The Meaning of Cooking
July 2010, Polity
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.
PART ONE: TWO STORIES.
I. FOOD: FROM ORDER TO DISORDERS.
Frogs and Dogs.
The Discovery of Pleasures.
What the 'Cretan Diet' Teaches Us.
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.
Sacrifice and Banquets.
Parties With the Gods?
Towards Profane Meals?
A Short History of Tables (Part One).
Meals Without a Compass.
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.
Discipline in Pieces.
A Domestic Revolt.
Women Are Not What They Used To Be.
Feeding The Family and Slimming At The Same Time.
A Child-Centred World.
A Dream Family.
What The Children Say.
The Syncretism of Minor Pleasures.
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.
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.
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 Ancien Regime.
Lightening the Burden.
Coming Up With An Idea.
A Sudden Fancy.
'What Would You Like To Eat Tomorrow?'
Inside The Cook's Head.
'Making Mud Pies'.
The Personal Touch.
'A Lot or Organizing'.
Variety and Variations.
VI COOKING, COUPLES AND FAMILIES.
Transmission and Autonomy.
Mothers and Daughters.
Everything Falls Into Place.
Sharing the Work.
The Division of Labour.
A Star Is Born.
When Men Start To Do The Cooking.
From Sacrifice to Gift.
A Way of saying 'I Love You'.
Food and Elective Bonds.
A Family Consensus; Educating the Family.
Compliments, But Not Too Many.
For the Family.
Special Offers and Rationality.
A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY.
- 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.
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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