Magazine article The Spectator

Imperative Cooking: The Ready-Grated Woman

Magazine article The Spectator

Imperative Cooking: The Ready-Grated Woman

Article excerpt

TAKE two peeled carrots and two courgettes. Hold them aligned and chop them on the bias, Chinese-style. Slice two onions. Now sit down, make yourself comfortable and tell me, and be honest, how do you feel? Exhausted? Exploited? `Not at all.' Are you certain? Surely it has destroyed your evening and annihilated what I believe is called your 'schedule'? `No.'

I ask because the women's magazine Prima suggests that cooks making a stir-fry who are `in a hurry' should use ready-prepared vegetables. These daunting vegetables turn out to be a couple each of carrots courgettes and onions. Is the modern British woman so busy that she has to save the one minute involved in this simple task? Prima is convinced she is. So is Bella, which reassures her that thawing out pitta bread `takes next to no time'. Bella also recommends, to beat that busy schedule, `ready-sliced and ready-grated cheddar cheese'. This is for 'a brilliantly easy topping'. Speed and ease are also obsessions of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire.

I have been looking at women's magazines more closely, to see if they can explain why the British woman today still cooks such awful food. It can't be supply: the shops have a greater variety of ingredients than ever before. It can't be lack of information: the British woman now travels to countries such as France and Italy which can cook; she eats out in restaurants and her shelves groan with cookery books. The magazines' explanation is that she is busy. This is nonsense. Making pizza dough, which is just bread dough, takes no time. Slicing cheddar is not going to disrupt even the busiest female executive's day plan. Even the canonised victim of our times, the single mother who works, could slice her own carrots. Indeed pre-sliced carrots don't keep and require visits to the shop or the freezer in the garage which take longer than the slicing. So what is the explanation?

I used to think, and this was based partly on reading the magazines' food sections, partly on first-hand sight of the British woman in action in her kitchen, that the explanation was moral. Simply the lady is too incompetent, mean and lazy to shop and cook properly. Yes, yes, so is he that's taken for granted. It is this refusal to make the necessary effort every day which explains not only why daily food is so poor, but why special occasion food strikes such fear into her and requires so much time. …

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