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Francis Schaeffer on the Origins of Relativism in the Church

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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Sorry State o' Cookin' in America

As you may remember, I do a fair amount of cooking, and, as you may also remember, it is not so much that I like to cook (although I'm darn sure not afraid of the kitchen) as it is that I like to eat, and doggone it, nobody else is up and volunteering to cook what I want to eat.

I'm not sure I'd want anybody else doin' the brisket anyway, I guess.

At any rate, I got to thinking the other day that a lot of times, it seems to me that I'm the only person I know that actually talks about his cooking--well, Kat, and a fine young Christian homeschooling mom I know from the blogosphere, and a cerebrally-inclined church friend of mine named Mark do, I guess--and I have the distinct impression that most folks, in spite of the popularity of the Food Network and so forth, not only don't actually do very much cooking, the cooking they do isn't particularly good.

I've really come to think that I am at the point where I'm doing, in my itsy-bitsy arts-and-crafts-bungalow kitchen with an electric range (plus the outdoor cooking equipment in the back yard) more and better cooking than most people with big, "designer" kitchens. And since I'm strictly "amateur hour," and darn near everything I cook is what some might call "peasant food," that is a very sad statement.

Pity. People blow all this money on fantastic stoves, fridges, granite countertops, and so forth, and not only do they not do very much cooking in them, to listen to them talk (when I've actually gotten some food-based conversation out of them), they wouldn't actually know much about where to begin if they were genuinely inclined to try.

You might be amazed at the number of people who not only don't know how to use cast iron, but actually look down on it.

If there's proof positive of being plumb ignorant in the kitchen, it's looking down on cast iron. It is one of God's gifts to the cook. At least, that's my opinion.

Ennyhoo, I was out at Helmerich Library the other day, and pulled a few books off the shelves. One of them was Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis (available used for a pittance, if you're interested, which is surprisingly common with cookbooks, and a big reason why I seem to own so cotton-pickin' many), and it seems to me that in his introduction, I found an echo to the thoughts I've been having:
New interest in and enthusiasm for cooking shows and other food media, chefs, and restaurants have resulted in more people who may know a lot about food and how it is made--people who can have a heady conversation about the effects of Spanish cooking on restaurants in France and the benefits of organic agriculture over conventional growing methods--but fewer people who actually know how to turn a bagful of groceries into dinner.

This is a paradox I wrestle with as I walk past stands at my local greenmarket overflowing with beautiful produce or lose myself in the aisles of cookbook shelves at my neighborhood bookstore. Interest in food has never been higher, yet all you hear is that fewer people are cooking. Houses are built with custom dream kitchens and expansive dining areas, while the take-out food business is booming and Americans supposedly now eat more meals outside their homes than they do in them. I was intrigued by the thesis of Laura Shapiro's book on the history of women in the kitchen in twentieth-century America, called Something from the Oven (Viking, 2004). Shapiro explains how early food industry marketers set out to turn cooking, which many 1950s housewives found the most satisfying of their daily tasks, into a dreary chore. Enter cake mixes and instant rice, frozen dinners and dehydrated potato flakes. Evidence would suggest that the marketers succeeded in that transformation.
Weird, weird, weird. We have succeeded in transforming ourselves into a country where any interested yokel with a stove and a skillet can eat just about as well as the hoi polloi actually eat on most nights--if only he will trouble himself to learn how to do so.

And I bet it's also a big part of the reason the whole dang country seems to be goin' to fat city in a handbasket, too, rich and poor alike...

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