Cooking. And what it means to us.

This just in from Siemens: A great kitchen is more important than a nice car. The former domain of housewives is outstripping the masculine status symbol. Household tasks have been experiencing a revival for some years now. City dwellers who plant, knit and cook have their finger on the pulse of the times. Cooking currently enjoys special attention, perhaps because it means something to everybody. After all, everybody has to eat.

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But what is so captivating about making food? What’s its allure, mesmerizing us for hours at the stove despite time optimization and nutritional supplements? If you use your hands to type numbers and letters all day, it might be a pleasure to lay your hands on something substantial. Similar to gardening, cooking gets right down to the nitty-gritty. We chop, knead, stir, pound and beat. The sting of onions makes us cry, and we cry tears of joy at a melt-in-your-mouth steak. We decode recipes and rejoice when it turns out like the picture. For a moment, we’re fully in control. (Of that which enters our stomach.) And what is work anyway if not task-oriented? How satisfying is it to see the prize on your plate right before your eyes?

While working with repetitive, incomprehensible micro-processes makes us weary, cooking is its own meaningful project, from planning and production all the way to consumption. The pay-off isn’t an abstract number at the end of the month, but rather a fleeting, sensory embodiment.

For some the decelerating effect of cooking might be attractive. Defying all time-saving inventions such as delivery services and microwavable food, it goes against the grain. As the world spins faster it’s nice to be slow and inefficient sometimes. We get annoyed when a website doesn’t load in the blink of an eye. Standing at the oven, however, we can watch with the patience of a saint as the cheese melts in slow motion. With dishes you can sink your hands into cooking can become a meditative practice. Your head is free to rejuvenate as the movements guide themselves. Time-intensive cooking fiercely wipes out instant results and shows us that quality of life cannot be rationalized.

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Once the daily grind slows down, a return to essential values isn’t far behind. Those who lose their bearings in the urban jungle among hotspots and places to be want to see the wood despite the trees. So we take Sunday walks, eat regionally grown apples or host a family feast. One longs for the values in place when the world made sense. We may be able to communicate with dozens of people at once but can only have good conversations with a handful.

As we confront our diet – at times by choice, at others not – we sensitize ourselves to the environment and social world. Here, raising the wooden spoon on fast food and bites to-go, a benefit comes to mind: Cooking teaches respect for humans and nature and is one of the oldest, most valuable cultural technologies we have. Shame on you for not preserving it.

There are all kinds of reasons as to why cooking means so much to us (once again). Everyone has a personal motivation for valuing good cuisine. And for those who invest a fortune in their kitchen without seriously using it once, no matter. There are far more disagreeable status symbols.

Text: Dieu-Thanh Hoang
Image: entretantomagazine.comflickr

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