Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove

Any mother can look at this title and sympathise. It is actually a history of women and cooking over the years. I found it interesting, if a bit conflicted. Any women writing a history of women wants to laud the changes of the last hundred years, but if you are talking about cooking and nutrition, those changes haven't been so great.
I found it funny that the author talks about how great the native folkways were, the ancient ways of food gathering and preparation, but had little to say about the fact that all of those ancient peoples were always a hairsbreadth away from starvation. But one phrase she used when talking about the Native American way of cooking really appealed to me: " When a woman cooked, she was a custodian of the sacred."
In the church we talk a lot about the sacredness of procreation, of the act of giving life, but the continual act of sustaining life should be talked about more maybe. All of the work that women do, as nurturers and providers for the family is a sacred work. It is difficult to remember that while mixing up a wonderful mess of mac & cheese, or trying to get my 8 year old to eat his dinner, but the everyday maintenance of family is holy and important. Maybe I'll write that sentence on the wall above my cupboards in the kitchen.
Then later in the book a paragraph that resonated with me:
Like many American women living in the beginning of the twenty-first century, I can hear an array of voices speak to me about food. Voices that tell me not to cook so I can have freedom. Voices that tell me I should cook so I can be a better mother. Voices that tell me to eat because it is sensual. Voices that tell me not to eat because I will get fat. Voices that tell me to measure vitamins and calories and to avoid pesticides. Voices that tell me to think about the lives of the people who pick and package my food. Voices that tell me to cook because it will please my man. Voices that call out from my own distant ethnic heritage one hundred years after immigration. Voices that lure me to dreams of leisurely taken meals in beautiful restaurants. And a voice somewhere amidst all these telling me to create something beautiful on the table for the people I care about so I can help us enjoy life and one another just a little bit more during our brief time here on earth.
Where do these voices come from? And how did so many conflicts get to be wrapped up in a simple dinner?

Isn't that a great summary of all the conflicts inherent in making a meal in today's world? Physically it is so much easier, spiritually so much rougher. Since I am lucky enough to be home with my family, and again lucky enough to enjoy cooking, some of my dilemmas are eased, but there is too much involved with food, because it does sustain life, for it ever to be just dinner.

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove. Laura Schenone. W. W. Norton & Co. 2003

1 comment:

jendoop said...

Thanks for giving me the best parts of the book (because let's be honest I'll never get to reading it)
That paragraph made me feel not quite so insane that food takes up so much of my thoughts. Esp. with my physical issues thrown in there, what if eating just one more donut will heal my joints?

And the sentence quote. We take our bounteous three meals a day and snacks for granted, as well as the hands that prepare it. It is just as you described- sacred to keep these people alive.