(written for SortedFood)
I’m lucky. I have always been surrounded by good food.
The term “Good Food” is debatable. We all have our own views on what food is “Good”, we’ve built an entire culture around it. Can food be “good” if it isn’t healthy? If it isn’t pretty enough for Instagram? What’s wrong with a 2-for-1 pizza deal? (The answer is Absolutely Nothing. Also, fuck you Jamie Oliver)
Let’s say this – I have always had a natural curiosity and attraction to the preparation of food. Any food. I am someone who can base a lot of their upbringing on computers and modern technology, so it is no surprise that I owe a lot of my interest & knowledge of cooking to TV. I used to watch the Food Network constantly, wondering if I would ever look good in a pair of wellies on River Cottage pulling veg from the ground, and my favourite movies for a significant period of time were Toast, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Chocolat and Waitress (etc. etc…)
While I love nothing more than writing about myself and my own experience with food and cooking, I have plenty of time to do this. Instead, I’m going to talk about my influences. Or influence-r. Who knows.
My mum was born in 1964 at a time when food was making a gradual comeback with new flavours and food technology. My favourite quote about that time is, “Ask any American in their 50s or 60s who is the best cook he or she knows, and they will almost certainly reply, “My mom”. Ask any English person of a similar age and they will almost certainly name anyone BUT their mother.” [Food in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s by Ellen Castelow]
Despite the rise in Chinese & Indian cuisine during this time my mum didn’t experience any of it. Her family never went out to eat, and whilst her parents worked most days she was left to “cook” whatever her mother had prepared; according to her, this consisted mainly of homemade fried chips. The meals my mum and uncle had were very basic and rarely differed, meaning that they grew up with a limited knowledge of food. This was evident to her at around the age of 12 when her grandmother cooked her a roast dinner and she had to ask what she was being served, having not seen a joint of meat before and also having assumed that frozen Birds Eye roast beef slices in gravy were how meat was usually prepared. From then on, she made a point of watching her grandmother cook and prepare dishes from scratch, and once her grandmother moved into the family home she spent most of her time watching her bake, something that she showed very little interest in other than licking the bowls.
Education-wise she was taught very little, having only one year of mandatory Home Economics at around the ages of 13/14. With no cooking skills, she moved out at the age of 16 and moved in with her boyfriend at the time, whose only knowledge of food was two ways to prepare mince. Living off Spaghetti Bolognese and Shepherd’s Pie (and maybe the odd roast chicken) she had to learn something new by any means necessary. By hosting students and reading Marguerite Patten’s recipe books, she was able to prepare group meals and eventually work on her own initiative.
I asked her if having children impacted on the way she cooked,
“The only thing it really made me think about was what was going into our meals. I didn’t feel comfortable giving my kids things that I hadn’t cooked from scratch and didn’t know what exactly had been put into them.”
When asked if she enjoyed cooking or felt that cooking was a necessity she responded,
“I don’t know. I just enjoy good food. I get frustrated when paying money at a restaurant and I’m not served what I expected, so most of the time I trust myself more to just do it.”
I don’t know if I would have been interested in cooking if my mother didn’t know how to cook, but I can say that the media that I was absorbing stimulated my mind and made me want to learn more about cooking in theory and practice. The way in which media nowadays, YouTube especially, affects us as a population is through means of entertainment. There is always a market for entertainment, and while this is necessary, people aren’t watching things to learn. I can personally admit that I am part of this problem – a few years ago I discovered a Japanese YouTube channel called “Cooking with Dog” where a chef cooks alongside a poodle named Francis who narrates the entire video. This YouTube channel has over 1,239,088 subscribers. I do not plan on making any of the recipes in these videos. I just watch. It’s adorable and really fucking weird.
Cooking is becoming less of a necessity and more of a thing that we rely on other people to do, whether it’s buying ready meals, going out to eat or ordering through Deliveroo or UBEReats. It also all depends on whether you have time to cook, as well as if you can afford to buy a range of ingredients. The cooking gap is the product of a lot of things – but we can try and close this gap.
And that’s my two cents.
Now, go and cook something.