“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the famous French lawyer better known as an epicure and gastronome. This is not a smart one liner or a ‘brainy quote’- herein lies a profound understanding of the relationship between man and the food he eats. The preparation and consumption of food varies widely amongst countries and depend on a large number of factors — geographical, climatic, historical, religious, cultural, and political — in short everything that shapes and fashions the culture and customs of any given society. Then again, within each society, social and economic status defines the kind of food that is put on the table — a poor man’s diet can never compare with that partaken by the rich. Religions play an equally important role — certain food items are proscribed in many religions practiced in the world today. Hinduism, Islam and Judaism have very strict codes for what can and can’t be eaten. Roman Catholics don’t eat meat during the Lent or fish on Fridays. Brillat-Savarin was probably the first person to realize this close association.
Preparing and serving food can be considered as a ritual, even in the simplest and most humble homes. The same meal or dishes are prepared differently in each family, according to a set of rules and gestures that continues from one generation to the next. I am sure all of us have been bewildered by the number of tips for making the perfect soft boiled egg, not crying while chopping onions, cooking the perfect steak etc. While some of them do have a scientific basis, most of these useful tips are just myths that have been accumulated over centuries — a form of folk wisdom that prevails and persists even when debunked by those who look at cooking as a science as well. Also, the way the meals are served or eaten vary widely — use of different types of plates (metal, glass, plastic, melamine…), cutlery (or the absence of it), presentation, accompaniments or accessories — each family has its own preferences, sometimes inherited, sometimes cultivated.
In general, cooking and serving food is one of the major activities for humans across the globe. It involves planning the menu, shopping, preparing, cooking, storing, serving and last but not the least, clearing up. Those in charge of cooking have to take into account, to a certain extent, the likes and dislikes of different family members, the special needs of children and the elderly, the dietary restrictions (if applicable) — all this taking subject to the family budget allocated to food. When listed in this way, it seems miraculous that the cooks have time for anything else. In spite of a certain amount of sharing especially in the Western societies and sometimes of role reversal, this task is carried out mainly by women, who have a whole lot of other responsibilities, both in their personal and professional lives. Yet a lot of women actually enjoy and take pride in their cooking. They want food to be pleasing to the eye and the palate, healthy and nourishing. Using their imagination and innovative capacities, they often turn out absolutely stunning dishes from left overs or the less eatable parts of vegetables and fish and meat.
Given all this, it seems strange that so little attention is given to the act of preparing food and its impact on humans. While it is true that of late cooking has become a spectator sport — hundreds of cooking shows are avidly watched by millions of people all across the globe, little attention is given to the human interaction that takes place around the simple acts of cooking, serving and eating. There is a certain amount of voyeuristic pleasure in watching people cook in their well-appointed kitchens at home or the huge kitchens fitted with every kind of tools and gadgets that resemble a factory floor than a kitchen, of cooks in exaltation or despair, breaking into smiles or tears as the case may be. Very similar to reality shows — a human drama unfolds as people compete with each other to gain…. What? Transitory fame & glory? Plum jobs in first class Michelin starred restaurants? Are they snapped up by the rich and the famous to cook in their palaces? Maybe. Maybe not. But they probably cater to the growing interest of the average TV watcher for the exotic.
So why do we pay such scant attention to what is going on in our own kitchens? Why do we underestimate the talents of our own cooks? Rarely compliment the cook when the daily meal is put on the table? Not recognize the loving care and attention that goes into every morsel we put in our mouths? Although this is more common on in the traditional and patriarchal societies in Asia and some parts of Africa than in Europe or the USA, the statement can be largely generalized. Probably because there is no glitz or hype around what is done in our own kitchens every day. I think that it is high time that we changed our attitudes towards these unsung heroes and heroines who nourish us, please us or surprise us with their creations. I think we need to acknowledge their contribution for perpetuating culture and tradition within our own families. I think that social scientists and anthropologists should pay a lot more attention to this aspect of our everyday life. I think the cooks themselves should take more pride in their creations, whether it is for the everyday meals or those cooked for special occasions.
We dedicate this issue to cooks all over the world.
I take this opportunity to thank our Editors, contributors and readers for being with us and encouraging us to continue. We have now completed two years, and we would like to think that are teething problems are now over. We are determined to go forward, to improve the quality of our magazine and to publish new talented authors. We took an important decision — we are going to close down the poetry section of our blog and concentrate on articles, essays, interviews and stories. We think it is important to concentrate in these areas.
Our sincere thanks to all of you. Please continue to lend your support to our effort.