The Devaluation of Cooking
The trend nowadays is to cook less at home. It’s a world-wide phenomena that hasn’t spared India…well not urban India at least. Sure we know better. We know that cooking at home is healthier than eating out but we still eat out. We do it even though we know that the chemicals we consume from outside food can overwhelm our bodies. We do it even though we are aware that many restaurants and eateries recycle food and if they don’t, they probably use use stale ingredients. And we like to believe that the hotels we eat in have sanitary kitchens and clean cooks.
All this when we know the value of home cooked food. We know that food needs to be prepared meticulously and that the process begins from choosing the right (healthy) ingredients, preparing and washing them carefully and ensuring that the food is not over-cooked.
But I don’t want to go on about the importance of cooking at home because we all know it. I want to delve into some of the reasons for this major shift to eating out in a modern industrialised society. The most obvious reasons given are (not in order of importance):-
1. The break-up of the joint family
2. Difficulty in getting skilled help in the kitchen
3. Women going out to work
The real reasons
However, I reject these as the real causes. I see the real reason as the devaluation of any activity that doesn’t make money. The devaluation of cooking at home is a natural effect of a materialistic society. Unless money can be made from it, cooking is not something which can be worn as a badge of honour.
That is why I applaud all those women who go out of the house and do the kind of work that gets them not just money, but status and respect. If a thali (Indian meal) with 20 different items can be purchased for just Rs 100/- what is the value of someone who slaves in the kitchen to produce just one simple meal of 2-3 dishes – a sabji (vegetables), dal (lentils) and roti (flat bread)?
Nothing!! Because people are incapable of calculating the monetary value of a meal cooked in hygienic conditions…with pure ingredients…and with love. Don’t ever undervalue the latter. It’s when you love that dish you are making that you really put all of yourself into it and produce something good. A simple Indian vegetarian meal of just 2-3 dishes will be sneered at it if is looked at in monetary terms…
And we are paying a heavy price for this disdain. In terms of our health.
How many people respect the job of cooking?
There are those who say that they respect those who cook at home but it’s worth checking out their claim. How often have you heard someone say to their sit-at-home spouse or family member:
What do you understand about these (regarding some worldly discussion) things…you just sit at home and cook!
You are just a housewife
You know nothing about the real world
What do you know what it is like earning money
Don’t you worry about things (worldly matters), I’ll take care of it
These remarks, although condescending, are still milder than some others. All too often (particularly during an argument) things can get nasty, with male relatives talking in glowing terms of their female colleagues or simply taunting their home-bound spouse. The imbalance of power (nowadays measured in terms of money) results in one person having greater power than the other and this can result in bullying.
However there are some people who will insist they adore and respect women who do house-bound jobs like cooking.
The “respect” given to a woman who cooks at home is often a tool of control
There is a real danger if a woman becomes content with a type of “respect” (which at times can border on adulation) that is given to her because she takes care of the house. This “respect” stays only if she conforms to the concept of “ideal” womanhood and comes with pre-conditions. She can be expected to conform to certain standards of behavior, whether in dress or by simply centering her housework and cooking around the male members (and kids) of the family. She can also be expected to perform house-keeping jobs in a way that is desired by the spouse. “Service” to the male members (and children) of the household becomes of paramount importance and her own “self” is relegated to the background (often with her full compliance). She knows that if she has to hang on to the “respect” of family members she has to continue her “service” to the family, a service without pay or often without any status or respect from society.
People might feel what’s the big deal, why should a woman want status anyway…isn’t the satisfaction of seeing a happy healthy family enough? Ofcourse it isn’t. A woman is also a human being. And the kind of selfless service that she provides her family with can lead to a gradual eroding of her self-confidence even if she willingly plays the game. In some cases it can even lead to mental illness. The male members of the family are often fooled by a woman’s apparent willingness to give of herself to the house, not realising what it can do to her in the long-term. A person who gets his self-worth validated every single day with a pay-packet, perks, respect of society and family often cannot comprehend what can happen to a human being without it.
