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Cook's Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knife Roll

As I said on twitter: Dudes, if a post says "I" at the start of almost any sentence, it's about ME owning my privilege. We are all Spartacook.

Meaning: this post is not about Shauna, who wrote the original tweet. That's why I didn't name her. There were others discussing the topic at the time, some of them saying similar things and others disagreeing. That particular tweet, however, is the one I saw and commented on, so it's linked(added 6.11.10)  

This post was going to be something else entirely – trust me, there is a great half-written rant – but I got hungry along the way. Hungry enough to want to cook, which I haven't really since I got out of the hospital last week, so I took a break to make a quick late night meal. One of my two chest freezers yielded some lovely Italian sausage made by a friend, which we paired with fresh eggs from a local farm and some fried potatoes with thyme from the herb garden. I scrambled the eggs with just a bit of Parmesan and some fresh chives. Then I came back to write a bit about the intersection of food and privilege and it somehow demanded to be a bit more personal.

This all started with a couple of people on twitter – twits, right? – who were essentially saying, "If I can cook, anyone can." Actually, to be exact, it started with a full-time stay-at-home professional writer and cookbook author who is married to a professional chef saying, "I cook three meals a day, plus bake every afternoon, with a toddler. if I can cook, other people can too."

I literally called bullshit on the very idea that one of us (professional food people who work from home) could say such a thing. Called it privilege. Because it is, uh, privilege. But that just led to me being seen as the bad guy and being unfollowed by some people who then dissed me for being hostile. Um, yeah, whatever…but the issue was left by the wayside in the dust from that kerfluffle. Not my plan at all.

So here's some of MY privilege. It's just the start of a very long list, but it's a starting point for a long overdue discussion about we, the privileged cooks and our attitude about the less-privileged non-cooks. Please join in with some of your privileges, here in comments or in a post on your site – this is important folks. Maybe not as important as bacon, but important.

Cook's Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knife Roll

With apologies to Peggy McIntosh

  • I have access to affordable, healthful food of a sufficient quality and variety to keep me happy. I can enter a grocery store, no matter how small, relaxed in knowing that I can find ingredients to make a meal that people will enjoy. Sure, I'd love to have the year-round goodies of my California childhood, but I am okay with Washington's seasonality, it forces an appreciation the abundance lacks.
  • I can select food based on an understanding of how the actual ingredients and apparent origin of the product influence the resulting product's flavor, texture, and nutrition. I can also evaluate aspects like probable pesticide load, GMO content, sustainability, and so on.
  • I understand food safety and am secure in knowing I am unlikely to make someone sick with the food that I prepare.
  • I know how to adapt meals/recipes for people who have special dietary needs so that they can relax and eat the same food as everyone else.
  • I have time to dedicate to cooking, as both everyday need and hobby, allowing me to maintain my skills and develop new ones. Importantly, I do not currently work outside my home on a regular basis, have no commute, and my kid is grown.
  • I know stuff. French terms like "Mise en place" and not just the definitions, but how and why it is a good thing. I can make multiple meals from one kitchen session, know when a sale is a good deal, and can turn vegetables that will be nasty mush tomorrow into soup tonight.
  • I have a special relationship with kitchen time. If I am coking three dishes and the longest takes an hour, they will all be done in an hour. I can time the preparation of multiple dishes so that the complete meal is ready at the same time without really being aware of doing so. I am a pro at fitting things into the margins of my cooking time to optimize my time. (Yeah, you folks that cook thirty minute meals and say they take an hour – you have a special relationship with time, too. Not the good kind, but special nonetheless. Sorry about that.)
  • I am organized. Not organized, but ORGANIZED. I can pick the right tool by feel because it is always right there where I need it; my pantry almost always has a long list of ingredients that I know will make it easier to make dinner. Hell, I have two freezers, one of which recently held a half pig, half lamb, and some fishies from the local river; the bacon is on the lower left, next to the sausage, above the country ham. Not that I am obsessive or anything.
  • I possess a wide assortment of pots, pans, tools, appliances, gadgets, gizmos, and supplies. (A few appliances: Kitchen-Aid, food processor, espresso and ice cream machines, dehydrator, rice-cooker, crockpot, bread machine, and three toasters.) I have taken over the hall closet and have multiple shelves in the garage stuffed with crap that does not fit in my kitchen.
  • I understand the terms I see in recipes and am fearless when it comes to creating something difficult based on just a recipe…or a memory from a meal at a restaurant. I have been successful enough times to encourage me and failed enough times to keep me from getting too puffed up about the successes.
  • I possess the knowledge of a lifetime in the kitchen. I can successfully create a meal without a recipe or other assistance and imagine what things would taste like with enough certainty to mix flavors on the fly. Much of my prep work is done without conscious thought, as I discovered when I broke my arm and my muscle memory began working against me. I can smell when cookies are done, hear when meat needs to be turned, and tell how cooked pasta is based on how a single piece feels as it slides across a mesh strainer (don't ask, I just can).
  • I have twenty-four linear feet of shelves filled with cookbooks and more that do not fit. Plus the Internet.
  • I know how to recover from most forms of things going bad while cooking and can successfully fix most semi-disasters.
  • I can afford to throw away an absolute disaster should I create one…and we all do, even the stay-at-home and cook all day folk.
  • I can bake a good baguette without a recipe in about 4 hours. Cookies from memory in an hour.
  • I have dined at places many people can't afford to think about. Not often, mind you, but a few times. I mostly can't afford to think about them either, but someoneElse really wanted to take me there so he did. Each of us has successfully made dishes that we ate at the Herbfarm at home – not exactly the same, but satisfyingly close. (The confidence from this exercise should not be underrated. I am fearless in the kitchen, utterly and completely fearless.)
  • I had, as a role model, a grandmother who once staged a salt-water taffy pull for about 20 seven year-old kids because I wanted her to. (Did I mention the crazy fearlessness? I credit Mimi.)
  • I believe that doing totally crazy things in the kitchen is a good use of your time and have the freedom to spend a week preparing for a party if I so choose, and on occasion, I do so choose.
  • I do this for a living. I am a professional writer and the author of a number of books before my cookbook, this is simply an evolution of my business. This has many benefits: I can make the same recipe daily for a week, I have expensed good strawberries in January, people send me cookbooks, and if I talk obsessively about food, many people encourage me.

Ahem. That's a bit of privilege there. Some of it is highly specific and personal, but more than a few of those points apply to most serious cooks.

What does it all mean? Well, first, if you ever hear me say, "If I can cook, anyone can." please send me a link to this post. Then slap me. Metaphorically, I mean. (Twitter is good for that.)

Beyond that, I hope this opens up a real discussion about how to overcome some of the gaps that open when the side with privilege talks about and to, but seldom with, those who lack it.

How about you? What sorts of privilege do you bring to the kitchen? Out yourselves, it's liberating.

One more thing There is a great discussion going on in comments and I would love it if you joined in. If you are new here, you might want to know I moderate comments but only for spam; otherwise there is no censorship. I apologize for any off-topic meanness in the comments here. (You should see what I get in the comments on Dear PETA, women are animals too... "i will see you crying in my dreams" is a nicer part of one.) Please jump in, but play nice and don't make me regret my open commenting stance. Thanks!

More thoughts on privilege:

This is Thin Privilege

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Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I love good conversations and some great ones take place here in comments. Whether it's an opinion a deep topic or simply a tweak you made to a recipe, we all learn more when additional voices join in.

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