Growing up I viewed cooking as something less scientific and more chained to the gendered expectations of the society from a girl. Sure it was important but it didn’t stir anything in me like reading books or carrying out a successful titration in the chemistry lab (the latter an accomplishment because I was short enough to need an extra chair to stand on. Not kidding.). Add to the fact that at that point I was rebelling against anything deemed ‘feminine’ by the mass and therefore was adamant in never ever going to the kitchen. Oh sweet summer child, you knew nothing!
It has been quite a few years since then and I have had to turn to cooking in some capacity to survive. There are only so many days that one can survive on deliveries and dining out, especially if one plans on staying healthy and giving their wallet a break. I am not saying I turned misty eyes as the joys of cooking engulfed me in its delicious aroma. I have just been back a couple of days and most of those days have been spent sleeping, hacking my lungs out and/or moving my belongings. So the actual bit about cooking? It hasn’t happened much this month. What I do know is this, I am a pretty good baker as given by my attempts at home and a really trial-and-error-type cook when it comes to the savoury dishes. I will draw a blank when you ask me to add any spice in the measure of ‘as you feel like it’. That is not an acceptable form of measurement people, not acceptable.
Ahem, excuse that tiny outburst. Now where was I?
The thing about cooking though is that it really shouldn’t be a gendered idea. It’s a life skill. It’s an art form. It’s science with upper and lower limits of inedible to fantastic. It’s passion. It’s human emotions on a platter. It has nothing to do with your gender and everything to do with you as a person.
So why do we insist on telling young girls that they should learn how to cook to please their in-laws, their husbands? Why do we whisper in their ears that the way to a man’s heart is through cooking but never once tell them what the way to a woman’s heart is? Part of the reason other than my weird thought process during the teenage years I shunned cooking was that it got sold by everyone and their moms as this monkey-dance you do to attract husbands. In fact, it still is getting advertised like that. A recently married friend of mine was very worried that since she doesn’t know how to cook she won’t be liked her by her in-laws. This is a twenty-two year old fretting over cooking; an entirely practical process of feeding oneself that has been exaggerated to the point of perfection that apparently either makes or breaks your relationships. Only you know, just for women.
What prompted me to finally pen this post is this wonderful article that tells us of the contribution of Angelina Hesse to the field of microbiology who suggested that agar-agar be used instead of gelatine that came with all sorts of problem like melting at incubation temperature and being digested by the bacteria as they grew on (and through) it. Agar on the other hand as you know is kind of awesome in how quickly it solidifies and stays solid at higher temperatures and isn’t digested because of its complex sugar polymer structure. I have been doing microbiology work on a regular basis for the last three years and this is the first time I have even heard of Angelina Hesse’s idea or that she was an assistant and illustrator for the lab that pioneered culture techniques. We have systematically swept her and others like her under the rug and if we don’t reign in this problem in now, we are going to be staring at a very homogenous picture of the world. And I have to say, I don’t like that picture.
If you are reading this and have seen cooking as a shackle of the society, then break it and cook. Cook because like poetry and all things wonderful, cooking breathes life into you in ways you never thought was possible. (And if all fails, stress baking is a wonderful outlet.)