April 8, 2007

Grandma knows best: marry a good cook

My grandmother's in town for the week (this weekend being Easter and her 86th birthday), and she's been cooking up a storm. As she was making raspberry pie last night, she advised me to marry a woman who knew how to cook -- "some women today don't even know how to boil eggs!" I know how to make a few things, and I've picked up some rules here and there, but you don't fully realize how much you're missing until your Scotch-Irish hillbilly grandmother comes to visit. Fortunately for me, my tastes bias me toward women who are famed for their cooking skills -- turn on any food channel and see for yourself how overrepresented Italian women are. Make that Italian babes. One thing I remember about day-time TV in Barcelona is how modern the food show women were, and how even the hip hostess would be wowed by the prowess of the "cooking segment" girl, as if you were expected to show your career-woman sophistication by actually creating the food rather than by dropping the names of restaurants.

Here, well-to-do females are judged status-wise not so much on how artful their cooking is, but on where they bought the raw materials (Whole Foods, Dean & DeLuca, etc.). In Spain at least (and I'm sure in other places), artistry still counts for something, and one's peers are duly impressed by the culinary magician of the group. The same holds true of interior decorating (er, interior "design") -- who cares what it looks like, as long as it came from Crate & Barrel, Baker, or wherever else? Now, Dean & DeLuca and Baker Furniture certainly offer plenty for the gourmand and the aesthete to relish, but if these raw materials are turned into a superior result, in all likelihood the buyer had a chef prepare the food (or bought it pre-made from a high-end grocer) or hired an interior designer to plan out their living space. So how is this an accomplishment of the buyer?

Awhile ago, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller worried thus over the lack of concern with cultivating oneself that now characterizes a large fraction of the wealthy and well educated:

The [Victorian] question "What are [a prospective mate's] accomplishments?" refers not to career success, but to the constellation of hobbies, interests, and skills that would have adorned most educated young people in previous centuries. Things like playing pianos, painting portraits, singing hymns, riding horses, and planning dinner parties. Such accomplishments have been lost through time pressures, squeezed out between the hyper-competitive domain of school and work, and the narcissistic domain of leisure and entertainment. It is rare to find a young person who does anything in the evening that requires practice (as opposed to study or work)--anything that builds skills and self-esteem, anything that creates a satisfying, productive "flow" state, anything that can be displayed with pride in public. Parental hot-housing of young children is not the same: after the child's resentment builds throughout the French and ballet lessons, the budding skills are abandoned with the rebelliousness of puberty--or continued perfunctorily only because they will look good on college applications. [hat-tip to Steve]

I could understand if the lack of well-roundedness could be explained by the same reasons that Bach was probably not an excellent cook -- he was busy doing other, important things. But when you consider what the average yuppie is doing with their time, it's hard to interpret their lack of attention to bettering themselves in such a charitable way: instead, the cultural forecast promises a creeping current of crudeness.


  1. I don't for a minute buy the argument that people are "too busy" today to engage in any significant non-work activities. I leave my house around 6:30 in the morning and return home around 7:15 in the evening. And yet I find the time to go to the gym for at least a hour most evenings, plus household chores, web-surfing, TV watching, reading, etc. It's all a matter of basic time management.

  2. Peter, do you have kids? Or tv shows you refuse to miss?.

    The big gym mistake I see people make is going at it whole hog for two weeks or so, then quiting. It's so all or nothing for alot of people. I manage 2-3 times a week, and I found that I can do that for years, though I don't get fantastic results, it staves off depression.

  3. Re: your comment about "where they bought the raw materials (Whole Foods, Dean & DeLuca, etc.)"

    I recall some TV cook (wish I could recall who) who said about this trend something like, "That's not cooking. That's shopping!" I think it was in response to California Cuisine..


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