As Food Culture editor of the Campaign for Real Farming, I write about food that is local, sustainable and seasonal. Real farming depends upon there being real cooks who will appreciate good ingredients, but unfortunately they are a dying breed. It is not, however, enough to appeal to people to cook because it supports good farming; they need also to see the benefits to themselves.
Cooking was a skill first acquired by early hunter-gathers in order to make raw ingredients digestible for human consumption. Over time this basic survival skill has been turned into something of an art form. But nowadays it seems that art form is most often admired at arms’ length, on television and over a ready meal. The celebrity chef is a part of the UK food culture not really seen, at least to anything like the same extent, elsewhere in the world.
Somewhere between these stages, cooking was an important element in nurturing - raising infants to become strong and healthy adults, providing energy for the day’s work and nursing the sick back to vigour. Gathering around the fire – later to become the table, was the most enjoyable part of the day, a time not only to enjoy food but also company, to discuss trials and tribulations and to celebrate successes. No wonder the role of the cook was such an important one.
No longer is it the automatic responsibility of a woman to undertake this role and that alone should have seen an increase in its status. There may be a plethora of alternatives available, but cooking remains a basic survival skill, as well as a means to nurture those we love.
If basic survival seems too remote a possibility to consider, accept at least that it provides us with independence. An independence that lets you decide whether to cook, or let someone else do it. An independence to determine what ingredients we will put into our bodies – for it is clear that the further we move away from basic ingredients the harder it becomes to ascertain the provenance of the components that went into a meal.
Cooking for yourself could be the single most important step you take towards improving your health.
Saving money is often the trigger that prompts people to cook at home. By the time you have paid for someone’s time to cook the meal, another to serve, the overheads inherent in providing the premises, a margin for profit, is it any wonder that there is little left to spend on the ingredients themselves? And when you do opt to have someone else cook for you, being a cook yourself helps you choose more wisely. Above all, home cooking means the pleasure that comes from creating something sustaining, nutritious and enjoyable that we can share with our loved ones every day.