Monday, February 5, 2018

Social positioning and puffed spelt with truffles

"A great many women," I observed to my husband as we sat down to a meal, "hate to cook."

"Well, a lot of them can't cook. They live cooped up in the cities with no kitchens, or in row houses with only one kitchen at the end. There's no place to cook, so they have to eat out." He replied, digging into the steak I had purchased from a vendor in individual vacuum-sealed packaging months ago, and just now thawed, dusted generously with twists from the salt and pepper grinders, and seared in an enameled cast iron pan with virgin coconut oil. (Coconut oil has a very high smoke point, which in a kitchen with inadequate ventilation like mine, is a hefty consideration. I hate washing walls.)

I shook my head. "Reversal of cause and effect. A lot of women have always hated to cook. A lot of them have always been mediocre at it, because it's hard to improve on something you hate doing. But prior to the advent of industrial canning, and especially prior to refrigeration available as a mass commodity, most women and many bachelors had to cook to keep body and soul together unless they lived in a city where they could eat out, or hire a cook. You can see it in the cookbooks from antiquity up through the early 1900's; the vast majority were "Here's how to do that thing you hate well. Or at least well enough to keep body and soul together. And a lot of recipes were bland not just due to the lack of available ingredients, but because they tended to the foolproof 'boil it to flinders and it'll be edible and uncontaminated.' Or otherwise didn't expect that women would go out of their way to get fancy equipment, exotic spices, or techniques. Because many women out have always found it a chore that gets in the way of everything else they have to do."

"Go on." Peter applied himself to the steak, and speared a few baby Brussels sprouts served straight from the steamable microwave bag. I should have taken the time to put them in a serving bowl and dress them with infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but I had popped them in as an afterthought while concentrating on the experimental side dish and the steaks. They were quite edible, just not amazingly delicious like they could have been.

"Once we had refrigeration in the stores, women and men alike flocked to the TV dinner as a way to avoid doing a chore they hated. The only people who continued to cook, en masse, were the traditionalists, the very poor, and the people who loved it. For two generations, there were women raised deliberately ignorant of how to cook - because having to cook was now a social stigma, and the ability to microwave everything  was seen as a marker of social status. The new feminists would deliberately raise their daughters ignorant of how to cook, because they wanted their daughters to climb the social ladder and become doctors and lawyers and engineers. So they crippled their ability to choose to be home-makers."

I tasted the experimental side dish, and decided that it was best balanced with the slightly bland brussel sprouts - together, they were an excellent combination. "Go forward thirty years, and what do you get? Cooking shows. We now have people flaunting their social status by having a skill that the middle class doesn't - cooking - and their ability to take the time to do it, and spend money on exotic ingredients. And you see it in the cookbooks - we now have a lot of them with 'How to cook exotic ingredients into elaborate dishes.' But even most of those spend a fair amount of time on how to boil water and fry an egg, because people don't have the basic skills.

As with any social status commodity, though, it's quickly made available to the masses, where people still don't have time to commit. So the market is focused on offering both convenience and exotics, for ultimate extraction of middle class money.

And that is why we're eating spelt with button mushrooms and truffle shavings tonight; I wanted to see if the boxed side dish was worth it as a backup 'I need to make dinner within 30 minutes' option."

Personally, I'll probably go back to bulk-bin couscous flavoured with stock and whatever I have on hand that compliment the main dish. The price per serving, and small amount per box, is not worth it when I have sufficient skill and options - but if I were living alone, didn't have a pantry, and were trying to impress a date, it's a nice change from rice-a-roni as a side dish.