In truth, I’ve been glad to have a brief retreat from this space. I’m a person who enjoys (perhaps over-much) stepping back and assessing. What am I doing here? Increasingly and amazingly, after a year, that question could now be phrased, What are we doing here? We! Writer, reader! That change of pronoun is exciting itself. Thanks for that, everyone.
Can I tell you something, though? When I step back and do my assessing, I feel distinctly uneasy.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Cooking comes easily to me, and I love it. Being conscientious about my ingredients, too, is easy for me: I am young and don’t support a family, and I’m not easily deterred by the potential inconvenience of something like farmer’s market shopping. I like vegetables. I am rarely too tired to cook. It’s a pleasure, something to which I look forward.
When I write or post pictures here, I want to encourage people to cook, be present when they eat, and live well within their means—without being preachy. I am much more dogmatic than I convey on this site about food. If your friends aren’t necessarily like-minded about such issues (and many of my real-life friends are not), though, this doesn’t make them want to consider the miles their tomatoes traveled. You know what does get the discussion started? Cooking them dinner.
This prickly uneasiness, though, crept in recently. I think it’s this medium. The internet is good for so many things and is such a useful tool. I’m humbled by the way it allows someone as silly as me to share ideas with people. The enormity of the “food blog” community is striking—possibly only rivaled by the seeming insatiable public demand for these spaces.
It seems a good time to be a home cook, doesn’t it? So many resources: so many places to turn for inspiration, so many recipes, so many gorgeous images. With all this information, with all these inspiration boards filled with “Food I’d Like to Cook”, we should all be cooking, all the time. Right?
Somehow, though, I suspect that’s not the case. Is it that we’re a little on overload? It’s like there’s this smoke alarm going off in America’s collective kitchen. Instead of figuring out why it’s going off and trying to make it stop, everyone is shouting at each other really loudly, and we can’t hear the alarm anymore. (When I imagine this metaphor, the shouters are yelling out things like, “QUINOA” and “FARM TABLE” and “CUPCAKES”.)
Emphasis on food and the life around the table (and the beauty therein) is a good thing. But I worry: prettied-up food, perfect mise en place cooking, celebrity chefdom, and just a general fetishization of food—-these have distanced us from the do-able, and from those things that we need to be able to do to cook to fit our everyday lives.
Sometimes cooking is messy and smoky. It almost never looks like it came out of the pages of a lifestyle magazine. Some of you have a kid hanging on your leg while you try to put dinner together. Yes, those meditative, dreamy moments kneading our bread dough or slow afternoons simmering soup—those are real, and they are to be celebrated. But it’s not always like that.
I’m scared—literally, scared—that our appetite for actually cooking is squelched by this avalanche of information and images of what is, for many of us, an unattainable everyday table.
Awhile back, I worked in a local WIC office. The WIC program is imperfect and challenging. But it was one of the more rewarding jobs I’ve had because I got to work directly with women, mothers, babies, and hear about their lives around food. These are lower-income, usually single and/or working mamas who work hard to just get food into their kids’ bellies. They’re tired, and they don’t have much time to cook.
Their vouchers were good for dried beans, but not canned ones. As in, the kind you have to soak overnight or simmer for hours to cook, rather than just opening the can. More than just being inconvenient, though, a lot of the ladies we worked with literally didn’t know what to do with dried beans, so they weren’t using them. And who could blame them? Not very many people do it nowadays.
I remember the day that we realized this. For everyone else that came in to the office and clinic that day, we explained how to soak beans. Eyebrows, as well as the time-constraint complaints, were raised. But guess what? Several weeks later, I was high-fiving clients over stories of bean-cooking success. Moreover, they were bringing in their time-saving techniques. It was just cool. It was community.
I want that sort of empowerment and energy at the Yellow House—the real deal, not just getting glossy-eyed by the glow of our laptops. I hope I haven’t contributed to this bizarre, 21st-century voyeurism that paralyzes, rather than compels, us to cook. I hope I’m not increasing the noise to signal ratio. Maybe that’s hoping for too much.
All I know is that I think you all are awesome. I think we’re doing out best to hop around, flapping the dish towel around under that smoke detector to make it stop.
Thank you for cooking. Thanks for thinking it’s important.
If anyone wants a high-five, you know where to find me.