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Saying ‘I will not cook’ is condescending, and snobbish. All it takes is some basic knowledge to fix a decent meal. Cooking is not a chore but a life skill.
I have been wondering for a while, why did we grow up to hate cooking? And I realise there could be a few possible answers to that.
Kitchens were symbolic of patriarchy, orthodoxy and discrimination that existed in our societies. They were the space demarcated for women only, where men rarely entered – not even to get themselves a glass of water. Often, men got glasses of water served to them in their hands. And the kitchen is also the place where men eat first and food almost gets over by the time women sat down to eat.
Secondly, women in our families rarely left kitchens. They rarely had leisure for anything other than rolling rotis, simmering gravies over smoking stoves or scouring endless pots and pans.
I remember, I grew up thinking food was something that arrived magically on my plate, without a clue of the efforts that went into the creations. If amma delayed in preparing meals we were ready to leave in a huff, eat at office cafeteria, school canteens without bothering to find out the reason. Her sickness, a water shortage, the LPG cylinder running out, none of these were our concerns and that was our entitlement.
Looking back, I feel we ought to have respected her more for nourishing and sustaining us. It was not just a job for her, it was love and care that we couldn’t see it.
And today, the protest to cook has taken the shape of reluctance. It is this reluctance that makes us dependent on cooks, and helps, takeaways, ordering food online or on the ready-to-eat packages. All these are much easier and more attractive than learning to cook.
If cooking is an art, skill and science, why’s it denigrated as a chore? Cooking is an immensely creative experience appealing to sensibilities and a skill that requires patience, consistency and expertise.
Do you know your curd from your yogurt? That the former can be made with edible acidic substances like lemon juice or vinegar? Or that the latter is created by bacterial fermentation using 2 strains of bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles (quite a mouthful). Whether you knew it or not, you ought to respect the science behind it.
So, cooking isn’t waste of time or an occupation meant for people who didn’t do anything better.
It is time we understand the significance of food and health. We need to know why certain foods suit particular body types depending on ‘vata‘ and ‘doshas‘ as per Ayurveda. Or why potatoes or sugars aren’t bad as they are made out to be. Why native cooking oils are healthier than fancy Mediterranean ones. And why seasonal and local foods are better than superfoods quinoa or couscous. Or even why ghee is (sadly) underrated and why it’s dangerous to be blown over by fake propaganda of multinationals in food industry.
I might not be able to discover any great love for cooking but, I certainly learnt to value home cooking, nutrition and practice mindfulness.
I discovered that just as you love what’s on your plate, you ought to respect the people who put them there. Here, I must confess my first attempt at cooking was done after a tiff over French revolution with mom in my 10th grade. She was quick to show me the way to the kitchen and practice socialism instead of empty talk. “Time you got self reliant,” she said.
Needless to say, my first khichdi tasted awful, but it taught me something important- my first lesson in independence and survival. Even today, I’m no gourmet cook, but I prefer to cook my food. This, mostly because I don’t see anyone do it better when in complete control of the quality, hygiene and composition of my meals.
Cooking is therapeutic, I discovered this when the familiar smells, aromas and fragrances became comforting. The brewing ginger tea, fiery spices, soothing herbs, the sizzle of seasonings, of curries, chutneys and pickles often lift my mood up when I am low. It gives me a sense of control over the little things in live, especially when the big ones were beyond me.
Food habits make our fondest memories of home. Remember ‘maa ke haath ka khana?‘ I learnt to create the dishes I grew up relishing. It was comforting to know that a part of amma would stay with me through her food. And it’s not just about the food, but about the love, warmth and memories that no Michelin star chef can do for you.
I think both the lack of time and unwillingness has put us at the mercy of domestic help today. But, if we have successful and fulfilling careers don’t our bodies deserve better?
A friend in the neighbourhood gets panicky if her cook doesn’t turn up in time. In fact, she prefers staying hungry and waiting than to fix a meal herself. And I, later, learnt that her maid wasn’t doing a great job either. She used too much oil in curries, made insipid sabzis and undercooked rotis. But sadly, my friend was afraid to rebuke for fear of losing her.
Food isn’t about grains, vegetables or spices, it is the memories of home and a land you carry with you. I happened to share my meal with a neighbour who often made do with noodles, bread-butter, takeaways or multigrain cookies as she was reluctant to cook for herself. She was delighted with a simple home food that she’d missed for so long being away from home.
No wonder Indians carry their khakhras, theplas, idli dosa, sambar, mulagapudi mixes or spice powders while travelling abroad. It isn’t merely about the food, but a slice of home that they left behind and the hope to recreate it.
‘I can’t cook to save my life,’ ‘I hate cooking!’ these two ought to go, simply for the reason that anyone who must eat must learn to cook. Saying ‘I will not cook’ is just too condescending, snobbish and entitled when all it takes is some basic knowledge to fix a decent meal.
If we can study Vernier callipers in physics and grapple with Keynesian economics, we might as well cook. And one last time, cooking has nothing to do with genders! Really.
Picture credits: YouTube
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