Thursday, November 4, 2010

Culinary contradictions, internal conflicts, social ties and the soap box

Right now on my kitchen bench I have a jar with an inch of water and a bouquet of fresh asparagus from the farmers market. I have a loaf of my own sourdough bread, baked this morning, a coffee plunger containing freshly picked herbs from my garden; lemon balm, rosemary and comfrey, ready to be made into tea, I have the large sealable glass jars I used to use to collect raw milk in, now filled with culturing water kefir and kombucha, and next to them, looking rather embarrassed, is half a steak and mushroom pie and paper bag of fries from the bakery – which have been deep-fried in cottonseed oil and seasoned with chicken salt which likely contains MSG.  This is left over from my breakfast, and I feel abashed.  I can hardly think straight at the moment, let alone cook, and while my intentions with food are often good, sometimes the low blood sugar and lack of appetite from stress combine in truly evil ways that allow me to seek out and consume the disgusting, deliberately tasty, fast foods that I’m supposedly opposed to.  
My sourdough bread

I feel a lot better when I’m eating real, fresh, whole foods but it seems to be at odds with the society that I live in.  Going to family functions can become difficult when I’m morally opposed to the food being served – supermarket rotisserie chickens or hollandaise sauce from the packet (main ingredient: canola oil) I feel like a fussy child when I request butter instead of margarine.  Throughout the process of my research into food I have eaten better and worse food, alternately.  The more I know about food the more difficult simple tasks like shopping and eating out become, because of my concerns for my individual health and also wider moral concerns.  I read the labels on packets fanatically and struggle over the knowledge that most eggs served in restaurants and cafes are from caged hens.  Food has become something of a religion to me.  My sins are, in part, due to stress, busyness, laziness and the budget constraints of being a student.  Although, if I did have more time and energy I am sure I could eat much better despite my limited income.  This brings us back to that slightly uncomfortable class issue.  
My water kefir

The Weston A. Price Foundation is largely a middle class, female dominated, movement; borrowing wisdom from our global, pre-industrial ancestors and implementing it in the modern kitchen.  For this reason it is important to emphasise the role of middle class women, who may be educated and have free time, in creating social change.  Although some foods recommended by the WAPF, for example, pasture fed meats in the United States[1], are known to be very expensive, overall, the principles of the WAPF are dynamic and there are many cost-effective options which could be applied by people of varying socioeconomic status.  The individualism of modern, Western, culture means that meals are often the sole responsibility of one person to prepare on one or two incomes, whereas various communal arrangements can be more cost effective, enjoyable and require less individual time and effort.  Other factors such as knowledge, access to local farms and the space to grow vegetables can also be important in determining the quality of food.  These can be linked to socioeconomic status but can be more flexible than equations of income.  Modern society is designed to reinforce the dominant corporate industries and we are encouraged to spend much of our time working in order to feed our income back into processed foods and other consumables rather than having the satisfaction of growing and making things ourselves.  I feel it is important to emphasise that these problems are social problems and cannot merely be reduced to the level of the individual although the purchasing patterns of ‘consumers’ can have an effect. 

[1] We are fortunate, in New Zealand, that it is still more cost-effective to raise beef on pasture because we are devoid of large-scale, government subsidised, corn.


  1. Very vigorous nodding in agreement Isa! I'll hopefully come back again tomorrow, thinking more about the middle class female leader aspect. Deborah has a recent post on the Hand Mirror about an exercise she did in her tutorial which are interesting in a way which I think is linked ('apropos of agency', and the two posts just before it are good as well).

  2. Hi Sandra, interesting post on the Hand Mirror - I was tutoring for Women and Gender Studies this semester just gone and have many similar examples. The middle class female leader thing was supposed to be the focus of the conference paper I'm giving next weekend at the WSA conference, although the blog activity around it was very interesting (including your posts) and will likely take up most of my presentation... I better get onto that :)

  3. Hi Isa - I hope the conference goes well. I'd love to see the paper, if you will be posting it - or any extracts!