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The Meaning of Cooking

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4690-9
280 pages
July 2010, Polity
The Meaning of Cooking (0745646905) cover image
In 1785 James Boswell and Dr Johnson were trying to come up with a way of distinguishing human beings from animals. The beasts have memory, judgement, and all the faculties and passions of our mind, in a certain degree,' said Boswell, but no beast is a cook.'

Cooking is central to our lives, despite the fact that it never received the attention from serious scholars it might have had Boswell's definition caught on. The kitchen is in many ways the heart of the home, and the dining table is the family's little theatre where we all act out our parts. It has its script ( how has your day been?') and it is the setting for both the pleasures and the crises of couples and family life. Having to sit facing each other brings out the best and the worst in us. Eating a meal is an ordeal by truth, and it reveals the true state of our conjugal and parental relationships.

In this rich and highly entertaining book the French sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann takes us into kitchens and dining rooms and deciphers the meaning of food, cooking and eating in the lives of families and couples. We get inside cooks' heads and come to know their innermost - and often contradictory - thoughts. Should they rustle up a quick and simple meal, or create something special? That's a difficult question, as they are forging social relationships as well as making meals. Through this meticulous exploration of the everyday, Kaufmann brings out the astonishing ways in which we create our most meaningful relationships with our lovers, spouses and offspring through the ordinary acts of creating and consuming food.

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INTRODUCTION.

PART ONE: TWO STORIES.

I. FOOD: FROM ORDER TO DISORDERS.

Frogs and Dogs.

The Discovery of Pleasures.

Healthy Eating.

Scientific Errors.

What the 'Cretan Diet' Teaches Us.

Cacophony.

Minor Compromises.

A Guilty Conscience.

The Tastes of Pleasure.

The Like and Dislikes That Rule Us.

The Geopolitics of Sugar.

Flour and Women.

'You've Got Everything to Hand'.

The Fridge Culture.

The Low-Cal Individual.

The Historical Inversion.

Ordeal by Fat.

The Void Within.

Diets and Regression.

II. MEALS: FROM SACRIFICE TO COMMUNION.

A Clanship of Porridge.

Dietary Incest.

Sacrifice and Banquets.

Parties With the Gods?

Towards Profane Meals?

A Short History of Tables (Part One).

Meals Without a Compass.

Disciplina.

Fork to the Left, Knife to the Right.

A Strange Encounter.

The Rigid Family.

Towards A New Communion?

PART TWO: 'FOOD'S READY!'

III. MEALS MAKE A FAMILY.

Pure Discipline.

Discipline in Pieces.

A Domestic Revolt.

Women Are Not What They Used To Be.

Feeding The Family and Slimming At The Same Time.

Different Stages.

A Child-Centred World.

New Rituals.

A Dream Family.

Disjointed Conversations.

Table Talk.

What The Children Say.

Television.

Eating Together.

The Syncretism of Minor Pleasures.

Minor Adventures.

The Interplay Between 'I' and 'We'.

Children At The Table.

IV FAMILY TRAJECTORIES AND CONTEXTS.

The Sweet Jar, The Fridge and The Table.

Alone At Last.

Seduction.

A Drink Before The Meal.

Birth Of The Family.

A Breathing Space.

The Children Come Home.

The Beginning of the End, Or A New Beginning?

Meals and Families.

Non-Families and Non-Meals.

The First Meal.

Taking Sides.

Talking About The Weather.

A Short History Of Tables (Part Two).

Just A Table?

PART THREE: IN THE KITCHEN.

V THERE IS COOKING AND THERE IS COOKING.

The Chef.

Two Worlds.

The Ancien Regime.

Lightening the Burden.

Hidden Difficulties.

Coming Up With An Idea.

A Sudden Fancy.

'What Would You Like To Eat Tomorrow?'

Inside The Cook's Head.

'Making Mud Pies'.

Time Inverted.

The Personal Touch.

'A Lot or Organizing'.

Stress.

The Aftermath.

Recipes.

Variety and Variations.

VI COOKING, COUPLES AND FAMILIES.

Transmission and Autonomy.

Mothers and Daughters.

First Steps.

Everything Falls Into Place.

Sharing the Work.

The Division of Labour.

Helping.

A Star Is Born.

When Men Start To Do The Cooking.

From Sacrifice to Gift.

'Hand-Made' Love.

A Way of saying 'I Love You'.

Food and Elective Bonds.

A Family Consensus; Educating the Family.

Manipulative Tactics.

Compliments, But Not Too Many.

For the Family.

Shopping.

Lists.

Special Offers and Rationality.

CONCLUSION.

A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY.

BIOGRAPHICAL DATA.

REFERENCES.

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Jean-Claude Kaufmann is Professor of Sociology at University of Paris V Sorbonne
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  • Jean-Claude Kaufmann is one of the best-selling sociologists in France. He's Professor of Sociology at the Sorbonne and he's written a series of books on relationships, intimacy and the self which get a great deal of review coverage in France.
  • This new book by Kaufmann examines food and cooking and the role they play in the lives of couples and families. Kaufmann takes us into the kitchens and dining rooms of ordinary people and deciphers the meaning of food, cooking and eating, uncovering the ways we create our most meaningful relationships with our lovers, spouses and children through the ordinary acts of creating and consuming food.
  • It is funny, well-written and uses lots of examples that will be immediately recognizable to readers.
  • This book has got a lot of attention, not only in France but also internationally Ð it had a major review in the International Herald Tribune.

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"A family meal is a social construct more complicated than the tasks involved would suggest, and its study is back where sexuality was before Freud. In fact, Kaufmann reminds us, historically there have been more taboos concerning food than sex."
The International Herald Tribune

"By showing how the preparation and consumption of food form the basis of our closest personal relationships, Kaufmann provides a persuasively unromantic view of why cooking matters."
Alan Warde, University of Manchester

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