Thursday, December 08, 2011

"Pluck your own chickens."

Via Nick Troester, I see that Megan McArdle and I are on the same page when it comes to kitchen gadgets. I also now see that McArdle came up in the post in which I provided a glimpse at the not-so-romantic realities of communal-kitchen, saucepan-for-everything-yes-including-coffee life in Paris. Back then she was more like guiltily admitting to liking and owning gadgets. I think she's moved in the right direction. Her checklist for how to decide if a gadget is worth it strikes me as sound. If it's something you'll actually use, and it doesn't break the bank, and it may well mean cheaper and healthier meals in the long run, why not? It's not as if not owning gadgets means you automatically spend the necessary five hours of nightly food preparation a slower method requires. If I didn't have a food processor or dishwasher, I'd... not eat at home so much, or now that I live in the woods, would switch over to the all-frozen-tortellini diet.

But what McArdle misses, and what I failed to hit upon precisely when first writing this, is that this isn't about rational calculations of which gadgets make sense for you. It's that the obsession with authenticity is more than just aesthetic romanticization of great-grandmother cuisine. It's intricately linked to the idea of inclusivity. Advocates of home cooking, from-scratch cooking, and so on are not merely miffed but obsessed with the fact that they're often accused of speaking only to the rich and well-educated. No, no, no! they reply, what they advocate is accessible to all, because not only does it not require expensive gadgets, but those would be counterproductive.

The list McArdle offers as an example of "ridiculous" - "Buy whole nuts and crack them by hand, picking out the meats and hoping you don't accidentally get a bit of shell. Throw out the powdered gelatin and use calf's foot jelly. Make your own confectioner's sugar with a food grinder or a rolling pin. Pluck your own chickens. Render your own lard." - sounds not at all extreme by the standards of articles and recipes with less than two degrees of separation from Alice Waters / Chez Panisse. That more or less is what they suggest. (But don't just pluck your own chickens, breed and raise them first! In Brooklyn!) They suggest the sort of endeavors McArdle correctly labels "ridiculous" not because they want to make home cooking more of a snooty or fringe pursuit, but because they think - and I think they really do think this - that if what they advocate worked for our impoverished great-grandmothers, surely it's accessible to even the poorest folks today. They haven't, in other words, entirely thought things through.

No comments: