Something Unexpected from Barbara

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Yes, there is the dollop of food-ethics, or whatever you want to call it. But honestly, it's a lot better than a similar chapter in Ron Dreyer's Crunchy Conservative book. Ron's chapter made me want to run out and stuff myself with McDonald's simply to protest the smugness and enormous self-satisfaction of his work. But Barbara screams to me to join a world of delight--real pleasure in cuisine:

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

I understand that most U.S. citizens don't have room in their lives to grow food or even see it growing. But I have trouble accepting the next step in our journey toward obligate symbiosis with the packaged meal and takeout. Cooking is a dying art in our culture. Why is a good question, and an uneasy one, because I find myself politically and socioeconomically entangled in the answer. I belong to a generation of women who took as our youthful rallying cry: Allow us a good education so we won't have to slave in the kitchen. We recoiled from the proposition that keeping a husband presentable and fed should be our highest intellectual aspiration. We fought for entry as equal partners into every quarter of the labor force. We went to school, sweated those exams, earned our professional stripes, and we beg therefore to be excused from manual labor. Or else our full-time job is manual labor, we are carpenters or steelworkers, or we stand at a cash register all day. At the end of a shift we deserve to go home and put our feet up. Somehow,though, history came around and bit us in the backside: now most women have jobs and still find themselves largely in charge of the housework. Cooking at the end of a long day is a burden we could live without.

It's a reasonable position. But it got twisted into a pathological food culture. When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. "Hey, ladies," it said to us, "go ahead, get liberated. We'll take care of dinner." They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply. If you think toxic is an exaggeration, read the package directions for handling raw chicken from a CAFO. We came a long way, baby, into bad eating habits and collaterally impaired family dynamics. No matter what else we do or believe, food remains at the center of every culture. Ours now runs on empty calories.

When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma f warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurtutring routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we receive in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable. (Or worse, convenience-mart hot dogs and latchkey kids.) I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation. . . .

"Cooking without remuneration" and "slaving over a hot stove" are activities separated mostly by a frame of mind. The distinction is crucial. Career women in many countries still routinely apply passion to their cooking, heading straight from work to the market to search out the freshest ingredients., feeding their loved ones with aplomb. . . ."

What I really admire about Kingsolver's book is that while there is undeniably agenda--very obvious in the passages above--it isn't the agenda that drives the passion of the book. The passion is food, eating right, and what that can do for family structure, community, and ultimately the nation as a whole. Eating locally, preparing your own, eating as a family, all of these have undeniable benefits at large. And Kingsolver doesn't spend her time being intolerably smug about how she can manage to make cheese and figure out what in the world to do with rhubarb--rather, she invites us in. Yes, she lectures us along the way with all of her favorite causes bristling at the edges. And yet, I don't really care, because the centrality of the story rings so true, is so solid, so clearly what many of us need in our lives.

In short, a delightful book--aggravating, but inviting--showing how it just may be possible for those of us with forty acres and a plow to move into a world of better eating and better cooking through a few small but serious changes in how we go about daily life.

Whereas Dreyer thrashed me about the head and shoulders with his moral superiority in shopping, Barbara invites me to go with her to a cheese-making seminar or to the market--a much more effective means of making converts. In short, despite the agendas I'm really enjoying the book.

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It's darkly amusing: in theory I agree with parts of what Mr. Dreher was advocating in Crunchy Cons, and yet his attitude of superiority was so revolting I wanted to disavow any similarities of mindset, or at least give other reasons for our habits coinciding. ("No, I don't do this to be green; I do it because it's good sense and sound economy.")

Ms. Kingsolver's book sounds different from Rod Dreher's in that the excerpt you give is genuinely enjoyable to read -- something that couldn't really be claimed for Crunchy Cons.

I'm looking forward to reading this.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 5, 2007 8:03 AM.

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