eat a plate tonight. So, am I trying to buy my family's love with my food? I think so, somewhere down deep. Am I trying to buy my own happiness? Yes. Yes, I think I am. I'm with you on this one, Ann.. it's sociologically significant and speaks deeply to how important my family is to me, and how much I want to nurture them, physically and psychologically.

My cooking obsession has grown over the years (I never cooked as a child or adolescent), and now, for Xmas and birthdays, I get kitchen gadgets and cookbooks!

tcd said...

I like to cook and confess to be something of a food snob. I feel cooking allows me to be more creative than in other areas of my life such as my work which is work. Cooking gives me pleasure.

To answer your question, it is definitely riskier to let someone else cook for you than to cook for someone else. I don't know about you, but the last few "dinner parties" I've attended have been disappointing food-wise. I understand that many people are just too busy or clueless to prepare gourmet meals but if one is to play the role of a gracious host, one should at least attempt a whole-hearted effort. For example, at a recent dinner party, pre-made hamburgers (the kind one buys in a large box from Costco) was the main dish. Luckily, I brought a salad (one which I prepared myself, not the kind you buy in a bag pre-cut) with a homemade dressing. I felt as though I had put more effort into the dinner than the hosts. I know I should value their friendship more than their dinner menu but that was a bit much. Where is the pride in a well-prepared meal? What happened to showing affection for one's friends and family with a delicious, homemade meal? I sometimes sense that cooking along with other domestic endeavors are looked down upon by society because it is an endeavor that does not compensate monetarily. I hear this a lot from working women who say why cook when one can afford to go out? I say why go out when one can make gourmet magic in the kitchen?

SippicanCottage said...
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k said...

TCD.. You are so right! Today, it's become "acceptable" (not to me) to open a bag of something frozen, put it in a skillet and you "made" dinner. ARRRGH! Sippi... I am sorry your life sucks. It must, or you would appreciate food and the work that goes into preparing it.

SippicanCottage said...
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tcd said...

Sippican,
No, I don't take myself too seriously at all. I just really like to cook. From your comment, I take it you do not cook and perhaps do not know how to cook.

k,
Hope your dinner turned out great. I'm sure it is/ was exquisite. For dinner today, I made a chicken and peapod stirfry with a curry sauce that I made up. My husband liked it and I'm glad because this is the last homemade meal he is getting this week as he will be out of town on a work assignment.

leeontheroad said...

oh it so not just food! But the prevailing belief that's that's all a mealis, is why it's riskier for any foodie to let others cook for you than it is to just invite folks over, where the food will be good! I don't think there's great risk in cooking for others.

vnjagvet said...

I don't know what is more risky. I do know I really like to cook. The old tried and true, and the adventuresome.

As the only male in my household for many years, serving anywhere from 3 to 7 female people, I have generally prepared on a weekly basis more than 1/2 of the dinners. For company, typically, I do the entree and the wife and daughters do most of the sides. Everyone seems to still enjoy this division of labor. And more importantly, they enjoy the food.

All five of my daughters (no sons in my brood) like to cook and are pretty good at it.

Cuisine is no sacrifice for us. But sacre bleu, we're not french.

SippicanCottage said...
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k said...

Mon sante is just fine. I've read you before, Sipp, and you just seem so.. I don't know... Ready to doo-doo on everyone's parade. So yeah, I am sorry for you. You always come back with some comment about how you are way better off than whatever your last comment seemed to indicate. I just don't get your type. I read your blog, and you don't seem like someone who will eat just anything... but yet...

Maybe that's just the way you post. To try to belittle what we're trying to say... I mean, Dood, it's just Food??? OK. So it's just food to you, so you will eat anything? That's certainly the way that sounds to me.

Sippi... You're being taken all wrong, I guess. Post differently and I think you will be taken differently.

Dinner was great, btw. The broiled white peaches with mascarpone cream were exceptional. But I'm getting another glass of Muscat. Now.

SippicanCottage said...
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PatCA said...

I agree that there could be a sociological case to be made here, but the author, based on the article, didn't do it. The article quotes a few of his interviewees who assume a nostaligized past and relate an emotionally impoverished present. Didn't mothers, before McDonald's, get ticked off that the kids didn't like the meal or that the husband tuned out?

It's interesting but not I think a significant comment on a sociological group.

vbspurs said...

Oh dear.

A continuation of the theme we had all this summer, when several French-lifestyle/dieting books came out -- the better to show how superior the French appreciation of food is, than Americans.

It may be true, but gosh darn it, these people never had a mess of greens like I have.

Anyway, this book by Kaufmann sounds dull and pretentious.

At least this one, by Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, was at least an one-hour easy read, whose basic premise is:

Americans are obese because of their helping size, and lack of exercise (deuh).

French women know you can stuff your piehole but with several courses, not one huge-ass Denny's Grand Slam breakfast.

There I just saved people who hadn't read it $24.95.

Please donate to The Chirac-Finnish-British Food Foundation on PayPal instead.

Cheers,
Victoria

vnjagvet said...

Great shot, Victoria. Bullseye.