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More food for thought

August 26th, 2009

Man is the only animal that cooks. If I had ever known that fact, I had forgotten that cooking was a uniquely human activity. Dr Al Mohler, who writes on many critical issues and presents a consistently biblical viewpoint, in a recent blog post, The Cooking Creature – A Call for Recovered Wisdom, makes the point that even though humans are “the cooking animal” and even though we talk a lot about food and watch many food programmes on TV, we don’t cook as much as our grandparents did.

Mohler is quoting Michael Pollan who wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine at the beginning of August entitled “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch“. Pollan writes of the irony of our modern condition. We build homes with expensive kitchens, buy state-of-the-art culinary equipment, but seldom actually cook. Pollan observes that interest in the Food Network and similar TV programming “has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.” All this only serves to underscore the great divisions that exist in our world where so many survive on so little food, and many are starving.

Pollan’s article was timed for the release in the US of “Julie & Julia,” a warm-hearted film based on Julie Powell’s best-selling memoir, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. The film is a celebration of cooking as experienced through the eyes of Julie, a young woman yearning for a great life project, and Julia Child, the woman who introduced French cooking to America. Julie, happily married to her young husband, is trapped in a clerical position in which he finds no joy. She “borrows” her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decides to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s book over the next 365 days. The memoir is based on Julie Powell’s experience of cooking through Julia Child’s cookbook, blogging along the way. The film is another acting triumph for Meryl Streep as Julia Child and the entire project represents a celebration of cooking as a lost art.

Mohler, always alert to the world and life view which underpins human behaviour, goes on to make an interesting theological point:

Christianity contributes a distinctive understanding of the importance of food and, by extension, the importance of cooking and hospitality. We understand that human beings are made to require food for sustenance. Our need for food is a reminder of our finitude. The food in our fields and all in our tables is a reminder of God’s loving provision for us. The Bible dignifies the loving preparation of food as one of the distinctive gifts of women. While cooking is not limited to women, throughout human history wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, have shown their love for and commitment to their loved ones through the careful preparation and celebration of food. When this is lost, something more than culinary knowledge is lost

Cooking is more than a hobby and food is more than a product. Recovering the lost wisdom of cooking will be no easy task but, as “Julie & Julia” reminds us, that which is easy falls far short of a life that is full. If nothing else, all this may remind us to be thankful for those who so lovingly prepare wonderful meals for our health and enjoyment. Beyond this, reflecting on this loss may produce a determination to recover the wisdom of cooking. As Julia Child would say, bon app├ętit.

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