The kitchen is political
Jerker Jansson, Sweden’s Thinking Chef, cooks a lamb stew while lamenting the death of radicalism and solidarity.
Here I am in the kitchen. Cooking, swearing and sweating. Listening to my son watching some game show. All the contestants are wearing the ‘pink ribbon’ to show that they’re against breast cancer. Who’s not against breast cancer? I stab a slab of lamb meat with my razor-sharp Japanese knife, wondering ‘is there a fund that supports breast cancer? Or pollution, global poverty, nuclear war or rape?’
Political struggle is dead and has been replaced by empty waving of symbols of views that are about as radical as the notion that people have the right to breathe.
I turn around like a kitchen ninja, looking for something to slaughter. Why should I give money to charity? Isn’t that what the welfare state is for? Isn’t my tax money supposed to go to things like funding research into, and treatment of, breast cancer? Why do I have to sit through television charity shows, listening to pop stars rambling on about the importance of giving? After all, all they’re doing is confirming the death of solidarity, the demise of radical reciprocity.
Looking down, I see a massacred onion.
Might as well fry it, I think, mumbling that solidarity is not about handouts. It’s not about rich people treating their guilt complex by throwing a couple of pennies at beggars. It’s about struggling to create a world without beggars. It’s not about sacrifice and selfless giving, it’s about demanding the best for everyone and expecting, when we give, also to get something back. Me giving when I have, expecting you to give when you have. Hoping that giving you space, support and freedom leads to more for both of us, not less. Cynical subjective greed is bad, but transformed into a social movement, self-interest is revolutionary.
I mix the golden, fried onion with some coconut oil, garlic, hot sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro to make a marinade.
I close the door; can’t stand the voice of stupidity oozing out of my TV set. You know how it goes. The canon of bourgeois emptiness. The chorus of hypocrite humanism, the worst kind of misanthropy, the power that transforms human rights to neo-liberal subjectivity, solidarity to charity and citizenship to card-holding membership in a post-nationalist club. Vulgar liberalism has won and you’re on your own. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the food store.
‘Don’t mix food and politics! Shut up! Let me enjoy my oysters! I sure deserve them. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche! Or skip the cakes, let them eat trans fats!’
But I do mix food and politics, I mutter as I fry the marinated lamb in some ghee, homemade from organic butter. Politics is my favourite spice. My cooking is political and my political views begin with cooking. Food is one of the most important political arenas. My mouth is always as full of questions as it is of food when I eat. Why do billions of people starve when there is more food in the world than we need? I put the steak together with some peeled onions, a couple of carrots and some homemade broth in a clay pot and shove it into the hot oven.
Sitting down to make a salad, I ask myself why people have to suffer from welfare diseases that were unknown 100 years ago just because of the cynical food industry? Do you know why they don’t use butter or real honey anymore? Not only because the real thing is expensive and less durable than fake products, but also because it’s not floating. Everything has to be transported by pipes in the food industry. Who cares if it kills you?
Celery turns to short sticks under my frantic knife. Why is it that so much human effort and energy is wasted producing anti-nutrition? Could you produce real food instead, using the same resources? Margarine; how come it is okay to sell that to people? Should we really eat plastic?
I parboil the celery in freshly squeezed orange juice with some rosemary from the plant in the window. The kitchen is a place that reminds you of the basic needs of people, makes you humble and hopefully makes you think about your place in the world. My head spins with thoughts. Is it necessarily true that me filling my belly over here makes you starve over there? Is it necessarily true that eating beef is bad for the environment and ethically wrong? Could the production of a loaf of bread have killed more creatures than my steak?
That reminds me. The steak is ready, I take it out of the oven and start cutting it up. The kids smell it, come into the kitchen and ask what’s for dinner.
‘Dead sheep in its own sauce’, I answer, as usual – I want them to know that what we’re about to eat was once a living creature. ‘With massacred carrots in orange sauce and brutally murdered celery with lemon and rosemary.’
No vegan hypocrisy in this house. The meat we eat today, grass-fed by my friends and I, slaughtered and cut by me, myself and I, represents far less environmental stress and cruelty to animals than any tomato, loaf of bread or soy bean sold in a food store. The Disneyfied anorexia of the youth culture actually is one of the cruellest ideologies around, and even though I have full respect for anyone who has personal issues with eating dead animals – or ‘corpses’ as they often put it – I will never accept the argument that their lifestyle leads to less suffering in the world.
What about the one billion poor people who live in places where it’s impossible to grow anything edible and where keeping animals is the only way to get food? What should they eat, I think, while watching my kittens lick up the last drops of lamb’s blood from the plate of cutaways I gave them. Quorn? Tofu? Sure! Saddest of all is the fact that the modern ‘left’ has become so naive that it believes the veggie myths, thinking that malnutrition is radical and a sign of solidarity.
We know what people need in order to thrive – real food. But the same powers that make us think that war is peace, that freedom is slavery and freedom of choice is simply about choosing between breathing and not breathing, between poison and poison, turn us into glue-eaters, having us believe that light products devoid of nutrition, genetically manipulated vegetables grown in dead soil, and chemical products are better than real food. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but the reason people are scared of good fats and healthy proteins and choose to eat garbage instead is not that they’ve been given the choice between good and bad food. It’s because they’ve been lied to. For ages.
Jerker Janson is a freelance writer based in Sweden. He edits Voltaire and his monthly Thinking Chef column appears in Ordfront Magasin.
Justine Brian celebrated mass food production. Patrick West analysed our age of celebrity chefs. Rob Lyons called Jamie Oliver’s ‘school meals revolution’ a dog’s dinner. Elsewhere he revealed the truth about organic food. James Panton explained why he’s got a beef with going vegetarian. Or read more at spiked issue Food.
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