Monday, May 6, 2013

The JoC and an Unnecessary Marxist/Realist interlude

Looking for the way to reseason a cast-iron implement in my 1974 Joy of Cooking, I read these passages on page 163, where Rombauer and Becker acquire that almost mystical tone that makes their book timeless (though by using "she" throughout they do ground it in a particular time):
There is a certain pace in food preparation that an experienced cook learns to accept. This doesn't mean she scorns short cuts, but she comes to know when she has to take the long way 'round to get proper results. She senses not only the demands of her equipment but the reactions of her ingredients.
In much of the JoC it's easy to get the feeling that you're just being talked at as someone whose main concern is home economics. That is, literally, your main job is to figure out how to stretch the household's dollar as you feed it using money that you had no part in acquiring (i.e., 'He' earned it by using his body to convert labor into capital at the service of The Man). It therefore quietly reinforces the woman's role in the classic (now mostly altered for the intended audience) nuclear family unit of production in a capitalist system where the basic unit of economic production is that heterosexual nuclear family unit, where the primary goals of the unit are to reproduce itself biologically by having more kids to form more similar units, and to reproduce the ideologies of the roles of everyone in that family unit. Paraphrasing Althusser (1927): as every child knows, the ideological apparatus has not only to reproduce itself, but also the conditions of that reproduction. If not, then folks say "Fuck this, I'm not teaching my kids to reproduce our shitty family life because it enslaved me and I don't want my children enslaved" and before you know it, the state and ideological apparatuses collapse, leaving us all in (at least we are told so) an unintelligible social reality of pervasive horror and nausea ... at best!

Well, okay, maybe that's one function the JoC can and does serve: domesticating the domestic human. But when I read passages like those above and identify with "The Cook" subject regardless of the "she" (which I do), or when I go back for the one millionth time to check on what they say is the difference between a soft- and hard-boiled egg, I get something else. Despite the major theme of home-economy and the functional role of She in the biological necessity of familial subsistence, there are these other notes throughout that specifically identify that the Means of Production, at the most basic level -- i.e., physiologically maintaining and reproducing the family labor unit, day after day -- are not substantially alienated from She (or me, or us). To me the above passage is not just some mystifying rhetoric about what She knows intrinsically as a woman, aka, over-determined biological reproductive unit situated in a society. All people that love cooking know the truth of that statement. That's a reality of cooking. Just to be glib and Hegelian, let's say the cook is in a constant dialectical relationship with the demands of its equipment and the reactions of the ingredients. I see there is some room here, by defining a dialectic without reference to the other forces of the present economic system that is true anywhere at any time, always and already over-determined by the nature of food: physically, chemically, culturally. This dynamic the cook participates in has been (is being) reproduced in some or many forms since humans started to alter raw foods, along with the reproduction of the classic family group -- not always with it -- and one does not inevitably reproduce alongside the other.

Which is why though I'm mostly a boy I cook, and I don't only cook boiled Irish meats and vegetables like that She known as my mom.

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