What can also happen in this scenario that not all men can handle the kind of power they get over another human being…and it can lead to abuse.
Women should go out and do more “worthy” jobs!
That’s why think that women should get out of the house and do ‘worthy’ jobs, just like their male counterparts. Every human being has a right to choose what to do, to gain real respect from people. If the only way to achieve this is through economic power, so be it. If we have become a materialistic society today, so be it. It is difficult for anyone to bully or ill-treat someone who has contact with the outside world and someone with economic power.
“Working” women are more equal than stay at home workers
Unfortunately, women who go out to work do not just gain equality with men, they also gain an edge over their sisters who slave at home. That is indeed sad. For a decade or so now the term “superwomen” has been bandied about…the term being coined to give the impression that a woman who manages both a career and a home is not doing a disservice to her home. I feel this term is anti-women because it has been coined to show that a woman who works outside the home is only worthy if she pays attention to her home…as long as a hot meal awaits her family, as long as there is no dust on the side-table. If she manages this delicate balance she is called a superwoman. If she does almost double the job that a housewife (or a man) does then she is a superwoman.
But is this possible? There are just so many hours in a day and there is just this much that any human being can do. I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve worked 12-14 hours a day outside the home and I know how many things I was unable to do because of it. Sure, one has household help, but that takes care of the superficial things only. In the eyes of the world you may be a superwoman because somehow you are managing to attend that parent teachers meet, cook on week-ends, host parties and even find time to read that bed-time story to your kid! But only in the eyes of the world. At heart every woman knows that there are many things she just cannot do. Maybe some women are superpeople, but most of us are human.
The superhuman/woman myth has been generated and perpetuated by women’s magazines, a myth necessary in our time. A myth designed to provide women who go out to work with a shield incase they are attacked for going outside and working. So, if this myth has helped women, if it has encouraged women to go out there and do their stuff I think it’s a useful myth…if it has alleviated some of the guilt, it’s a wonderful myth, but at no time have I believed that it is not a myth.
We have men don’t we…our other halves?
I’ve written about the reasons why people want to go out there and work and this might seems as if I feel that modern society and a healthy family cannot go together. Not at all.
Men need to chip in and do their stuff at home. And in the kitchen. Unfortunately men who do so often get the raw end of the stick as society frowns upon men who spend time in the kitchen and by society I don’t mean just other men, but also women. That is the reason why so many men are closet cooks, in India at least.
Why is cooking considered a woman’s job?
There are those who believe that cooking is a “woman’s” job and these people need to find out why they think so. I think it could be because they think that cooking is lighter work, and some might even think that it requires less intelligence and effort…and as these people might also think that a woman is inferior…well cooking becomes a woman’s domain.
I don’t even want to go into child-rearing here as I think that child rearing is a tough job and when combined with other household duties, a very tough job indeed. But in India at least motherhood gets genuine respect from people and that is why I don’t want to talk about that here.
Cooking doesn’t garner the same respect. It’s considered a woman’s job, a boring job, a light job, a tedious job, a non-challenging job. On the other hand if a woman enters a predominantly “male” profession like say rickshaw driving, or becomes a police constable or a pilot or a manager, she is considered smart and intelligent.
Which profession requires more intellect and more effort is not something I can discuss here as I think it is up to the individual how far he/she takes his effort and how deeply he goes into it. I have seen some really incompetent professors and engineers, drivers and chefs, managers and cashiers…mothers and cooks too…and well, the list goes on. It’s not the job that should be looked down upon…not at all. If at all one can be critical of a person’s competence.
I feel quite sure that as long as society values only paid work, it’s doomed to self-destruct…health-wise. If we live longer, it will be because of medicines and doctors, not because of our natural health.
(Photographs are copyrighted to me and the second photo is of me taken by my husband yesterday)
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The dangers of overcooking and fast food
Why Indians have health problems – some reasons
Unhealthy instant noodles
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