“The biggest seller is cookbooks and the second is diet books-how not to eat what you’ve learned how to cook.” – Andy Rooney (American radio-TV writer)
Up to recently a friend of mine had a quaint bookshop in a fashionable area of London. Among her customers there was a distinguished lady who regularly bought cookery books. After a period of time during which she had bought a few hundreds of them my friend became curious and asked her; “You must be a very good cook madam?” “Me? I can’t cook madam,” replied the lady. —controversial cook.
n the last three decades since cookery has been turned by the media into a form of mass entertainment it has produced a staggering amount of books, TV shows, newspapers and magazines articles. In fact more cookery books alone have been written and published during this time than in the last six thousand years put together.
One would think that so much culinary material has made people into discerning eaters, great cooks and food experts; oddly enough in spite of it nowadays many people cannot cook, nor they know how to eat or can distinguish the difference between good food or bad one. I don’t mean people who never watch cookery shows, buy cookery books, read cookery columns and go regularly to restaurants but quite a lot of those who do. The reason is because many people are not truly interested in food culture but in celebrities. By contrast in the first twenty years of my life that I spent in Italy I never saw a cookery book. In those days they were rare. You could find a handful of them in bookshops or public libraries but most people didn’t buy or own them. Yet in spite of it the great majority of women could cook very well.
They learnt their cooking skills from their mothers or grandmothers and eventually when they started their own families from passing tips, information and recipes to each other by word of mouth.
So how comes that then women and even men could cook very well while today with all the material available most people cannot? Nor they seem to know much about food? The reasons are: first because cooking from being a necessary activity for women to learn in order to feed well their families and keep them together with convivial family meals has been transformed into a shallow form of mass entertainment populated by over glamorized celebrity chefs . Secondly because in those times for people cooking was an important part of their national culture and took pride in trying to know as much as they could. Thirdly, because food in those days was often scarce therefore highly valued, while nowadays it’s so plentiful that people take it for granted and seem to have lost respect for it. This is why so much of it is thrown away with dire consequences for the environment. And fourth of course because they wanted to eat well.
In those days cooking was part of every woman’s repertoire of skills as were sewing, knitting, good ironing, judicious shopping and house keeping among others. So much so that there was a proverb saying that: “The way to a man’s heart is through the stomach.” that meant that being a good cook made it easier for women to find a husband. Nowadays such skills may not be seen necessary anymore, but they gave to a woman a touch of femininity, reliability and a maternal imprint that today is sadly missing in many women. Besides, they helped them to cultivate patience, creativity and planning which are three important qualities of good cooking. In fact I can’t remember many women being bored or depressed in those days as I see nowadays because they were too busy doing things with their hands.
Therefore from all this we can conclude that the amount of culinary material that our modern era offers in the way of books, TV shows, media publications and the web undoubtedly gives people a great opportunity to expand their knowledge in this field; the downside though is that unless such knowledge it absorbed judiciously and practiced it only contributes in making them into passive watchers rather than active doers.